After more than a year of interim leadership, the Armstrong Atlantic State University Liberty Center has selected a new director.
Dr. Don Stumpf, who assumed the role on June 1, said his primary goal is to establish a stable relationship between the center and the community it serves.
The center’s previous leader, Dr. Joseph Weaver, returned to the classroom in May 2010, spokesman Francisco Duque said. Dr. Pete Mastopoulos and Melanie Mirande served as interim leaders.
As the Courier previously reported, the center, which opened in 2002, has seen a bit of uncertainty in recent years. Plans to expand the center were halted in 2009 due to budget cuts and, for a time, the university considered closing the center in the face of a $5 million loss.
But last year the university’s president, Dr. Linda Bleicken, spoke at a Rotary Club meeting and assured area leaders that the school is “very much a part of the coastal community,” the Courier reported.
Bleicken has also reached out to local officials and invited them to take part in the selection process to fill the position, according to Hinesville Mayor Jim Thomas. University administrators and faculty conducted a nationwide search to fill the position, Duque said.
Before he was tapped, Stumpf and the other candidates interviewed with Hinesville Mayor Jim Thomas.
“Don was an excellent choice because of his knowledge of the military and because of his association with the military,” Thomas said. “I think it was a win-win for both Armstrong and the military here as far as schools are concerned.”
Stumpf, a Savannah native whose father served in the Air Force, has spent many years working both in education and as a civilian contractor for the military, Stumpf said.
In 1979, he began a stint in the Georgia Air National Guard and began working toward an associate degree, which he completed in 1993. Afterward, he said he worked with a defense contractor as a helicopter mechanic.
“Higher education changed my life,” he said. “It gave me a new perspective on how things happen, and how they’re related.”
He continued working with military contracts in aviation and taking classes for a bachelor’s of general studies degree, which he finished in 1998.
And then he met his wife, an Army counselor at Fort Stewart. She pushed him to seek a graduate degree. Stumpf was so reluctant to return to school that his wife enrolled with him, and they sat alongside each other in classes at Armstrong and Georgia Southern.
In 2000, Stumpf found himself caught up in corporate downsizing at General Dynamics and decided to break into education. He began working as a degree program assistant at Armstrong’s Hunter Army Airfield location, which has since closed.
Stumpf’s proudest achievement, he said, is his Georgia Southern University doctorate in education administration. He worked toward the degree for five years while working full-time at other schools and playing the role of husband and father. Interestingly, his dissertation was on extended campus leadership practices, a field he has thoroughly researched.
He also served in extended campus leadership at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University and the Columbia College of Missouri on Fort Stewart.
“This is my niche,” he laughed. “I’ve definitely paid my dues — I started as an administrative worker and then I went back to school.”
Stumpf, his wife and daughter moved to Hinesville about seven years ago, he said.
Stumpf said he and his staff will continue to work closely with area leaders to identify specific educational needs within the area.
He said military needs will be a priority, but added that academics don’t differ between civilian and military students.
“The difference when working with the military is you need to understand portability and flexibility,” he said, citing the military’s frequent relocations and tours of duty. He said he wants to ensure soldiers can carry credits with them when called away, he said.
It’s also essential to create accessibility for soldiers, who have hectic schedules between field training and other exercises, and their families, he added.
Stumpf also said Armstrong recently hired a director of online education, Dr. Kristen Betts, who plans to expand its online presence.
Stumpf said he wants to maintain the center as a vital part of the community for students who may not have the resources to leave home, a point that Mayor Thomas reiterated.
“We really see the need for a four-year university,” Thomas said. “That is to help our young graduates from Liberty and Bradwell high schools so that those who cannot afford to go to school elsewhere can go to school here in Hinesville.”