MLAS graduate Stagg Newman ’19 and his wife Cheryl Newman are experts in endurance, both in their preferred sport of endurance horseback riding – in which they’ve logged more than 15,000 combined miles – and in their pursuit of higher education – in which they might have just as many miles in the classroom. Stagg has established a scholarship fund, the Lee and Martha Newman Fund, to honor his parents, who instilled in him a lifelong quest to learn. The mission of the fund is to help more individuals engage in higher education through the Master of Liberal Arts and Sciences Program at UNC Asheville.
Stagg earned his undergraduate liberal arts degree from Davidson College and his master’s and doctorate in mathematics from Cornell University, where he met and married Cheryl. Cheryl earned her B.S., M.S. and Ph.D. in electrical engineering. After a brief stint teaching, Stagg followed Cheryl to Bell Labs and enjoyed a four-decade career as telecommunications technologist and manager with Bell Labs and Bellcore, as a Senior Practice Expert at McKinsey, and a stint with the Federal Communications Commission as Chief Technologist. The development of the Internet, which he contributed to in a small way as a technologist, enabled Stagg and Cheryl to move to the beautiful WNC mountains in 2000 and work from their home office for the next 17 years.
Stagg claims Cheryl is responsible for his embarking on his MLAS program as she told him in 2015, perhaps to keep him occupied, “Now that you are retiring, why don’t you think about going back to school and really learn about climate change since you are so interested in it?” So Stagg sought an academic home close to their home. He enrolled in the seminar in Climate Change & Society: Communicating Science taught by Gerard Voos, the Director of the Master of Liberal Arts and Sciences Program at UNC Asheville, as an experiment to see if he could still do academic work. What Stagg discovered with his first class in UNC Asheville’s Master of Liberal Arts and Sciences Program was a degree on par intellectually with his earlier education and contemporary in its approach and curriculum. He matriculated into the full MLAS program and Gerard became his advisor, with whom he would take another seminar and do three independent study courses before earning his MLAS degree and both the Climate Change and Society Certificate and Environmental and Cultural Sustainability Certificate.
“When I embarked on the MLAS degree, I did so because I still had many more years of intellectual life,” said Stagg. “This was a way to rethink what I wanted to do with the last decades of my life and stay committed socially and personally. The program provided me with insights and the improved communications capabilities that are invaluable.”
He enjoyed combining the technical courses with humanities course. Two courses taught by Professor Emeritus Bill Spellman—The Great War and Modern Consciousness and Themes in the Western Experience: Values, Practice, and Prospects—as well as a course taught by Professor of Philosophy Keya Maitra, Sustainable Cultures, highlighted the humanities aspects of the program.
Stagg thought when he started the MLAS program that he could write and read. Early feedback from Gerard disabused Stagg of the former notion. Ongoing feedback from Gerard through several courses led to major improvements in his non-fiction writing. Then Gerard insisted that Stagg take a creative writing course from acclaimed novelist Tommy Hays—Locating Our Stories: A Creative Prose Workshop on Place. Tommy both taught Stagg how to write creatively and how to read again. He says he learned to read for more than just the content that one does as technologist, but rather to savor reading and appreciate the power of writing to convey images and emotions. Stagg’s even had one of his creative non-fiction stories, “Mr. Johnson’s Barber Shop,” published on-line by Davidson College.
That’s one of the reasons that Stagg has started a scholarship for MLAS program, so that more students can have the experience, can contribute to the class conversations, and can gain the expertise from UNC Asheville’s unique approach.
“I’m a very strong believer in the value of a liberal arts education and taking the holistic approach,” says Stagg. “The sciences and the humanities have so much to give one another, and you need insights from both to come up with solutions for what we do as a civilization and as individuals.”
His gift of $10,000 annually for the next five years will fund four $2,000 scholarships ($1,000 awarded each semester), plus $2,000 in professional development funds.
“This is a very exciting time for the MLAS Program,” said Gerard. “Stagg’s very generous gift will provide scholarship opportunities for current and prospective students that we simply couldn’t offer before. Stagg also has provided funds for students to attend professional conferences around the country, an important component of graduate school training that most programs can’t provide. We always look forward to a new academic year, but we are thrilled at the possibilities beginning this fall semester.”
Stagg also works with UNC Asheville on the West Next Generation Network initiative to bring new and better broadband capabilities to unserved and underserved area of our region. His support of the program is providing work-study job opportunities to UNC Asheville students, as three students are developing a web presence for the initiative. Though retired from telecommunications work, he is welcoming the next generation to the field.
For more information on the MLAS Program, visit the program website. Students who would like to apply for a scholarship should submit their application materials no later than April 30. All other program applications will be reviewed by the Graduate Council on a rolling basis.
NOTE: To learn more about UNC Asheville’s MLAS Program courses and scholarships, see this news release.