T’15 Uses His Department of Defense Background for MLK Presentation

Guest Student Contributor, January 29, 2014 | 0 comments
Tags: Dartmouth, community, career

Elliot Gillerman is an MBA candidate in the class of 2015 at the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth.  Prior to Tuck, Elliot worked at the Pentagon for Secretary of Defense Leon E. Panetta and previously worked on national security policy within the Department of Defense and the U.S. House of Representatives.  He began his career as a field organizer for Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign.  Elliot is also pursuing his MPA at the Harvard Kennedy School and earned a B.A. in International Affairs from George Washington University.

Earlier this month I spoke at Dartmouth’s Student Forum on Global Learning, one of the college-wide events commemorating Martin Luther King Day.  The forum kicked off in the morning with an address by Dartmouth’s president, Philip Hanlon, and the remainder of the day was filled with student presentations on a range of international issues.

My presentation was called “Guns, Butter, or Schools: The Defense Case for Education,” a topic that has both personal and professional significance to me.  Prior to Tuck I worked at the Department of Defense, where I saw the national security policy process up close and personal.  My experience taught me that national security is tied to more than just the size of our defense budget – it’s also a function of our economic strength, the quality of our healthcare system, and our access to educational opportunity.  My presentation focused on this last point and the foundational relationship between national security, economic strength, and human capital through education.

My central argument was that education matters for national security.  If the United States wishes to preserve its status as the world’s economic and geopolitical leader, then we need to redouble our efforts to improve our education system.  A 2009 McKinsey study found that if we had matched South Korea or Finland in academic performance between 1983 and 1998, then we could have expanded annual GDP by 9-15% by 2008.  Additionally, the study found that by closing the racial, income, and regional achievement gaps we could add an additional 2-5% to GDP over the same time period. 

The economic benefits to education are clear, but there’s also a strong moral case to be made that education can and should be the great equalizer in our society.  I found this argument particularly poignant on Martin Luther King Day.  Although we’ve made much progress as a country in closing the racial achievement gap in the decades since Dr. King spoke about it, the income achievement gap has widened over the same period of time.  This cycle of poverty threatens to deprive millions of children of the future that they deserve, and runs counter to the founders’ vision of America as the land of equal opportunity for all.

My experience at the forum was a great opportunity to speak about an issue I’m passionate about and to engage with students, faculty, and staff beyond Tuck.  Many of my classmates attended the talk, and I was also able to meet and speak with other graduate and undergraduate students there as well.  It was a great day of learning about different perspectives, both at Dartmouth and beyond.

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