“You probably don’t remember me.”
Lisa (DiNicola) Shields ’81 did not expect to hear those words on her answering machine in the summer of 1990, especially coming from Dan Shields ’80 – her ex-boyfriend from college.
Dan’s assumption couldn’t have been further from the truth. In fact, he had been on Lisa’s mind that very morning, all because of SUNY Potsdam’s alumni magazine, Potsdam People.
Lisa and Dan met at SUNY Potsdam in the fall of 1978. Dan was a transfer student from Mohawk Valley Community College studying mathematics, and Lisa was a computer science major, a year behind him. The two were set up on a “blind” date by a mutual friend.
“It was blind for me,” Lisa recalls. “He knew that he was going to meet me; I just didn’t know I was meeting him.”
For this first date, Dan and Lisa went to The Rusty Nail, a bar in downtown Potsdam that played Motown and disco music that was perfect for dancing. “I learned later that he hated to dance,” Lisa says, “but he has grown to learn to love it.”
The couple continued dating until May of 1980, when Dan graduated from SUNY Potsdam. They recall enjoying many quintessential Potsdam moments together, like dressing up to attend the Ice Carnival formal dance, getting pizza rolls at Sergi’s downtown and taking Dr. Spencer’s Managerial Economics class – the only course they had together.
When they tell the story now, Dan sometimes likes to joke that it was Lisa who broke up with him, but he admits that would be a lie. She was heartbroken.
“He ‘ghosted me’ much of my senior year, though he sent me roses on my birthday and came to my graduation party.”
After graduating, Lisa moved to California to start a job at Hewlett-Packard. She had met representatives from the company when they visited SUNY Potsdam. Her previous plan was to move to Florida and work for IBM, the company she interned with her senior year, but she found the corporate culture at HP to be a better fit for her.
“I started out in northern California and, after a year, moved to southern California,” Lisa explains. “I was a network consultant for HP, before the Internet, and for a while I was the only woman of about 12 network consultants in the United States.”
Little did she know, Dan moved to California a few years after she did. Upon graduation, he had accepted a position in Rome, N.Y. as a software engineer for ConTel, a California-based corporation. After five years, he transferred to Los Angeles and ended up living a half-hour away from Lisa – a fact he realized only after reading her class note in the Summer 1990 issue of Potsdam People.
“I traveled a lot and my mail would pile up,” Dan remembers. “Late one night, I saw the Potsdam alumni magazine with notes on graduates by year. There was a picture of Leslie Rowland – a year behind me and a good friend from my hometown – that got my attention. Right next to her picture, there was a note about Lisa DiNicola and that she lived in a nearby town. So I called and left a message on her message machine.”
Lisa saw the same issue of Potsdam People, and, as always, she searched for a mention of Dan.
“Every time it would come I would be shuffling through the pages, looking for 1980 to see if there was anything about him and if he gotten married yet or whatever,” she says. “There was never anything there because you have to submit it yourself, and that is not really his thing.”
Still, the magazine made her think of him, especially after seeing the photo of his friend Leslie, which made his message the next day especially jarring. “I came home and pushed the button on the answering machine, and it was his message,” she says. “I thought, ‘Are you kidding me?’”
Lisa returned his call, and the two reconnected over lunch. “He apologized for breaking up with me, and then that was it for me!” she laughed. “We spent some time getting to know each other again and ending up getting married.”
The Shields stayed in California and had three children together – Danielle, Nicholas, and Carolyn – before moving back to Upstate N.Y. in 2006 to be closer to family.
Now, Lisa serves as the deputy mayor in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., and Dan is the managing director of The Prudent Group, a strategic consulting firm. Both of them agree that receiving a liberal arts education at SUNY Potsdam helped to shape their lives and careers.
“It was the baseline for everything,” Dan explains. Even as a math major, he remembers taking required courses on writing, reading and grammar. He appreciated that the College expected students to learn such fundamental life skills and that the professors prioritized real-world experience.
He recalls one moment when his favorite professor, Dr. Ladde, threw the course textbook against the wall, aiming for the trash can, and said, “I don’t care if you learn anything from that book; I just want to teach you to solve problems.” Each class thereafter, he set up proofs, theorems and word problems on the board, and the students would have to solve them out loud with limited assistance.
Lisa also appreciated her professors and their intentional teaching styles, especially Dr. Tenney in the Computer Science department. She notes, “The computer science background and problem-solving skills I developed at Potsdam are still in practice today.”
Beyond academics, Dan and Lisa loved the diversity of the campus and its activities.
“Even if your interests were unique, there was something to do,” Dan shares. “If you didn’t want to play on the sports teams, you could still play broomball and have a blast!”
The couple also enjoyed attending performances at The Crane School of Music and interacting with students from neighboring universities.
“In a way, Potsdam is in the middle of nowhere, but there is so much going on there,” Lisa says fondly. “It’s really a gem.”
As the starting place of their relationship and careers, as well as home to many treasured memories, SUNY Potsdam holds a special place in the Shields’ hearts.
“Our time at Potsdam was definitely a highlight of both of our lives,” Lisa shares. “We wouldn’t have met – and maybe re-met– without it. It was an important experience and foundation for both of us in all kinds of ways.”
SUNY Potsdam continues to share alumni updates like Lisa’s in Potsdam People and on social media. If you would like to tell your fellow alumni about an exciting achievement or life event, be sure to complete our online Alumni Update Form. Please note: finding true love is not a guaranteed result.