Gaylon Morris Made His Love of Literature Pay Off

Health care remains the hottest of hot topics in politics these days, and Gaylon Morris is right in the thick of it. As a Washington, D.C.-based consultant, Morris meets with everyone from patient advocacy groups to businesses to federal regulators to open dialogues and build productive partnerships.

Morris has a master’s in public policy and nearly two decades of experience at the CDC and in the pharmaceutical industry — but he says the master’s degree he earned from Georgia State in English literature, of all things, has been one of the most valuable assets in his career.

“In a variety of ways, the literature degree really enhanced my capabilities even though I continue to work primarily in the public policy field,” he says. As a show of thanks to Georgia State, Morris has already made plans to include the university in his will.

Giving Back for a New World of Knowledge

Though the career and education sections on his résumé are both lengthy, Morris is still only in his forties — not a time when most people like to spend a lot of time on, or even think about, estate planning. But after reflecting on his life and career, he decided it was time.

“When you’ve achieved a level of success from a financial standpoint, there comes a point when you have to decide where it’s all going to go,” he says. “I’m not married and I don’t have any children, so that made me really sit down and think about circumstances that might force me to decide how I’d want to allocate my resources. My family, my nieces and nephews, there’s a part of the will that addresses them, but I wanted to make sure another part went to those institutions that helped me find the success I feel like I’ve had and the happiness I’ve enjoyed in my life.”

The master’s he earned at Georgia State in 2005, he says, has been a big key to that happiness. “Part of the reason I sought out Georgia State was a love of literature, and I am focused on continuing to provide support for that,” Morris explains. “In this day and age it’s even more important, because the emphasis is so often on other fields such as science, technology, engineering, and mathematics — literature and other traditional liberal arts disciplines are often put on the back burner at a lot of institutions. A lot of people forget the importance of literature in broadening someone’s thinking, and being able to look at the world differently, being able to understand people.”

Morris says a knowledge of literature has been a boon to both his personal and his professional life. “The thing I always point back to is how it strengthened my analytical skills and my communications skills. Being very succinct and concise, being able to analyze a situation and communicate the rationale behind my findings or positions, that played out very nicely as I continued to mature in the field of public policy.

“The other thing is that my literature theory classes were very helpful to me in looking at the constructs that inform what I’m observing or reading, whether it’s TV, film, books, or even a policy position paper. That’s come in handy too, because as I’ve worked in different situations, it’s made me think about the message that’s being conveyed and how that’s being presented and interpreted.”

Combining Policy with Prose

A native of Texas, Morris came to Atlanta after earning his first master’s degree to work at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. What he thought was going to be a two-year stop on the way to D.C. turned into a 13-year career, and it was during that time that he decided to pursue a literature degree at Georgia State. “Georgia State was great because I needed to work full-time and go to school in the evenings, and they provided me that opportunity,” he says.

Shifting gears from healthcare policy to English lit wasn’t just an idle pursuit for Morris: At the time, he was toying with the idea of becoming a professor. Even though he decided against that career path, he stuck with his master’s studies — and found that they could bolster his career anyway.

“When I started seeing how it was really benefiting me in my everyday work, I realized it came at a nice time. I was at that point in my career where I needed to think about how to move to that next level. Even though I didn’t pursue the academic route, I think a lot about the things that I learned and the skills that I gathered in those classes. I think that really did position me well as I moved on to other career opportunities.”

Today Morris has the opportunity to apply those skills in a wide variety of situations. In recent years he’s helped build partnerships between government agencies and patient-advocacy organizations; designed a post-Katrina strategic-planning process for an institution in Louisiana; and guided collaborations between federal agencies on important public health challenges.

Not only has Morris’ literature degree helped him as he works with existing clients, it’s served as a conversation starter with potential new ones.

“It’s always made an interesting topic over the years,” he says. “It does become a question — ‘Now, what’s this literature degree here for?’ It gives me the opportunity to sell them on some of my skills and experience in a way they might not have thought of.”