16:09 PM

UHCL alums' Valentine story: 'Who the heck is she?'

It's hard enough to be a foreign student trying to find an on-campus job while navigating an American graduate degree program. Yatin Karnik said that securing employment was his top priority when he arrived at University of Houston-Clear Lake in August 2002. His repeated attempts to get a job in the department now called the Office of Information Technology were met with frustration and delays due to a certain female undergraduate student worker who was less than cooperative with him.

"I spoke with the person who was the head of that department at the time, and asked him for a job," Karnik said. "He told me there was an undergraduate student worker named Swati Bhatt who managed the schedule and would decide if there were job openings. I was baffled. I was new in this country and I didn't understand how things worked here. How does an undergraduate student decide if a graduate student gets a job? Who the heck is she?"

Karnik said he returned the following day, only to find that Swati had returned to India for a few weeks. "I told the department head I needed a job very badly, and he said I had to wait until Swati got back. The look on my face said, how important is she? Isn't he the boss here? I did not understand how she was the one in charge of this decision."

After the student returned a few weeks later, Karnik said he finally met her face to face. "When we both saw each other, we were like, 'Who the heck are you?' I had a bit of a bad attitude. She had the same, having heard from someone else that I had been around looking for a job," he said. "She saw my facial expressions and my body language, and she had the same vibe toward me. I thought she was rude, so I gave it back to her. Twice as much! I thought, who does she think she is?"

Finally, Karnik got the job. "I kept trying to talk to the head of the department, just to bypass her," he said. "Who actually said yes to hiring me? I don't know, but I did get hired. I got fewer hours, but I didn't care, I just wanted in."

As he began working there, Karnik remembered there was some "air" between the two. "She was like, I've been here for some time already, what do you know about anything? And I was saying, I'm showing patience! I was showing perseverance," he said.

As they worked together, Karnik said he went through a phase where he was trying to prove he was a good worker. "But she was thinking, I was trying to outdo her," he said. "When people came to chitchat or return laptops, they would ask, where's Yatin? I think Swati started feeling jealous. People would leave notes for me, and she would not take them. She said she'd never seen anyone ask for someone by name to do something, but I said, that's just me, I am all about sales and customer service."

This slightly competitive undercurrent continued between them, Karnik said, until the summer. "That's when I think something finally clicked," he said. "Coming from India, we didn't have the American concept of dating, but we were 'hush' dating. It wasn't widely known. We were going to restaurants and such together openly, but I didn't yet propose marriage."

Their typical date nights took place in the Bayou Building parking lot. "She had the closing shift at her job, and I would bring dinner and we'd eat on the hood of the car," he said. "That's how we used to spend time together. She lived with extended family off campus, and we didn't want to raise alarms by having her stay out late too much, so that was our usual meeting place. This went on for about a year."

He said it would not have been possible for him to propose to Swati until he had a job. "In India, no one cares if you've gone to school. You have to have a job. It's a prerequisite for asking for a girl's hand," he said.

Finally, when he got a job, he proposed marriage on the UH-Clear Lake campus. "I gave her a ring after both sets of parents agreed," he said.

Karnik received his Master of Science in Software Engineering in 2004, and has been in the mortgage lending business for about 20 years. "Over that time, I have led all the departments at Wells Fargo Home Mortgage, with my final position as senior vice president of National Operational Support and Fee Strategy," he said. "Since last October, I have become the founder and CEO of Confer, Inc., which is an idiosyncratic mortgage lending platform."

Swati received her Bachelor of Science in Mathematical Science in 2004. They were married Feb. 12, 2008 after six years of dating. They have two daughters, ages 8 and 12, and reside in Dallas.

"I found my profession and also my wife and family at UHCL," he said. "This university has changed my life both professionally and personally in ways that cannot be undone. I have a beautiful wife who is also a product of UHCL as well. I could not be where I am without UHCL and who I found during my journey here."