Finding love at Yale

Shawna and Peter Rodriguez sitting at a picnic table.
(L-R) Peter and Shawna Rodriguez. Photo by John Dempsey.

When Shawna (née Ellis) and Peter Rodriguez met in the School of Medicine (YSM) stockroom in 2001, they didn’t care for one another.

“I didn’t like him because he would talk about things you were doing, complain about what you were doing, but not speak directly to you,” said Shawna, who was working in a Yale research laboratory at the time and regularly bought supplies from the stockroom as part of her workplace responsibilities.

“She wasn’t very friendly,” remembered Peter. “She was all business every time she came to the stockroom to shop.”

Neither could have known that they would one day get married, and ultimately be recognized for 30 years of dedicated service at the 2024 Long-Service Recognition Dinner that will be held later this year.

Being wrong turns out right

Seven years after meeting in the stockroom, Shawna and Peter ended up at the same place at the same time by chance. Shawna was invited to an after-work get-together by one of her former managers and his wife. When she arrived, she saw that her manager’s wife was not there, but Peter Rodriguez was. Shawna “reluctantly” joined the conversation, which was soon interrupted by a phone call from her former manager’s wife saying there was an emergency at home.

“The last thing my manager said was, ‘I feel comfortable leaving you here with Pete, because you seem like you’re having a good time,’” recalled Shawna.

To her surprise, she was. “We had never really talked before, and we found out we were wrong about each other. We started dating after that night, but we moved slowly.”

Peter told Shawna that he had recently lost his wife after a long illness. Shawna shared her own personal history with all its ups and downs.

One annual event in Peter’s life was a July 4th family cookout that he hosts. Shawna thought the first cookout that followed their dating was too soon for her to attend, out of respect for Peter’s recently deceased wife, Gina, and her family. But Gina’s sisters had heard about Shawna from Peter, and given their sister’s years-long illness, they didn’t think it was disrespectful for Shawna to join the party—they wanted to meet her. Shawna says she was immediately welcomed into Peter’s world.

Meant to be

Shawna and Peter dated for two years. “A little while later, past the two-year mark,” said Shawna, “I asked him to marry me.”

“I accepted,” Peter smiled, “and then I went to ask her father for her hand in marriage. He said yes, and I proposed with an engagement ring at dinner one night.”

“It was wonderful,” said Shawna.

Shawna and Peter were married in New Haven by a justice of the peace on July 1, 2011, followed by a honeymoon in the Dominican Republic. Keeping the tradition alive, they planned and hosted the annual July cookout before they went on honeymoon.

“Since we got married on the first of July,” said Shawna, “we never remember our anniversary because we’re always getting ready for the cookout.”

Decades of dedication build pride

When the Rodriguezes attend the Long-Service Recognition Dinner in May of this year, they will be honored by President Salovey and his leadership team for their service to the university. It is an unexpected pleasure to celebrate their work anniversaries together, they say, knowing that it is relatively rare for married couples to be honored during the same year for the same number of years.

Shawna and Peter both began their careers at Yale on the YSM campus in 1994. Even though their paths crossed in the stockroom, they were on different career journeys.

Peter was born in the Bronx and raised in New Haven. After high school, he tried community college, but decided that it was not for him. He was encouraged by his mother to get a “good job,” which led to employment at Pratt and Whitney and several other companies before landing at Molecular Biophysics and Biochemistry as a casual employee. Several months later, Peter began his time at Yale in the YSM stockroom and has made it his career. He said he is most proud of “how well the place runs; nobody struggles, and we’re busy all the time.”

Peter’s manager Tracey D’Addio said, “Pete is definitely a valued member of the Stockroom team. His work ethic is unparalleled with his dependable, efficient, and no-nonsense approach to any task or situation that arises. His work allows us to provide the best possible service to the research community at Yale.

Like Peter, Shawna was a New Haven high-school graduate, but she was raised in Hamden. She was a member of the last graduating class of St. Mary’s High School in 1991 and her graduation took place at St. Mary’s church on Hillhouse Avenue. Shawna began her Yale career in the Animal Resources Center, and over the years, she moved to other Yale labs to work as a lab technician until trying something completely new—becoming assistant to the chair in the Astronomy department.

“Joining Astronomy was a huge learning curve for me and as scary as it has sometimes been, it has been worth it,” said Shawna. “As I reflect on my 30 years at Yale, learning a new set of skills is what I am most proud of.”

Priyamvada Natarajan, Chair of the Astronomy Department, acknowledging Shawna’s 30-year anniversary, said, “Shawna has been a delight to work with. She brings an incredibly positive and flexible attitude to work, which is extremely valuable. She adapts easily to change and keeps me on my toes!”

When asked about Peter and Shawna as a couple, D’Addio added, “Pete and Shawna make each other laugh. They seem to really like spending time with each other, from vacations to pizza night and everything in between.”

In their own words

Echoing D’Addio, Shawna and Peter described what they enjoy about each other.

“He is brutally honest sometimes, which I love,” said Shawna. “We laugh. Of course, since we’re two different people, we’re going to have disagreements. But in the middle of an argument, one of us will say something, and we’ll just start laughing.”

“I can’t totally explain all the things Shawna helps me do,” said Peter. “She opens my eyes to things that I would never experience were it not for her, because I’m pretty private. I’m so appreciative of this. Plus, she’s beautiful. I’m very lucky.”