Setting an Example

Sarah Stegeman is chasing her history-scholar dream with assistance from the Scruggs Fund.

Scruggs Scholar Sarah Stegeman

In her mid-20s, with a baby at home, Sarah Stegeman was working at an educational software company in a job with little room for growth. “I didn’t see a lot of opportunity,” she says, “to set an example for my daughter on how to move ahead in life.” So she decided to pursue a long-held dream. While still holding down her job, Stegeman completed a BA in history and gender and women’s studies at the University of Illinois, writing an honors thesis on women’s resistance to slavery.

Now 35, she is well on her way to a doctorate in history at Maxwell. She is embarking on dissertation research on the role of African-American women in colonizing Liberia. “There’s a large gap in the historiography of Liberia,” she says, “where women have not been part of the historical narrative.”

Stegeman’s project recently received a major boost from an Otey and Barbara Scruggs graduate scholarship, established in honor of the late Maxwell historian Otey Scruggs by his son, Maxwell Advisory Board member and SU trustee Jeffrey Scruggs, and his wife, Robbin E. Mitchell. Stegeman was gratified to learn about the pioneering work of Otey Scruggs in African-American history. “His interests were definitely aligned with what I’m looking at,” she says.

The Scruggs award will fund Stegeman’s research trips to archives in Monrovia, Liberia, and in London. “The archives in Liberia have a lot of completely untapped information on women and also the relationship between the Americo-Liberians and the indigenous population,” she says. “It’s very exciting, and I can’t wait to really get in there.”

By Jeffrey Pepper Rodgers

This article appeared in the spring 2019 print edition of Maxwell Perspective © Maxwell School of Syracuse University. To request a copy, e-mail