Long-Distance Love Returns to Miller Hall

It’s a balmy 70-degree winter day and Isabel Hirama ’14, MSBA ’17, and Jonny Mills ’17, MSBA ’18 are strolling hand-in-hand by the Lake Matoaka Amphitheater. As the sun sets over the treeline, the pair walk back to campus, reflecting on their shared history at William & Mary and making plans for the future. After nearly six years of dating, Jonny has just proposed and Isabel has accepted.

Isabel and Jonny at graduationThe couple met when they were undergraduate students at William & Mary. Hirama, a Psychology major, was less than a semester away from graduation when she met Mills at a new student retreat she organized for the Intervarsity Christian Fellowship on campus. Though they are two years apart in age, they were three years apart in school, so Hirama was hesitant to start a new relationship so close to her graduation. She did, however, eventually accept Mills’ invitation to an upcoming formal hosted by their Christian fellowship group.

“Our first date was a Great Gatsby themed dance,” Mills explains. “It was a beautiful snowy night on William & Mary’s campus. We knew that going forward for the next several years it would be a lot of long-distance, but love is love.”

Three months later, Hirama graduated with her Bachelor of Arts degree and became a self-described “digital nomad” working remotely around the world as the head of marketing for a start-up. She and Mills were committed to making a long-distance relationship work as he studied towards earning his undergraduate degree in Economics. They found ways to stay connected and spend time in-person, including when Hirama joined Mills during his study abroad semester in Greece. When they weren’t working and studying respectively, Hirama and Mills enjoyed traveling and trying new cuisines.

During Mills’ final year at William & Mary as an undergraduate student, Hirama moved back to Williamsburg and enrolled in the Raymond A. Mason School of Business Master of Science in Business Analytics (MSBA) program as a part of the 2016-2017 cohort. The marketing, analytics, and strategic initiative projects she worked on for the start-up company really drove her interest in data science, software engineering, and Artificial Intelligence. The William & Mary program seemed like a good fit for her to expand her knowledge and experience in those areas of technical expertise.

Inspired by Hirama’s positive experience in the MSBA program, Mills decided to enroll in the program, too, for the 2017-2018 cohort. While their time overlapping on campus was short, the shared experience of going through the same graduate-level program brought them closer together.

Isabel and Jonny on campus“We are both dreamers and enjoy dreaming big,” Hirama says. “Doing the same program was a way for us to bond. Now we both work in data and pursue that dream together!”

With Mills working through the rigorous and demanding MSBA program in Williamsburg, Hirama accepted an 11-month position with an AI company in London, developing machine learning solutions for the international clients of a San Francisco-based AI consultancy launchpad. She balanced her time as a Machine Learning Fellow & Program Strategist with independent freelance strategy consultancy work for early-stage start-ups in the US, United Kingdom, and Canada.

Once Mills completed the MSBA program, Hirama moved back stateside. She attended The Grace Hopper Program at Fullstack Academy, an immersive three-month software engineering course in New York City before the couple reunited permanently and moved to the San Francisco Bay Area.

Today, Mills works as a Data Engineer for Zeus, a Bay Area start-up that connects professionals with temporary, affordable, and corporate furnished housing geared towards long-term stays. Hirama is a Data Scientist at VR company, which specializes in virtual reality hardware and software products. When they’re not working, they like to collaboratively exercise their creative muscles on side projects related to technology and data.

“We love having creative brainstorming sessions,” Mills says. “We enjoy listening to [audio] books together and working on data projects. One day we hope to start a program or bootcamp to inspire people to pursue careers in data as well.”

Also on their list of things to do: plan a wedding.

Isabel and Jonny with faculty and staff“On the day of the proposal, it was my first time back on campus since I graduated from the MSBA program in 2018. It was special getting engaged on a campus we both love so dearly,” Mills says.

The connection that Mills and Hirama have to William & Mary independently and together as a couple will always be important to them. Hirama says they love coming back to campus and to Colonial Williamsburg.

“We knew we wanted to go back to William & Mary to get engaged which ended by being really special,” she says. “We were even able to invite some of our business school professors to our engagement party.”

Not only has William & Mary played a large role in their relationship coming full circle from a Christian Fellowship dance to engagement, the theme of their first date has also come around full circle too.

“Our first date was at a Great Gatsby themed dance and we also went to a Great Gatsby themed party right after we got engaged over New Year’s in 2019,” Mills explains. “Now we enter the new Roaring Twenties as a soon to be married couple!”