#60 - Eric Fretz: The Navy, Building Virtuous Cults, and The Meandering Path

Episode 60.jpg

Dr. Eric Fretz is a faculty member at the University of Michigan teaching in the Psychology Department, the School of Education, the College of Engineering, and teaches the LSA core course for the Minor in Entrepreneurship. Dr. Fretz has completed two Bachelors degrees, two Masters degrees and a dual Ph.D. in Education and Psychology. He was certified as a Navy Master Training Specialist and leads the Ann Arbor office of MUSE Educational Consulting, LLC. He serves the community volunteering in nearly a dozen roles including Mentor for UM Student Veterans, Washtenaw County Veteran Treatment Court as Mentor Program Director, and Founder/President of two 501c3 Veteran charities, the Editorial Board of the Journal Of Veteran Studies, and Chair of the State of 'Michigan's Region 9 Veterans Community Action Team.

Dr. Eric Fretz was born and raised in the Maryland suburbs of Washington, D.C. He is an Eagle Scout and retired from 20 years of active and reserve service as a commissioned officer in the United States Navy. He began his career on USS CHOSIN (CG-65), deploying for the first Persian Gulf War and qualifying as Fleet & Special Evolutions OOD, Gas Turbine EOOW, and Surface Warfare Officer. His military career included three deployments to the Persian Gulf from Operation Desert Storm through Operation Iraqi Freedom. He closed out his career with a year-long mobilization to Baghdad, Iraq serving in the Multi-National Corps – Iraq, assigned to the 'Army's 18th Airborne Corps in 2008. While in Iraq he also started a scout troop and built a camp for Iraqi youth around Victory Base. He has earned over 30 military awards including the Bronze Star Medal and the Defense Meritorious Service Medal.

In this conversation, we start biographically with experiences that shaped Dr. Fretz's early life and how he entered in the Navy. From there, we connect the lessons learned from the Military and how they applied to academics and beyond.

A common theme in this conversation is being drawn to lead, and Dr. Fretz self describes it as creating virtuous cults. Now that I've been able to spend time on the University of Michigan Campus with all the SVA (Student Veterans Association) students that are part of this tribe, its easy to see what he means. There is a magnetic pull to the group that is both inviting and stimulating.

We close this conversation on where Dr. Fretz is head next and with more broad lessons on trying not to over-plan your life and leadership more generally. Follow your interests and what skills you can build. There's no telling where it can become valuable in the future, and such is the meandering path of life.

Connect with Eric Fretz below:


University of Michigan Faculty Page

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Show Notes:

[00:3:57] - Dr. Fretz's Bio

[00:05:47] - Volunteer Positions and VCAT 9

[00:07:27] - How did Dr. Fretz get to where he is now? It all starts with his parents, in particular, his father.

[00:08:57] - Early life

[00:10:27] - High School having access to fully stocked computer labs

[00:11:47] - Pushed by his father to get into Ivy Leagues. First took the SAT at the end of 6th Grade

[00:12:42] - Boy Scouts and First Taste of Leadership

[00:13:52] - The drive to serve others and why he wanted to enter the Navy. 

[00:16:07] - Getting into education and training certificate while in the Military

[00:17:20] - The Undergraduate Degree Dr. Fretz doesn't talk about

[00:19:42] - The idea that Dr. Fretz would wind up back in academia is bizarre if he would have told his younger self.

[00:20:27] - A turn into a Psychology Masters program 

[00:21:47] - Dual Ph.D. Program in Psychology and Education (Link)

[00:22:57] - A theme among Veteran's and Education: "I didn't think I was going to get in but wing it anyway." 

[00:23:57] - How did the military experience prepare you for education?

[00:25:42] - Picking First Orders: USS Chosin

[00:27:07] - The Service Community and sacrificing Humans and Humanity to complete the mission

[00:28:58] - Capstone Internship and Military Mindset Disconnect

[00:30:57] - Grad School Curriculum Design and Not Saying No

[00:34:07] - A person's aptitude is dependent on their environment and changes from the Military 

[00:36:47] - Never go full vet - The Veteran's calibration to the stress response is a much higher than the average. 

[00:41:07] - How did Dr. Fretz get into the SVA? 

[00:42:47] - Creating classes for student veterans to help them adjust and complete college

[00:46:27] - Finding the balance with drugs/alcohol - if drinking gets in the way of what you to do you need to or if you can't not have it then reevaluate

[00:48:27] - Tools for creating cohesive groups - Virtuous Cult Builder

[00:50:07] - The First Cult: The Dumb Peoples Organization (DPO)

[00:51:17] - Mimeograph Machine

[00:53:27] - The hardest leadership role is leading volunteers and what Dr. Fretz is attracted to the most

[00:55:25] - Know your people well, if you know their why then you can reach them.

[00:58:07] - John Paul Jones, "If you seek to be perfectly obeyed, first seek to be perfectly esteemed."

[01:00:42] - Virtuous Cult Building - People buy into what the group stands for 

[01:03:19] - Where is Dr. Fretz heading next?

[01:04:54] - How did you build a career at the university? He was asked to step up into those roles. 

[01:06:39] - Everything is working well, but he's not actively chasing anything except for changing how his wife doctoral practice is run. 

[01:10:19] - Saying yes to what is interesting to him

[01:13:49] - The idea that Dr. Fretz has possibly another 40 years to figure out what to do with is a little disturbing

[01:14:49] - Do things that interest you, don't over plan the course of your life.

[01:16:19] - There was no hindsight to the course Dr. Fretz has led this what has emerged.

[01:17:19] - The Entrepreneurship Minor and falling into teaching the introductory course

[01:20:29] - Letting students take the reigns and do epic shit!

[01:22:04] - Success stories from the entrepreneur class

[01:23:29] - Lazer Toast Team (Some cool pictures not the actual team unfortunately)

[01:26:39] - Seeing students break free and how far they can climb. But also teams that need a kick in the pants to get on the ball.

[01:28:49] - Giving students the brutal honesty that if you don't apply yourself, you'd be fired on the spot.

[01:30:19] - Closing lessons