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Classroom chemistry leads to wedding bells for Public Health students

Date 20.07.2021

It’s been a case of ‘love in the laboratory’ for two similarly named students who, after meeting on a UON course, have just got married.

Johnette Brownell (now Brownell-Akobi) is no stranger to UON, having graduated from the Early Childhood (BA) degree here in 2018. She met husband John in class during their Public Health (MSc) degree and they fast became friends…but assignments came before amour.

She sets the scene: “John is an international student and I was the one who set eyes on him first. Straight off the bat I thought he was a very handsome gentleman!

“There was a mutual attraction but if this is all starting to sound a bit Mills & Boone, romance did not follow. We were already in relationships and neither of us were initially interested in pursuing anything else. Little did we know that both of us shared something, because we were unhappy in those relationships.

“We weren’t close enough to talk about such things at this point, and anyway we had our studies to focus on. We worked on assignments with other students and very quickly got into the course. It was so rewarding creating projects about health needs for communities in various situations. It was fascinating and totally what I wanted to be doing. Obviously, with the ongoing situation with Covid our attention was even more focused on the possible impact public health can have.

“Things broke down with my boyfriend but even though John and I had grown closer, I wasn’t interested in starting another relationship. Aside from my studies and trying – unsuccessfully! – to run a charity I started during my undergraduate degree, I also manage having Crohn’s disease.

“This is an inflammatory bowel condition that can cause serious pain and tiredness and which can be triggered by stress. I was very serious about my Public Health studies so needless to say, with the Master’s and my health in mind, I pushed John away for a while.

“Sometime down the line his relationship also ended and, gradually, we started talking again. The feelings were still there, and we started seeing each other to see how things worked out. I guess that is where you can say the Mills & Boon bit started!”

The planets were clearly aligned for Johnette and John and after seven months as a couple they started discussing the possibility of getting married. The nuptials were held on 23 June after a super-rapid period of planning. As Johnette explains: “Our friends kick-started the plans and their help was heaven sent because we gave ourselves a ridiculously tight deadline for the big day – just six weeks!

“Of course, everyone on both sides of the family wanted to come but we explained about the Covid restrictions such as quarantine and that the marriage would be in (probably rainy) Scotland. It was a slimmed down reception with mostly close relatives but a few others very happily beamed in as we livestreamed the event – it was so worth it. John and I are very much a team – he really is my rock – so, with everyone’s help, it worked out perfectly on the day.”

The wedding plans occurred at the same time both were handing in their dissertations for their Public Health degrees. But Johnette feels that starting the degree when she did, like her relationship with John, happened at the right time.

She concludes: “The pandemic worked a bit in our favour because it gave us a timely, real-world example of a pressing public health issue to bolster our studies. It also showed the need for more public health professionals to help communities and policy-makers in situations like this.

“I found the course rewarding in so many ways and the lecturing team were incredibly supportive, making allowances for the fatigue that can follow a Crohn’s flare-up. John and I feel glad to have each other and are both looking forward to putting into practice what we learned at the University to help where help is needed.”

Find out more about UON’s Public Health (MSc) course.

Photos by Jen Blue/Love Lens Visuals.