News | 9 January 2023

Championing opportunity: Alumnus sponsors graduate student fellowships

By Haneen Zain


Steve Wagner supports graduate student summer research fellowships in The Humanities Institute 

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Steve Wagner, co-founder of national brewing company Stone Brewing and alumnus of UC Santa Cruz, is a long-standing supporter of UCSC’s Humanities Institute, the Literature Department, and affiliated graduate students.

Literature PhD candidate Angie Sijun Lou

Literature PhD Candidate Kirstin Wagner

Literature Ph.D. student Angie Sijun Lou chose to attend UC Santa Cruz for its tradition of radical scholarship and strong interdisciplinary approach. Her dissertation entitled Pale Unhappy Dog is a collection of twelve short stories that explore issues of transnational migration, political upheaval, and racial identity, among many others. 

“The work I wanted to do, as a critical scholar and creative writer, felt like it moved between genres, blurring the distinctions between poetry, fiction, history, geography, and myth,” Sijun Lou said. “The Literature department at UCSC was the only place I could envision myself actualizing this.”

Sijun Lou says her dissertation is on the right track thanks to her 2022 The Humanities Institute (THI) Summer Dissertation Fellowship funded by UCSC alumnus Steve Wagner. 

Wagner attended UC Santa Cruz from 1975 to 1979 and is an active supporter of the humanities and THI. His gifts have funded summer fellowships for four humanities graduate students over the course of four years. Wagner’s support extends outside of THI as well, with prior support for graduate students in the Literature Department. 

“Literature was what I studied at UCSC and it’s just something I’ve enjoyed throughout my life,” Wagner said. “Some of the early conversations I had with people in the humanities is that it can be hard for these literature students to get money to support themselves through the summer and be able to continue their work and that really connected with me. I thought, ‘wow, I could help them do that.’”

The summer fellowship helped Sijun Lou finish a draft of every chapter of her manuscript and allowed her to attend two writing conferences, Tin House Writers’ Workshop and Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference. Sijun Lou says she delved deeply into craft elements and made breakthrough edits on drafts she felt stuck on. 

“The fellowship gave me the time and space to reorient my artistic practice,” she said. “It is precious to have time to engage deeply with my work, without feeling like this time is eclipsed and encroached upon. My book would not be in the state it is in now without the donor’s support.” 

Literature Ph.D. student Kirstin Wagner also received funding to participate in a summer dissertation fellowship. Her dissertation is entitled Daughter in Waves: Matrilineal Inheritance and the Poetics of Violence and explores memories of family history, violence, trauma, and the process by which these memories continue or are erased, if incompletely. 

“I was drawn to UC Santa Cruz for its long history of activism, interdisciplinary study, and the opportunity to join the Creative/Critical writing program in the Literature Department, which is unique in the country,” Kirstin Wagner said. “This program offers the possibility of writing a dissertation that combines critical writing with creative practice. As a memoirist, poet, visual collage artist with a deep interest in feminist and psychoanalytic theory, the program was uniquely suited for the kind of project I wanted to pursue.”  

Kirstin Wagner says she is grateful to both Steve Wagner and THI for providing key resources to support her scholarship.

Read more about Angie Sijun Lou’s dissertation here. Read more about Kirstin Wagner’s dissertation here

Steve Wagner 

Steve Wagner, co-founder of national brewing company Stone Brewing and alumnus of UC Santa Cruz, is a long-standing supporter of UCSC’s Humanities Institute, the Literature Department, and affiliated graduate students. 

He says he was transformed by his time as a student at the university, surrounded by a radical education system and inspiring professors. 

“The fact that I was able to study English literature at UCSC and not have to worry about a grade point average was very freeing,” Wagner said. “In a way, it really allowed me to pursue things I was interested and passionate about, and not feel all this pressure to have my education lead me into some specific career.” 

After his time at UC Santa Cruz, Wagner joined Los Angeles-based band, The Balancing Act, toured the country, and even stopped to perform at The Catalyst a couple of times. Wagner says he was inspired by watching bands such as Talking Heads and Television perform at UCSC. He also performed as part of a duo with fellow Banana Slug Bill Emerson at weddings and other events around the area. 

A chance run-in with his landlord at the time, Greg Koch, at a UC Davis Extension conference—sensory evaluation of beer and advanced home brewing—led Wagner on a path to founding Stone Brewing with Koch. 

“I draw the parallels between music and beer which were my two passions,” Wagner said. “The thing I love about music is that it makes people happy and, you know, so does beer.” 

Wagner says he is grateful to stay connected with UCSC. 

“UC Santa Cruz is such a unique institution and the way they approach education is very different from most of the universities that I had exposure to,” Wagner said. “That makes me want to support the university more and continue being a unique resource for students.”