Picture perfect: engaged couple meets through UNI class photo

Not every couple can say they have a photo of the exact moment they met — but for Mallory Burdt and Ethan Arnold, who will be getting married this September, it happened at UNI. 

When the two were incoming freshmen at the University of Northern Iowa in 2019, a class photo with fellow freshmen was arranged during Welcome Week. Burdt and Arnold, two strangers, just happened to be standing next to each other. 

Burdt initiated small talk, and the two discovered they lived just 20 minutes away from each other — Burdt in Ankeny and Arnold in Johnston. They also discovered they had a mutual friend, who is going to be the best man in their wedding.

“Without even knowing his name, I told my roommate I was going to marry that man,” Burdt said. “I guess you could say it was love at first sight.”

That first semester, they were in the same psychology class. Burdt said she took every opportunity to help Arnold study, just to spend more time with him. 

Burdt and Arnold had lots of good times walking back from psychology class together. Burdt lived in the dorms on the other side of campus, and Arnold claimed he “needed to get his steps in for the day,” so he consistently joined her. 

“We still love walking the same route now for the memories,” said Burdt.

Eventually, the two became close friends.

As a part of the UNI Men’s Rugby team, Arnold found himself in need of a date to a rugby banquet in February 2020. He asked Burdt to go with him, and, of course, she gladly obliged. At this point, it was clear their friendship had turned into something more.

The next day, on Valentine’s Day 2020, Arnold set up a picnic in Burdt’s dorm and asked to make their relationship official. They’ve been together ever since. 

Saturday rugby games have played a big part in their relationship.

“In the beginning, I knew nothing about the game, but I can proudly say after four years of watching him, I have caught on,” said Burdt. “I would always be on the sidelines with our dog, Archie, supporting the UNI team!”

The two became engaged on Nov. 21, 2022, when they were on a cruise to the Bahamas with Arnold’s family. The first day of the cruise, as soon as the couple got to their room, Arnold proposed, and Burdt said “yes.”

“I later found out he had this extravagant plan to propose on the beach the night before the cruise,” said Burdt. “But it was 30 degrees and storming all day, so his original plan failed.” 

Arnold and Burdt both graduate in May — Arnold with a degree in construction management from UNI and Burdt with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing from Allen College, which she transferred to after finishing her prerequisites at UNI. They will be moving to Des Moines for their jobs and will get married in September in Ankeny. 

And to think — it all started with a photo!