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APUS Alumni Stories: Connecting Philosophy and Business

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By Melanie Conner, APUS Student and Alumni Affairs Liaison and Zachariah Renfro, AMU Graduate

From a young age, Zachariah (Zach) Renfro enjoyed the argumentation and abstraction of philosophy. He credits his fascination with philosophy to his father’s interest in Ancient Greece, Rome and the classics, saying, “I have loved philosophy since I was a kid. From a young age, I was reading and learning about people like Homer, Plato and Julius Caesar.”

Start a degree program at American Military University.

Zach earned a bachelor of arts in philosophy from American Military University in 2017. He chose to study at AMU because he says, “AMU is very student-focused, and I was able to do my classes while being deployed and serving in the United States Air Force as a geospatial intelligence analyst.”

Zach Renfro
Zach Renfro

Zach adds, “I am an incredibly motivated guy, and AMU suited me. The quality of education I received was top-notch and gave me a really solid foundation in ethics and in the Ancient Greeks.” He also served as a member of the Socratic Philosophical Honor Society while studying at AMU.

After earning his bachelor’s degree, Zach wrote two books: “Aristotle’s Wallet,” a book on finance, and “Applying John Rawls to the Afghan Peace and Reconciliation (APAR) Process.” This book is a teaching aid that Zach wrote to make Rawls’s moral and political philosophy more easily understood by the public.

Zach’s interest in philosophy has helped him develop critical skills, such as analytical thinking, argumentation, research and communication. These skills have helped him succeed throughout his life.

Using Skills Developed in the Military for Business

After high school, Zach spent seven years in the USAF working as a Geospatial Intelligence Analyst (1N171A) and made it to the rank of Staff Sergeant. He loved the analysis, research, and writing, but hated staring at the screen for hours, looking for an out-of-place pixel.

Zach tailored his career to put himself in positions with more writing and research and less geospatial analysis. He took a two-part class called “Writing and Briefing for the CIA” and worked with his front-line supervisor to get on-the-job training as an all source analyst.

During this time, Zach also had his first deployment to Afghanistan, which ended up being a one-year stint in Kandahar. He says, “It was originally only supposed to be six months, but I was having too much fun. So, I volunteered for an additional six months. The commander thought I was crazy, but I found stateside USAF life to be tedious and boring.”

After he got back to the U.S., Zach really hit his stride when he was able to get trained as a Master Resilience Trainer (MRT). He says, “At that time, the MRT training was about 3 weeks at Ft. Dix in New Jersey, and we even got college credit for it. However, I think the military changed it due to cost.

“As an MRT, I got to teach classes in resilience and lead Wingman days. I adjusted my lesson plans to incorporate more philosophy and tried to really bring value to my classes. I volunteered to teach as many classes as I could and overall, I logged about 1,000 classroom hours over a year or two.”

After leaving the military, Zach did a short stint as a financial advisor with Edward Jones. Later, he returned to intelligence work and became a senior intelligence analyst on a sub-contract for CACI in Afghanistan. In that role, he primarily supported the Afghan Peace and Reconciliation (APAR) Process, and for him it was a rewarding experience.

Zach explains, “I am very passionate about the Afghan people and want them to be able to enjoy the same quality of life that we enjoy. I would love to be able to with the Afghans again if the opportunity presented itself.”

After working as a senior intelligence analyst, Zach started a small tabletop gaming business, Orbital Star Games. He developed his first gamebook, “The Simple RPG Core Rulebook Sedara Adventures.

While working on his business, Zach learned a lot about search engine optimization (SEO) and programming in hypertext markup language (HTML) as part of his small business experience. He also developed a greater knowledge of contract negotiations, marketing, accounting and copyright law.

Zach says that his early life and the skills he gained in the military helped him in developing his business. He notes, “I grew up poor and had learned a lot of skills before I joined the military. Military service taught me how to effectively follow through with small goals to accomplish large goals (i.e. earn a B.A. by completing one class at a time), which is a very important skill.”

Transitioning from Philosophy to Business Administration

Zach has now completed a master of arts in philosophy at Ohio University. In the spring of 2020, he intends to pursue a Ph.D. in business administration at the University of the Cumberlands in Williamsburg, Kentucky.

Zach decided to switch from philosophy to business administration because he believes that the two fields are natural partners. “I think that philosophy and business are good bedfellows,” he explains, “because both require creativity and an understanding of human nature. It is only in our modern times that we see things like business and philosophy opposed.

“For example, George Soros, Carly Fiorina and Carl Icahn all studied philosophy in college. For some ancient examples, Thales of Miletus is claimed to have made a fortune speculating on olive prices. Zeno of Citium was a successful merchant trader until he lost his fortune at sea. Philosophy is a perfect complement to business in my view.”

A Dedication to Lifelong Learning

After completing his Ph.D., Zach wants to pass on his experiences to the next generation as a professor or as an ethics and compliance consultant helping organizations to develop internal ethics.

Melanie Conner is a Student and Alumni Affairs Liaison at the university. Having worked in higher education for almost 10 years, Melanie enjoys cultivating relationships with students and alumni. She has undergraduate degrees in education from Germanna Community College and in sociology from the University of Mary Washington.

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