Student veteran orientation presents new initiatives

Thursday, September 7, 2017 - 9:25pm

Dr. Eric Fretz presents to students at the New Student Veteran Initiatives at the Union on Thursday.

Dr. Eric Fretz presents to students at the New Student Veteran Initiatives at the Union on Thursday. Buy this photo
Ryan McLoughlin/Daily


Student veterans attended orientation in the Pond room of the Michigan Union Thursday evening and learned about the various resources and initiatives to support them on campus. The orientation was led by Psychology Lecturer Eric Fretz, Philip Larson, program director for the Student Veterans Assistance Program, and members of the Peer Advisors for Veteran Education.

The incoming students had the opportunity to familiarize themselves with various community members and programs dedicated to ensuring their success — specifically Fretz’s Veteran Success course.

Fretz combined his background in education and military service and collaborated with Larson and others to develop a series of modules intended to teach student veterans necessary skills, such as study strategies, financial tips and health and safety guidelines. He emphasized the importance of his modules and explained how learning these skills at young age can help prepare for the future.

“I already taught a Learning How to Learn course for psychology and of course the vets need it as much as any other incoming first year, so I started taking chunks of that and delivering it to them at the meeting,” Fretz said. “I also have a large, self-taught background with finance, and I’ve learned a lot of lessons the hard way and I figured this could be used to clarify to people that you can have a secure retirement--you have to know about it and start early, but most people don’t know about it and don’t start early.”

The Veteran Success course has been praised not only because of its straightforwardness but also because of Fretz’s ability to connect with the student veterans. Larson himself applauded Fretz for his no-nonsense and relatable tone.

“I think he relates well because he’s a veteran and he speaks the language,” Larson said. “He related to them very well so stuff he says resonates with them and he really tries to go where they are…it’s right what they need to hear.”

Fretz agreed, and explained how he initially intended to train other individuals to teach the course, but realized what an impact his own experience and background would have on his students.

“A lot of the course rests heavily on my style because I am an officer, but I can act enlisted, I can get by easily because I have the experience and degrees to back it up,” Fretz said. “For all the stuff in the course it’s hard to take the modules and hand it over to a well-meaning professor because…can you go to another university can you find someone who is a really proficient trainer and educator but is that person also a senior military person with all these deployments? Probably not.”

LSA junior Alex Downs was one of the student veterans present at the orientation. Downs is excited to begin his time at University as a transfer junior after serving six years in the U.S. Air Force.

“I always wanted to go here when I was a kid — I had all the merch — I was only going to apply to two other schools beside this one, but I figured there is no point because if I get accepted here I’m going to go straight here,” Downs said.

Downs is specifically looking forward to embracing the academic rigor at the University.

“I’m ready for the challenge honestly, community college was kind of like a walk in the street,” Downs said. “I could breeze by pretty easily but the last couple days have shown me that the stuff here is a lot more difficult and there is a lot more of it so I’m pretty happy about the level of academic challenge.”

In addition to Fretz’s course, another major resource to help student veterans with the academic challenge as well as the adjustment to campus life is PAVE. The goal of the program is to provide student veterans with peer advisors, often student veterans already on campus, who can offer support and guidance during their time at the University. PAVE was established by both the University of Michigan Depression Center as well as the Department of Psychiatry and Student Veterans of America.

Dylan Keyes, a peer advisor for PAVE, describes the importance of student veterans having mentors to whom they can relate.

“It’s really having someone we feel like we can connect with. It was mentioned yesterday at a different meeting, and we tell vets that if you look around and you see people and you don’t feel like you have anything in common — you probably don’t,” Keyes said. “You have a lot of vets that come in with a lot of other baggage, and it’s really having someone else there who supports them because we are a little more relatable just having that common bond from the past.” 

With the support of PAVE, the lessons from the Veteran Success course and other resources on campus such as the Veterans Integration to Academic Leadership, Fretz is pleased with the effort that the University has gone through to support student veterans.

"Michigan really puts their money where their mouth is,”  Fretz said.

Larson hopes the Veteran Success course as well as all the other campus efforts provide student veterans with a pathway for success not only at the University, but also in their life after graduation.

“When they get this University of Michigan college degree they take a big step up on the social economic ladder. It’s that Spiderman line, ‘With great power comes great responsibility’,” Larson said. “So we say, ‘You’re going to have this kind of power with the Michigan degree, how are you going to use that again for good?’”