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The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

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Engineering: A love story

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Photo by Photo courtesy of René Elms

The words “René will you marry me” on the fifth floor windows of the Jack E. Brown Chemical Engineering Building in 2013.

René Elms, Ph.D., Class of 2009, and Texas A&M Health Systems Administrator III Joel James met, had their first kiss, got engaged and hosted their wedding ceremony in the Jack E. Brown Chemical Engineering building in May, 2014. 

Elms earned two bachelor’s degrees, a master’s and her Ph.D. from A&M. While working on her Ph.D., she met James and the two became fast friends.

Over the course of 11 years, Elms and James’ relationship stayed platonic. Elms said she often wondered why their relationship had not progressed, but James said he was afraid of ruining their friendship. 

“I kept thinking he was going to ask me out, because he kept flirting with me,” Elms said. “He later confessed he was too shy and he didn’t want to mess the friendship up.” 

As their birthdays were only a day apart, they often celebrated together. At one such joint celebration, they concluded it was time to be together. 

“We were both at the point in our lives where we were looking for someone to get married to,” Elms said. “We were looking for a life partner.” 

As they began discussing marriage, James said he considered himself to be relatively unromantic — but Elms disagreed. James, however, said he knew Elms would appreciate a big and romantic proposal and he requested she provide him with some guidelines to steer him in the right direction. 

“I want[ed] it to be memorable and I want[ed] it to be meaningful to us,” Elms said. 

With Elms’ requests in place, and help from a few notable friends, James set out to propose. Before Elms became a faculty member, she often gave guest lectures. At James’ request, now retired engineering instructor John Baldwin, Ph.D., called Elms in for a meeting to discuss lecture semantics. Unknown to her, James had spelled out “René will you marry me” in large cardboard letters on the fifth floor of the Brown building. 

As Elms drove to her meeting, James called and told her the Brown building had been vandalized by disgruntled design course students. Upset about the supposed disrespect, Elms looked to the top of the building. Unfortunately, a ray of sunshine obscured the gesture partly and Elms was simply confused. However, as she walked in and saw James coming down the staircase, she figured it out. They then walked up together, he got down on one knee, and she gave an enthusiastic yes. 

“The whole balcony was full of faculty and staff and friends and family,” Elms said. “Then I started getting a clue, figuring out what was going on.”

Baldwin had known Elms and James for years and said James was a favorite with the Information Technology team and Elms had gone from a dedicated student to a beloved professor. 

“Joel was the kind of guy you’d be happy to be around as a person and [Elms] was known throughout the department as a driven person,” Baldwin said. “They were departmental favorites, both of them.” 

Baldwin said Elms’ impressive work under doctorate major advisor El-Halwagi, Ph.D. Though El-Halwagi was not present at the wedding, he was at the proposal and described the event as heartwarming. 

“It was fitting to be in the chemical engineering building,” El-Halwagi said. “I don’t know the details, but the sparks were probably born there.” 

As wedding preparations began, Elms and James said they struggled to find a venue that fit what they were looking for. James joked they could get married in the Brown building, and Elms fell in love with the idea. 

“When you are getting married, your mind is not on the building,” James said. “I was very much just [in] awe, thinking how beautiful she look[ed], how lucky I was.” 

In a blue and white themed ceremony, with student workers making up half the reception’s bar tab, they pledged their love in 2014. 

“Every time we go in the [Brown] building, it’s surreal,” Elms said. 

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  • René Elms, Ph.D., and IT services member Joel James in front of the Jack E. Brown Chemical Engineering Building on their wedding day in May 2014.

    Photo by Photo courtesy of René Elms
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