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Finding love where you least expect it

When you ask Rachel Seay ’98 MD and Steve Chan ’98 PhD if they, as Colorado Academy Upper School students, could ever have imagined ending up together, they give the same resounding answer.

“No!”

Yet, here they are: married, two kids, living in Annapolis, Maryland. Rachel practices as an obstetrician-gynecologist. Steve works in data science.

At their 20th reunion in May, their friends exclaimed, “How did this happen??”

They tell the story like this.

Families woven together through music

Rachel and Steve become friends in their Junior year, when they were in Mr. Blanas’s French Avant-Garde class. Steve studied the violin, and remembers Rachel composing and playing a piano piece for the class. Their shared interest in music and Blanas’s class led Steve to suggest they play something together. They performed in several assemblies, and ended up attending the Aspen Music Festival the next summer.

They didn’t just have CA in common: Steve and Rachel’s sister Laura ’03, were both in the same violin studio, Steve’s brother Nick ’02 rock climbed with Laura, and their families sometimes met at concerts and occasionally had dinner.

But they were never more than friends.

Reconnecting

Rachel and Steve graduated from CA, went to separate colleges, and pursued their respective careers.

Rachel went to medical school at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus, and Steve earned his PhD from UCLA in mathematics, then joined the United States Navy to become a naval aviator. Their families would get together during holidays and Rachel and Steve would catch up.

“We realized how much we had in common and that we share a common vision of the future together,” Rachel says.

One Christmas while Steve was home on holiday leave, he realized that he would spend the rest of his life with Rachel. A week later, on New Year’s Eve, he declared to a friend that he and Rachel would get married. He convinced Rachel to come visit him in rural Mississippi where he was in flight school, and three weeks later, he proposed. She said “yes.”

“It was sudden enough that, when we told our parents, no one believed us,” Steve says.

But it was for real.

The CA connection

A year later, in 2009, Rachel and Steve got married.

Today, Steve works as a data scientist and entrepreneur. He co-founded Portmanteau Industries, an artificial intelligence hardware startup. His company is developing technology enabling real-time artificial intelligence in edge devices such as phones, drones, satellites, and autonomous vehicles.

Rachel serves on the faculty at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. She has worked for Doctors Without Borders in Sierra Leone and South Sudan and served as visiting faculty on medical education projects in Guatemala, Haiti, and Eritrea. In Baltimore, she serves a predominantly Spanish-speaking population, and uses, on a daily basis, the Spanish skills she honed at CA with her Upper School Spanish instructor, the late Peggy Salisbury.

After Rachel graduated from CA, Salisbury continued to mentor her and support her on her career path. When Rachel was in college, Salisbury helped her secure a summer position as a Spanish interpreter at Denver Health–an experience that solidified her intentions to go to medical school.

“There are specific CA faculty who really had a huge impact on my life, my education, and the choices I made about my career and the type of person I try to be,” Rachel says. “And the CA influence continues in our lives in a really powerful and positive way.” The couple keep in touch with other faculty members who played key mentorship roles for them, including Jim Blanas and Betsey and Charles Coleman.

They also maintain a tight group of friends of former CA classmates, gathering with them annually, though they live in different cities around the country.

A family of independent thinkers

Rachel and Steve often look back at their time as CA classmates and laugh about how their relationship changed.

“Back then, we were just good friends,” Steve says. “And now, we’re raising kids together. Didn’t see that coming!”

Not only did CA set the foundation for their marriage, careers, and friendship circle, but it seems to have already influenced their young offspring. Through its culture of supporting students’ dreams and ideas, Steve feels CA instilled in him and Rachel a strong sense of independent thinking.

“Our daughter is a concentrated combination of both Rachel and me,” says Steve. “She’s so independent, and she’s only three.”

“If we ever move back to Denver, we definitely hope our kids could go to CA,” Rachel says.