The Fund for American Studies (TFAS) Alumni Network helps alumni build lasting relationships that develop successful networks and careers around the world, but for some, things turn out to be more serious.
While managing the TFAS Business + Government Relations program track in 2017, Joel Troutman ’13 met his future wife, Sarah Markley Troutman ’16, who returned to TFAS as a program advisor. They spent the summer getting to know each other as colleagues and friends, but went their separate ways once the summer ended and Sarah relocated to Ireland to complete her master’s degree. It wasn’t until 2020 when they reconnected at the TFAS Founders’ Day Celebration that their friendship quickly blossomed into a relationship.
TFAS sat down with Joel and Sarah on Friday, Feb. 10 – three years after their first date – to catch up with them and hear more about their TFAS Love Story. Read what they had to say below:
Tell us about the first time you met or how you first started dating.
Joel: We met when we were at TFAS, she was a program advisor and I was working full-time for TFAS.
Sarah: In the summer of 2017, I was back at TFAS as a program advisor and I remember meeting Joel and the other program managers and just being so impressed with your kindness and your fun-loving attitude. Over the summer I definitely developed a crush, but it was a secret. We were a part of the same friend group over the summer and then I moved overseas at the end of the summer to pursue my master’s degree in Northern Ireland, so I was gone for a year and a half. It took us a little while to reconnect. We were Facebook friends but it wasn’t until the TFAS Founders’ Day Celebration in February 2020 that we reconnected.
Joel: Neither of us necessarily planned on going, because it was a rainy February day. We almost didn’t go but at the last minute, we decided to go and hit it off. We ended up talking the entire night. We had passed each other at previous TFAS events and would always say “hi” and how we wanted to catch up but never did. But at this event, we were actually able to sit down and start talking. It went from a group to just the two of us talking on the side for an hour or so. That turned into Sarah saying that we should follow up with dinner or something. I think I texted her the next day immediately asking her out to dinner, and we went three years ago today at Founding Farmers. Then that turned into another date and the rest is history.
Sarah: We’re so thankful that we ended up going to that TFAS event because a month later the world shut down for COVID, and who knows if or when we were going to reconnect.
You had quite the TFAS contingent at your wedding – Can you tell us why it was important for you to have so many TFAS alumni and friends there to celebrate your marriage?
Sarah: TFAS really gave us the friendship foundations that made us want to move back to Washington D.C., after we interned that first summer. It really helped us feel at home in the city and we kept up with those connections. And with Joel having had worked full-time at TFAS, the organization has become a huge part of our lives. We really have TFAS to thank for a lot of what we have now.
Joel: Beyond working at TFAS, I probably would not have gotten my job after the one at TFAS if it wasn’t for a fellow TFAS alum and staffer who connected me, which I’m thankful for. But also, we wouldn’t have met if we hadn’t participated in TFAS. We both love the staff and the folks who work there. We always kept up with Joe, Mary, Steve and Roger and throughout the years we’ve developed these friendships. It was important to have them at our wedding, and they’re part of our family.
Aside from meeting your partner, what was the best part of TFAS?
Joel: I would say two things. First, it was an incredible first job for me in D.C., I learned a ton about the city, politics, government and just by being at TFAS and having the experience was super helpful. I’m extremely grateful for the opportunity that it gave me to be able to live here as a young professional. Second, the job and the network afterwards. I would’ve not gotten started in the next job if it had not been for TFAS. That was because of the network, connections, friends and everything that job at TFAS provided me.
Sarah: Similarly, I would say the confidence and connections that TFAS gave me during that first summer. It just made me feel like I could move back to D.C., and I could make it. TFAS also gave me friendships that allowed me to have roommates to move in with when I decided to move back to the city when I was job searching. It was actually through a TFAS connection that I was able to get my first post graduate internship, which turned into a job with the U.S. Committee on Foreign Affairs where I am now. So it really just set us both out for success in so many ways.
You both have forged successful careers in Washington and TFAS is proud to have alumni like you who are leaders in D.C. – Can you tell us how TFAS has had an impact on your professional lives?
Sarah: A friend from my TFAS student summer who was a fellow program assistant in 2017 connected me with the folks at the Foreign Affairs Committee, so that was the kickstart connection that allowed me to sprout in that office and work my way up to the position that I have now. Also the professional and networking skills that TFAS helped me develop was really helpful which allowed me progress.
Joel: I would go back to my internship at TFAS which helped push me out of my comfort zone in a lot of ways. It was the first “real job” that I had in a big city, especially coming from a homeschooled background and a liberal arts school in the Midwest. That opportunity helped me expand and grow my professional skills which then helped me get to where I’m at today – certainly at TFAS itself and beyond that and being able to realize how much your friends and your network are important to you.
You both are active volunteers who give back to students as speakers, mentors and small group hosts – Why do you believe it’s important to volunteer with TFAS?
Joel: I think it’s important because from my time as a student, but also having worked at TFAS, I know all of the work that goes on behind the scenes. Also as a student, I know how valuable it was to hear from folks who have professional experience. I think it’s really important to give back because I certainly gained a lot from all the folks that I hear from during events, speaker series, small groups etc. I’m certainly happy to give back as best that I can and pay it forward.
Sarah: We owe so much to TFAS. It’s great to be able to give back, and I think those sessions were so helpful to me as a student. I know how transformative TFAS was to me, so it’s nice to know that we’re a part of that journey for someone else.
Today, there are more than 200 alumni marriages – Why do you think so many TFAS alumni end up together?
Joel: I would personally say, I think it’s because of the common shared interests. In the D.C. programs in particular, students are coming together with a lot of the same interests so it’s pretty easy to meet someone with those shared interests, maybe more easily than elsewhere. I also think it’s the environment of “forced” to be together for a whole summer. You really get to know someone really well without even dating. You get to be friends, get to know someone and that can turn into something. TFAS does a really great job of cultivating relationships and helping people get to know others from outside their friends from back home.
Sarah: I think in a lot of cases, TFAS provides your first friend group in the city and it’s really great at building on that foundation and helping people keep in touch. The goal is to usually marry your best friend and TFAS definitely helps you find that.
Joel: It also adds comradery and commonality. I still have very good friends from my TFAS summer – one of my TFAS roommates was one of my groomsmen and we still hang out. Inevitably, we just end up talking about something from TFAS. So, I think that shared experience is super helpful.
TFAS takes pride in bringing together young, driven individuals but feels even luckier to be a part of their happily ever after. To learn more about other TFAS alumni couples visit these stories from 2014, 2016, 2018 and 2022.