Need a Romantic Spot to Propose? Try the Vagelos Education Center

Joseph Shivers and Sarah Meister
Joseph Shivers, MD'17, proposes to Sarah Meister in the Vagelos Education Center.

It’s been a big year for the Vagelos Education Center (VEC). After much anticipation, the building opened in August 2016; the first classes were held in September. It won The Architect Newspaper’s 2016 Best of Design Award in Façade and the coveted 2017 Best in Competition Award from the American Institute of Architects New York. And now it has joined the Empire State Building, Central Park, and the Brooklyn Bridge on an elite list of romantic New York City proposal sites. On Feb. 28, the VEC registered its first (known) marriage proposal when Joseph Shivers, MD’17, asked Sarah Meister to marry him.

Dr. Shivers has a lot to celebrate as he prepares for life after medical school at the College of Physicians and Surgeons (P&S). In June, he’ll move to Long Island, N.Y., for a one-year internal medicine residency at Hofstra University/Northwell Health. Then he’ll head to the University of Colorado in Denver to complete his residency years in physical medicine and rehabilitation. And, of course, he’s also planning a wedding with Ms. Meister.

Joseph Shivers, MD'17 and Sarah Meister
Joseph Shivers, MD'17 and Sarah Meister at Match Day on March 17, 2017

What made the VEC the perfect spot for a marriage proposal? “The building came up around the same time as our relationship,” says Dr. Shivers. “Perhaps it’s like a metaphor for us.”

Dr. Shivers and Ms. Meister, who is a hardware and design growth manager for the tech company Indiegogo, began dating during his major clinical year in 2015, a stressful time for any medical student. “She kept me grounded,” he says. They were introduced by another P&S student, Sam Antoine’18, grandson of renowned oncologist Burton J. Lee, MD’56. Mr. Antoine went to college at the University of Puget Sound with Ms. Meister.

On the night of the proposal, Dr. Shivers planned a ruse. The evening began with tickets to see "La Traviata" performed by the New York Metropolitan Opera at Lincoln Center.

“I knew I had to add some misdirection if I was going to propose on campus,” he says.

After the curtain closed, Dr. Shivers suggested they go to the VEC to see the view on such a beautiful night. Under his cool demeanor, he was in a rush. The building would close at 11 p.m., and they had less than a half an hour to get there. He called a Lyft car, and after the cast took a first bow, he steered Ms. Meister out of the theater.

Joseph Shivers, MD'17 and Sarah Meister
Joseph Shivers, MD'17 and Sarah Meister at Lincoln Center in New York City

In the days before, Dr. Shivers had coordinated with Columbia facilities and security to ensure all went smoothly on proposal night (guests to the VEC must be preapproved). He even learned how to override the time-activated curtains in the room on the 14th floor, where he was to propose.

One thing he forgot to plan for was photography. As luck would have it, P&S student Eric Bland’18, was studying nearby and captured photos of the happy couple.

After the proposal, the couple went to Ms. Meister’s apartment in Hudson Heights, where Dr. Shivers had entrusted his roommate, P&S student Pranav Nanda’18, to scatter rose petals and make sure a bottle of champagne chilled in the refrigerator.

All in all, the evening was a success. Dr. Shivers and Ms. Meister look forward to saying "I do." And the VEC continues to make news. In April, it drew members of the Columbia community to P&S 250th anniversary events, such as the launch of Velocity: Columbia’s Ride to End Cancer and a Precision Medicine Forum, and there’s more to come. For all anniversary events, visit