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Maggie and Ed Stewart

Like father, like daughter

The Stewarts use liberal arts education to advance democracy.

When Maggie Stewart ’17 graduated in May as a double major in international affairs and religion, she applied for an internship with the International Republican Institute (IRI), a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization whose mission is to advance freedom and democracy worldwide. In August the organization hired her as a program associate for West Africa, the same division that her father, Ed Stewart ’86, helped establish and later directed in his first job.

“The IRI has changed considerably since I was there, but it shaped my life and my career in ways I hope repeat for Maggie,” says Ed, now a partner in the Prism Group in Washington, D.C. “It’s both thrilling and humbling to know that my daughter would end up in her first job in the program I helped start 25 years ago. I’ve been to tough places and seen some of the best and worst of how humans can interact with each other. It may be counterintuitive for a father to say, but I hope my kids see some of those things, too — the good and bad.”

That’s just what Maggie is hoping as well. Her portfolio focuses primarily on Nigeria, The Gambia and Ghana. Right now she’s writing reports for IRI’s funders such as USAID and the U.S. State Department, assisting field staff with events and travel, brainstorming upcoming proposals and staying up to date on current political environments across the region.

“Hopefully soon I’ll get to travel,” she says. “I can’t wait to be on the ground and in the thick of it!”

Maggie says that the discussion-based classes on relevant topics, study abroad experience, and the public speaking and critical-thinking skills she honed at Wofford serve her well every day in her new job. 

“Dr. Dan Mathewson, a religion professor who I almost always took for upper-level religion classes, constantly encouraged his students to have open conversations and debates, which gave me the opportunity to think critically and speak deliberately, yet respectfully. … Wofford also taught me how to be a professional and concise writer, and in my short time in the professional world, I’ve learned it’s a rare skill,” she says. 

Even after 30 years, Ed says the relevance of the liberal arts education he received at Wofford endures. “I’ve been involved in politics and international policy for my entire career in Washington, and I draw on my Wofford experience every single day.” 

Ed primarily worked in the Caribbean during his first few years with the IRI. He didn’t know it at the time, but the Cold War was coming to a close. “With the opening of eastern Europe in 1989-90, IRI rapidly moved into the political turmoil of that region. It was an extraordinary time. People, who a year before had been under totalitarian rule, suddenly found themselves free,” he says. Ed spent most of those years in Romania and Bulgaria working with democratic political activists and newly formed parties. Later, at the senior staff level, he led teams in establishing the Africa, Asia and Middle East divisions at IRI. 

Maggie always has been interested in international affairs, and she and her dad both enjoy their “vibrant” dinnertime discussions of current events. Still, the breadth of the field seemed overwhelming until Maggie studied abroad and witnessed firsthand the economic and political upheaval in Turkey.

“The IRI was an organization I always knew of because of dad, but suddenly I realized I believed in its mission enough to focus my career around it,” she says. 

“It’s a dramatic understatement to say that my wife, Shelley, and I are proud of both Maggie and our son Bill (a member of the Wofford Class of 2020) for choosing Wofford.”

 

by Jo Ann Mitchell Brasington ’89