Finding love at CSUB: Steven and Aliya Varela

Steven and Aliya Varela wedding

Steven and Aliya Varela on the day of their wedding, Aug. 18, 2013.  Her dress was handmade and designed with the help of her cousin. Her jewelry was gifted to her by her sister, Aziza, and her hand jewelry was gifted to her by her great uncle in India. 

It’s hard to attribute the meeting of Steven and Aliya Varela to anything other than fate – fate that was not to be deterred.

The first time their paths crossed, they literally bumped into each other as they walked in opposite directions down an empty Dorothy Donahoe Hall.

Both moved on with nary a word.

Later that evening, Aliya was in the same corridor when her friend Mike called her over to introduce her to his pal – who happened to be Steven.

There was a bit more to that interaction. They both described bumping into each other earlier and laughed. They exchanged names, they shook hands (Steven holding onto her hand a little longer to look into her “mysterious” eyes) and Aliya could still smell Steven's cologne on her hands hours later in class. 

But still, nothing came of it.

Then as if fate was saying, “Come ON,” Steven and Aliya ran into each other again two days later outside the Education building, where Aliya was sitting on a bench. 

They had a brief conversation and exchanged numbers on a piece of paper from a notebook Aliya still has. Neither expected anything to come of the interaction; Steven thought Aliya was out of his league and Aliya assumed she wouldn't hear from him.

To Aliya's surprise, Steven called her at 11:30 p.m. that night and the two chatted until 4 a.m. about “anything, everything and nothing at the same time,” as Aliya put it.

“It seems like everything just happened naturally after that,” Steven said of their relationship following that call. "I fell in love with her easily. She is passionate about everything she does as a person, mom, wife, student and professional. She's smart, and above all, she reminds me what being a good human being is about.”

"It's easy to be drawn to Steven,” Aliya said. “Although I'm the more romantic one, he's definitely a gentleman and very charming. He is witty and makes me laugh and his presence makes my heart smile.

“There are many reasons I love Steven and many things I've learned about Steven, but my favorite thing about him is his sincerity in being a husband and above all, his fatherhood.”

Steven and Aliya Varela on bench

Steven and Aliya Varela sitting on the bench where they met for their engagement shoot.

Their courtship was very gradual. They became friends first. Then one day Steven passed Aliya a note in class that read, “Will you be my girlfriend? Circle one, yes or no.” Aliya wrote back “maybe” but was only kidding.

After class she asked if he was serious and said yes as he picked a flower and handed it to her. They still know and celebrate the date: Oct. 15, 2003.

Both Aliya and Steven are first-generation college graduates who had to work multiple jobs through school. Both worked on campus for the Educational Opportunity and Education Talent Search/TRIO programs that serve underserved school populations and disenfranchised communities. 

Aliya earned a bachelor’s degree in sociology and a master’s degree in healthcare administration and management. Steven earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology and master’s degree in public administration.

Steven proposed to Aliya on a moonlit, drizzly Oct. 15 evening at the CSUB amphitheater. They married at Mill Creek Gardens downtown in 2013; her father and Steven's close friend both performed the ceremonies. 

Together, Steven and Aliya have faced heartache and love, grief and happiness, losses and gains, and challenges and successes.

Steven works as a social worker for the Kern County Department of Human Services. Aliya runs a children's learning center out of their home in southwest Bakersfield.

Aliya is pursuing her doctorate in the educational leadership program at CSUB and has plans of opening a freestanding childcare facility for kids of all ages in which she partners with parents to design a multidimensional curriculum that includes health and wellness and basic life skills.

They have two children of their own, a 3 ½-year-old son, Isaaq, and 2-year-old daughter, Kamilla.

Varela family

The Varela family, Isaaq, Steven, Kamilla and Aliya, at a cousin's wedding.

They cherish their memories of working and studying together at CSUB, their walks to the library and watching CSUB grow and develop.

“CSUB is not just a university,” Aliya said. “It’s where we found some of our most valued friendships, love, companionship, hope and success all in one.”

While those were great times, they say, they’re in the best place of their lives today.

“We have our fairytale now,” Steven said. “This is what the pursuit of life is all about. It's not perfect, but it's beautiful and we created it. It's ours and it's with my best friend.”

Finding love at CSUB

As Valentine's Day approaches, we're sharing the stories of CSUB alumni who met and fell in love on campus. Today we tell the story of Steven and Aliya Varela.