First Impressions Lead to Lasting Commitment


Arsena Todd Schroeder ’11 and her future husband, Stephen Schroeder ’12, sensed early on at Pfeiffer University that they were destined to be together.

Both Communication Studies majors, they first met as participants in a class exercise that had Arsena guessing all there was to know about Stephen. The exercise aimed to illuminate perception checking and/or assumptions we all make about people, their behavior and their motives, most of which are culturally informed. It happened in January 2010, during the first day of Intercultural Communications, a course taught by Dr. Deborah Burris, an Associate Professor of Communication Studies.

“He must be extremely patient because he is wearing a golf sweatshirt,” Arsena said, offering her first guess about Stephen, then a Concord resident who played on Pfeiffer’s golf team. “Anyone who plays golf has patience. He is probably from Florida. People go there to play golf, right?”

Another guess: “Oh and he is kind of overconfident. He thinks highly of himself.”   

Burris asked Arsena what she meant by that. “He thinks he looks good,” she replied.

“So, you think he looks good,” Burris said.

An awkward moment of silence ensued. Arsena, flustered and in denial, tried to explain herself. Her friends snickered, sensing that her die with Stephen was already cast. 

They were right. Arsena, then a Charlotte resident who had become the first member of her family to attend college, warmed to Stephen even more as they chatted after class. Then, wanting to know more about him, she looked him up on Facebook.

Unfortunately, all she knew was his first name, and even that wasn’t much help, since she didn’t know whether it was spelled with a “v” or a “ph.” She was about to give up her search and log out when, serendipitously, a friend request from Stephen popped up in her Facebook notifications.

“We were both online doing the same thing – looking for each other,” Arsena said. “How he found me, though, I have no clue.”

The Facebook connection was an auspicious start of even better things to come. Stephen and Arsena became convinced that they would marry quite soon after their first meetings – though initially, they kept this revelation to themselves and focused on becoming good friends.

Each partner in the relationship had a busy schedule. Stephen spent a lot of time training with the golf team, and Arsena worked as a tutor in the Wick S. Sharp Learning Center. She also had six internships while at Pfeiffer. So, their principal way of getting to know each other better was not dating but simply hanging out when time permitted. This happened, for example, at meetings of a Bible study group that met at the home of Stephen’s parents or while they played a Bananagrams board game in Rowe Hall, where they both lived.

In September 2010, Stephen proposed to Arsena at Bible study. They eloped on Jan. 3, 2011.  At the time, both of them were still full-time students at Pfeiffer, so they moved into off-campus quarters near Misenheimer’s campus. To help make ends meet, they each worked part-time at the Applebee’s in Albemarle, N.C.

Arsena and Stephen, who now live in Charlotte, are celebrating 10 years of marriage and trying to start a family.

“We’ve experienced a lot of disappointment and achievements,” Arsena said. “We’ve lifted each other up, and we’ve let each other down. But we’ve learned to celebrate our differences and to grow together through the ups and downs of life.”

On the “ups” side, they’ve certainly progressed in their careers. Stephen, having earned a Master of Arts in Professional Behavior Analysis from the Florida Institute of Technology, is now a Board Certified Behavioral Analyst. He works as a Primary Clinical Supervisor in the Gastonia, N.C., branch of Compleat Kidz, a provider of therapy for children with autism.

“I’ve worked with the autism population for eight years now, and I really enjoy the work I do,” Stephen said.

Sadly, Stephen hurt his wrist, which forced him to give up playing golf. However, he’s become a professional disc golfer.

Arsena, a Knapp Scholar while at Pfeiffer, has become a successful independent recording artist. Her interest in songwriting and performing was sparked during a Capitol Hill internship, when, in her spare time, she learned to play the guitar and was featured in a friend’s mixtape remake.

In 2017, Arsena founded Dear Soul Music Company, which provides such resources for independent artists as workshops, consultations, and live shows. She attributes her business savvy to the financial and communications acumen her Pfeiffer education helped provide her.

Some of the most memorable highlights of Arsena’s career have been touring internationally and recording her sophomore album Sleep Talking (2018), which features the singles “So Many Plans” and “Flying Away.”

Earlier on in her career, her rendition of Bob Marley’s “Turn Your Lights Down Low” attracted the talent scouts of Time Warner Cable Arena (now Spectrum Arena), where she was booked to perform Bruno Mars’ “Count on Me” for an NBA Hornets Gala. Michael Jordan, the former NBA standout, was in attendance; he gave her performance a standing ovation.

Arsena and Stephen seem well-positioned to celebrate another 10 years of marriage. They credit the longevity of their union to some advice from Dr. Tracy Espy, Pfeiffer’s former Provost. (Espy is now the President of Mitchell College.)

“You know, money problems are the number one cause of divorce,” Arsena remembers Espy telling her.

In time, both Stephen and Arsena have come to embrace this nugget of wisdom to the point where they now prioritize fiscal discipline and live a debt-free life.

“We believe living a debt-free life helps relieve a lot of stress and strain,” Arsena said. “It forces us to live below our means, and to plan for our future and the things we want. We now know that you need a money plan. Thanks, Dr. Espy.”

In this and many other ways, the foundation for Stephen and Arsena’s strong relationship was built during their time at Pfeiffer.