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KGI & East Coast Connection Lead to Love for Alumni Karishma Dagar and Michael Leibfried

For Keck Graduate Institute (KGI) alumni Karishma Dagar (Leibfried), MS ’13, and Michael Leibfried, MS ’12, it might not have quite been love at first sight. However, they quickly bonded over a shared East Coast connection.

The giveaway? Dagar showed up to a mixer for Master of Science in Applied Life Sciences (MS) upperclassmen and first-year students wearing high heels.

“I was the most dressed-up person there, and he realized I wasn’t a California girl right away,” said Dagar, who grew up in New Jersey and lived in New York for many years.

Although Leibfried grew up in Southern California, his father’s family is all from New Jersey, and he got his undergraduate degree at NYU. There, he soon assimilated to the fast-paced way of life.

“Everything’s fast—you talk fast, you walk fast, you drive fast,” Leibfried said. “You can’t survive there if you don’t. Having fully transitioned my lifestyle and my culture to being in New York City, coming back to California was a bit of culture shock. But Karishma understood where I was coming from.”

Dagar had been doing research at NYU Medical Center when she realized that being a bench scientist wasn’t the right fit for her personality. She was drawn to KGI’s program for its blend of science and business, which inspired her to come to California.

After the mixer, Dagar and Leibfried were matched up in KGI’s mentor-mentee program, which they felt was appropriate given their shared interest in business and East Coast connection.

“We bonded over the fact that the New York Giants won the Super Bowl that year and watching them play,” Leibfried said. “We would be the two crazy people up at 8 a.m. to watch the East Coast games.”

For Dagar, it was helpful having a close friend who was one year ahead of her.

“He could tell me which classes he found really helpful and which ones were a bit more challenging,” Dagar said. “I was definitely the more study-focused one in our relationship and would spend a lot more time in the library, which made Mike come to the library to hang out with me.”

Leibfried added, with a laugh, that he had his highest GPA of all that last semester. At the same time, though, he helped Dagar learn how to relax.

“In New York, you very much feel like it’s a badge of honor to be really busy,” Dagar said. “When I moved to California, the idea of slowing things down and taking a hike and having beautiful weather all the time was a really nice change of pace.”

Leibfried’s parents have a place in Hermosa Beach, which provided a nice getaway from Claremont whenever their hectic schedules and stress from school got to be too much. In the same way, Leibfried appreciates the support he received from Dagar during that time.

“I was going through interviews for full-time jobs, which was stressful in 2012 because we were three years post-financial meltdown, and the jobs weren’t quite coming back yet,” Leibfried said.

Following in this tradition of helping one another to de-stress, they opted out of the large wedding they had initially planned, which would have been spread out over multiple days with hundreds of guests, and decided instead for an intimate 2014 wedding in Mexico with under 40 guests.

“Coming from an Indian family, it’s customary to have large weddings, but things were starting to grow out of control,” Dagar said. “We would have gone into debt for our wedding, which is not a good way to start a life together. Instead, we made the wedding simple and easy—just what we needed.”

Now Dagar and Leibfried live in Oakland, where Leibfried works for Roche and is currently occupied with a global reimbursement strategy for Oncology. Dagar works for Genentech, the U.S. branch of Roche, on the Hemophilia marketing team.

They are expecting their first baby in April.

“Nobody goes to grad school to find their partner, but I feel it made a lot of sense because we both understand the healthcare world,” Dagar said.

“We work in different enough areas where it’s not boring, but we still understand each other’s work, which has been a blessing.”