Love and Operations Management

When Megan and Joshua Clarke planned their wedding, they realized it wasn’t a pastor or justice of the peace they wanted to lead the ceremony. Instead, they turned to Susan Murphy, the instructor for the only class the couple took together at the University of Delaware.

Operations management isn’t well known as a topic that stirs the fires of romance, but a spark caught for this future couple as they took BUAD 306 (Introduction to Service and Operations Management) at the Alfred Lerner College of Business and Economics.

It’s a story of a slightly awkward relationship that bloomed into something much deeper; of an old house in Philadelphia with famous connections and deep personal meaning; and of a class that helped change the direction of their lives.

What is this, exactly?

When Joshua Clarke transferred to UD during the second semester of his sophomore year, he wasn’t expecting to make a lot of deep friendships. That far in, students have already found friends and formed groups, he figured, so he was resigned to missing out on the kinds of connections he could have made as a freshman.

Then Joshua met a girl named Megan Garner through the Alpha Kappa Psi professional fraternity. He recalls in particular when an event on campus they tried to attend was canceled, so they walked around campus instead and chatted.

“I was like, ‘Oh, great, I made a friend,’” Joshua said.

Megan, meanwhile, was unaware of the friendship they had supposedly formed.

“I was like, ‘What a weirdly friendly acquaintance,’” she said.

So when she left to study abroad, the two lost contact.

But as Joshua, with his dry sense of humor, put it, “Eventually, I was able to weasel my way back into her companionship.”

The class that brought them together

For business students, BUAD 306 is part of their core requirements, covering the kinds of problems operations managers have to deal with.

Susan Murphy is self-deprecating. “Students aren’t necessarily looking at, ‘Oh, here’s Murphy, I’m going to take her class,’” she said. “It’s just that they have to take my class.”

Joshua, an international business major, duly signed up. To his delight, Megan, majoring in business management, picked the same class.

Megan quickly fell in love — with operations management. She was still exploring potential careers, and found her niche. She eventually added it as a second major and now works in the field as a senior consultant of communications operations for Lincoln Financial.

Joshua was perhaps more interested in Megan than in the kinds of frustrations that can trouble an operations manager’s day.

“You could tell immediately that Joshua was over the moon,” Susan said.

Or at least, Susan could. She became a mentor to Megan, and from time to time, when Megan visited her office Susan would ask about the boy who always sat next to her in class. “Just a friend,” Megan told her.

But in her more than 20 years of teaching, Murphy has seen multiple students become couples, and she knew what she was looking at.

By that summer, Megan also had an inkling. She and Joshua started hanging out more often, then began dating. They eventually moved in together a year after graduating in 2018.

Staying in touch

While not all students stay in contact with Susan after taking her classes, some do. She’s happy to offer advice and enjoys watching their careers unfold.

She stayed in touch with Megan — and to a degree, but less so, with Joshua — and so she wasn’t surprised when they invited her to meet for coffee.

Susan assumed they’d like some input on a business idea or something of the sort. Instead, they offered her a bouquet of flowers, and a proposal: Would she officiate their wedding?

“I think I really caught her off guard,” Megan said. “But I also knew that, the more we thought about her … the more perfect it was. She has such an incredible energy and (is) a great public speaker.”

“I keep in touch with a lot of my former students, but I never expected somebody to ask me that,” Murphy said. She was astonished, and also moved. “It was so sweet. And I was almost crying and everything; it was very touching.”

As it happened, though, Joshua and Megan were already married.

The house

Joshua had always wanted to buy his family home. His grandparents purchased the large building years before from George Kelly, a playwright and uncle of the famous actress Grace Kelly, according to family lore. They think it was built in the late 1800s or early 1900s, although they don’t know for sure because of a fire that destroyed archived documents.

“It’s a beautiful house,” Joshua said, and it also had served as a sort of family hub over the years, a place for various members of his Jamaican immigrant family to stay as they moved between Philadelphia and New York. For Joshua, it was a site filled with childhood memories.

When the opportunity came up to buy it, Joshua and Megan talked it over and agreed they would. But in reviewing the details, Joshua noticed a hitch. If they wanted to qualify to waive the city transfer tax, they had to be married.

And so, they had the wedding everyone does not exactly dream of: To fulfill red tape requirements and save some money, they swung by a courthouse one Friday. Afterward, Megan went back to work for a business meeting.

Joshua already knew he wanted to get married before the paperwork issue, of course — he’d been saving for a ring — but he didn’t propose until a year after the marriage was official. He popped the question at a birthday party for Megan.

Although Susan’s role as an instructor at UD does not authorize her to legally marry people in Pennsylvania, the fact that Megan and Joshua were already legally married before their ceremony enabled Susan to lead them in their vows.

A jack of all trades

Susan found her unusual role a little intimidating. “I’ve talked in front of groups of hundreds of people throughout my professional career,” she said. But this time she felt the pressure. “I wanted to make it as good as it could be for them.”

As it turns out, former teachers make great wedding officiants, according to the Clarkes. Susan knowing both of them made the ceremony more personal, Joshua said.

The two shared their vows in 2023 in the backyard of their newly renovated family home, the same place Joshua had proposed.

“You’re getting married in front of all these people that were important to us, at this house that was important to us, and so it really was bigger than us that day,” Joshua said. “… And (Susan) fully captured that.”

The UD instructor guided the couple through an emotional ceremony, whispering calming words when needed.

“She’s so incredibly thoughtful,” Megan said.

Joshua’s not a person who wears his emotions on his sleeve, so Megan was positive he would not cry at the wedding.

But he did.

Tears sprang up for most of those in attendance, including Susan.

“We all had to take some moments,” Megan said.

“I was kind of losing it a little bit,” Susan said. It’s obvious they’re a great couple, she said, “and seeing them make that commitment to each other, it was just lovely … they’re so perfect for each other.”

Joshua and Megan have settled into life in Philadelphia. Joshua serves as manager of electives programs for the organization Right at School, and says he can still apply knowledge he learned in Susan’s class.

They share their large home with renters, hundreds of plants, and an assortment of pets, including dogs, cats, rabbits, birds, chinchillas, geckos and guinea pigs. (The chickens have to live out back.) Megan has brought her interest in interior design to bear, giving their home a stamp of her personality while preserving the memories so dear to Joshua.

“It’s very much turned into the intersection between us,” Joshua said.

For her part, Susan now has a good story to tell when she urges students in her classes to put down their phones and actually talk to each other.

“You never know who you’re sitting next to,” she said.

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