Dammrich, Director of Strategy for the University of Chicago, addresses big problems using analytical skills he learned during his time at Harris.
Matthew Dammrich
Matthew Dammrich

Matthew Dammrich, AM’18, is not someone who watches from the sidelines. After 9/11, he felt compelled to join the Marines. The timing wasn’t perfect because he had just enrolled in college, so he vowed to enlist upon graduation. And that is what he did. 

During his four years in the Marines, Dammrich completed a tour in Afghanistan. He helped to resupply Marines through air drops and, later, to manage an airfield. Dammrich credits his career in the military with preparing him for a successful professional life and for a Master of Arts in public policy at the University of Chicago Harris School of Public Policy.

“The leadership experiences offered in the military are simply not available in other sectors,” Dammrich says. “They don't take 22-year-olds at big corporations and put them in charge of hundreds or thousands of people. I received a lot of responsibility as [the] second in command of about 300 Marines, and I learned a ton.”

When Dammrich returned to civilian life, he took immediate action to build an impressive resume. He received a graduate degree from the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University and worked for an investment banking company, often putting in 80-hour weeks. Restless, Dammrich decided he wanted experience inside a company, to be a decision-maker rather than an adviser. He joined the Brunswick Corporation where he was the general manager of one of its operating companies. 

Through his professional experience, growing network, and commitment to staying on top of the issues of the day, Dammrich became increasingly interested in public policy, particularly where it intersects with business and innovation. Again, Dammrich was not satisfied to remain on the sidelines.

“Ultimately, I wanted to do something I could feel passionate about,” Dammrich says of his next career switch.

With financial support from the GI Bill, Dammrich found a new service-minded purpose when he began Harris Public Policy’s one-year Master’s program. Dammrich says he chose Harris primarily because of its data-driven approach to solving complex policy issues. As he explains it: “Harris looks at the big problems by using rigorous data analysis. I knew the curriculum would round out my skill set and prepare me for my next chapter.”

Another factor in Dammrich’s decision to enroll was the community at Harris. The students’ dedication to service — which reminded him of his time in the Marines — sealed the deal for him.

“In the military, we are there to serve something higher than ourselves, and many of us struggle when we don’t have a sense of mission or purpose,” Dammrich says. “At Harris, I was immediately surrounded by the same service-minded outlook. Everyone at Harris is looking to do something bigger than themselves.”

Whether they were working on development in Africa or Chicago’s South Side, Dammrich saw Harris students fully dedicate themselves to improving the world.

Dammrich enthusiastically joined them. He was particularly affected by a course on the root causes of conflict taught by Professor Oeindrila Dube, an expert in poverty and conflict in societies around the world, particularly in Africa and Latin America. The class looked at real cases of war and used data analysis tools to understand their causes.

Given his military background, Dammrich says, he found this approach to problems compelling. “I think it’s so important to try to understand the reasons for conflict and to alleviate the suffering,” he says.

While a full-time student (and a husband and a father), Dammrich also spent three months working with his Harris mentor, Marie Trzupek Lynch, MPP’96, on strategic planning for her organization Skills for Chicagoland’s Future, which helps out-of-work or underemployed Chicago-area residents.

Today, Dammrich is the director of strategy in the Provost’s Office at the University of Chicago, completing project-based work, financial analysis, and strategic planning for a wide range of initiatives, including projects for The Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation.

Dammrich says Harris helped prepare him for his current position, and he lauded the “limitless opportunities” the school offers.

“You can take on as much as you want and learn as much as you want there,” Dammrich says. “The only limit is yourself.”