When most people snag a coveted invitation to the Grammy Awards their biggest question is “What will I wear?” But for Emily Meineke, a doctorate student in the entomology department at NC State, the bigger question was “Can I even go?”
Ultimately her answer was no: Her work and research studying trees and pesticides just couldn’t be put on hold. Fortunately, her then-boyfriend, now fiancé Joe Kwon, the cellist for popular Americana folk band The Avett Brothers which has performed at the awards show, absolutely understood.
“When I first started graduate school, I missed the Grammys because of work,” Meineke said. “It’s kind of a bummer, but it’s also worth it because I love the work that I do and I think that it’s important.”
That important work includes doing research on plants and working on ways to reduce pesticide use, with a particular focus on street trees.
“I study how warming in the city affects the health of the trees, their growth, their pests, that kind of stuff,” she said.
Steve Frank, an assistant professor in the entomology department and Meineke’s advisor, said his work as an ornamental entomologist coincides with her research.
“Most of our work is along the lines of what Emily does with street trees, where we’re looking at the effects of urbanization on tree pests and tree health,” Frank said. “If we can understand why there’s so many pests on urban trees, then hopefully we can fix the cause of the pest outbreaks rather than trying to fix the pests with defectives.”
In addition to her work at NC State, Meineke also helps with programs at a major research center in downtown Raleigh and at the Museum of Natural Science from time to time.
Meineke said that though her work and busy schedule has prevented her from attending countless concerts Kwon has performed in, the couple likes to make the most of their time together and focuses their relationship on things besides their respective careers; in fact her more pop-centric tastes in music don’t really mirror Kwon’s own musical taste.
“[Our time together] revolves more around food,” she said. “He knows a lot of French techniques that he’s taught me over the years. And I make a lot of recipes that my grandmother made when I was a kid, and I also make a lot of recipes that I get off the internet. Joe’s repertoire is a lot more diversified than mine is.”
Meineke said their shared interest in food and cooking makes it a great way to entertain house guests, which the couple hope to do a lot more of very soon.
Last weekend the couple moved into a new home in downtown Raleigh, after enduring a “shoe box-sized” apartment in the time between selling their last house and building the new one.
“It really hurt our souls for a while ‘cause we really wanted to have people over but every time we did it, it was such a crunch to get everyone inside. That’s why Joe was so excited in the [Indy Week] article about getting our new house,” she said.
That article, which ran in December, solidified Kwon and Meineke’s status as a hosting power couple.
“I want to cook some eggs and some really banging fried rice. Indian food and French food. I just want to get in there and cook and feed my friends,” Kwon told the newspaper.
“It’s our favorite thing to do,” Meineke said. “I’m more introverted than Joe is, so I never saw myself as someone who wanted to host large crowds of people, but I love it now. In general we would much rather be with other people than be alone.”
Building a life and a home together that centers around hosting, food and bringing people together is fitting for the pair who met at Chapel Hill institution Spanky’s when Meineke – who graduated from the University of North Carolina is a BS in environmental science in 2008 – was working as a hostess while Kwon was tending bar at the restaurant. The two started dating right around the time he joined the band, according to Meineke.