Taking advantage of a few minutes of downtime between the festivities surrounding IDEASpHERE (May 14-May 16) and Commencement (May 27-May 30), The Citizen asked Dean David Ellwood a few questions pertinent to this year’s graduating class.
Dean Ellwood will be celebrating his 10th year at the helm of the Kennedy School this July. He joined the faculty in 1980 and took a brief hiatus to serve as Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in 1993. He is recognized as a leading scholar on poverty and welfare.
A native of Minnesota, Ellwood graduated summa cum laude from Harvard in 1975 and earned a Ph.D. in economics from the University in 1981.
Q: As Dean of HKS what has been some of your proudest moments of the year?
A: The past year has been filled with a number of highlights for me. High on the list was the announcement of several new student fellowships, including the Sheila E. Johnson Fellowship for students committed to working in African American and other underserved communities; and the Middle East-North Africa Graduate Fellowship Fund. Increasing our student financial aid has been and remains a top priority of mine.
HKS also launched its first HarvardX course, “Central Challenges of American National Security, Strategy and the Press,” co-taught in the fall by Graham Allison and David Sanger. It is exciting for us to expand our course offerings to students outside of Harvard, who might otherwise not be able to participate. The course was extremely popular and well received.
Also, just this past week, the Kennedy School hosted IDEASpHERE to celebrate the launch of our capital campaign. More than 700 people from around the world attended and took part in more than 45 distinct sessions focused on Kennedy School ideas and impact. We were also thrilled to announce that the School is making headway toward its campaign goal, having already raised $336 million.
Q: Diversity is obviously something close to your heart, what more do you think HKS could do on this?
A: I completely agree that diversity is a major issue and has also been a top priority during my tenure as dean. I am happy to report that we’ve made some real progress this year in recruiting female faculty. In addition, increased outreach and our new Sheila E. Johnson Fellowship attracted many more students of color to apply for admission to the school. Moving forward, we are committed to finding ways to make it possible to have even more effective conversations about issues connected to diversity in the classroom and beyond.
Q: How did you come up with the concept for IDEASpHERE?
A: IDEASpHERE marked the official launch of our capital campaign. In celebrating the launch, I wanted to find a way to focus on the very essence of the Kennedy School, on what makes us unique and all that makes me proud. Highlighting the ideas and the impact of our faculty, students and alumni, focusing special attention on powerful ideas to address public problems and innovative ideas for teaching seemed to me to be the most appropriate way to demonstrate that we are a school committed to making the world a better place.
Q: What steps can we take as HKS graduates to help keep young people around the world re-engaged with politics?
A: Excite, encourage and engage. HKS graduates are role models as public leaders committed to issues bigger than themselves. From political leadership to social enterprises, graduates can leverage their influence so much more by inspiring young people. Most importantly, I hope all graduates will encourage other people of character and ability to apply to HKS.
Q: What do you remember about your own graduation?
A: Mostly that it rained and rained.
Q: What plans do you have for HKS for the coming year?
The coming year will be an exciting one for HKS as we continue to push ahead with all four of the priorities contained in our Academic Plan – reaching the very best leaders; transforming the educational experience; generating powerful ideas; and creating a campus that amplifies our mission. We have so many opportunities on all of these fronts to make the Kennedy School an even more dynamic and engaging place – for teaching, learning, and creating. I am tremendously excited about beginning work with the City of Cambridge over the next year on our campus planning efforts. In the meantime, we are soliciting ideas and suggestions from all members of the HKS community about these plans, as well as our neighbors, residents and city leaders, so that we all feel engaged in the process.
Q: How can graduating students contribute back to the HKS community?
A: First, stay engaged with your classmates and the school through our Alumni Relations Office, our alumni organization and local HKS clubs. Our alumni network is perhaps our greatest asset—for all of us. Second, help identify and recruit outstanding prospective students by telling them about everything that HKS has to offer. Third, consider offering jobs and internships to HKS students when you have the opportunity to do so. Offer to serve as mentors to current students who would appreciate your counsel. Finally, we ask that you continue to support the School financially, even if it is only a very small amount. Financial aid has been and always will be my top priority and your contributions help make it possible for someone else to live their dream of making the world a better place.
Q: What final words of encouragement do you have for our departing graduates?
A: You have warm hearts and wise heads. I know you will be exceptional public leaders. Thank you for all you do and for being such an important part of the HKS community. It has been a genuine honor to join you in our shared mission.