Meet Erich Fleck, an MPA alum, who shares insight on the rigorous PMF application process, why Presidio’s MPA program resonated with him, and his hopes for helping future generations of mission-driven leaders grow in public service careers.
Hello, Erich! Thanks for connecting. Can you tell us where you currently work?
I recently started working as a Presidential Management Fellow, which is a two-year federal government fellowship designed to attract leadership and talent to the public sector. I’m working within the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s multi-family housing team in the San Francisco office and am mainly focused on mortgage underwriting and environmental reviews for multi-family housing development projects. I commute four days out of the month from where I live up to San Francisco; It’s kind of like being back at Residency.
The Presidential Management Fellows (PMF) Program is the Federal Government’s top leadership development program for professionals across diverse academic disciplines, with a mission to recruit and retain future government leaders to lead careers in public service. Essentially, as a fellow, you start at a certain level based on your experience. You create an individual development plan, have eighty hours of formal training per year that you need to accomplish, and are required to work with a mentor throughout the fellowship. There is a ton of versatility within the fellowship, which allows fellows to get a broad-stroke view of the type of work and projects going on and to pick their path while being tutored and mentored along the way. At the end of the two years, you can convert to a full-time role as an employee with the Federal Government, which is a really big deal since it can be quite challenging to get into federal service work from a more traditional standpoint.
The Presidential Management Fellowship is a great opportunity for those who want to help improve private and public partnerships. The public sector needs passionate people who
are value-driven, people who serve the interests of communities as a whole, and sustainability is a big part of that. The federal government is a necessary partner in making change and is a place where real change can happen. It needs people who are driven by sustainability and social justice.
Which degree program did you pursue at Presidio?
I was an MPA student and actually learned about the Presidential Management Fellowship during my Future and Fundamentals of Public Administration class with Dr. Emad Rahim. Dr. Daryl Burrell, a PMF at the time, visited our class as a guest speaker and ended up talking about the fellowship program a bit. He was really accessible and available for our questions, and I thought, why not apply?
What made you decide to pursue the MPA? Can you think of any experiences as a student that have resonated with you and influenced your work since?
The MPA classes just resonated with me more than the other degree programs’ courses. So many of the MPA classes were socially focused, compared to traditional MBA courses’ strict financial focus, and I knew I wasn’t going to pursue jobs that would require an MBA. While I was a student, I got an internship that turned into a full-time position with a nonprofit organization through a Presidio connection. The work I was doing was really focused on policy shifting, and Presidio, and the MPA classes in particular, helped incubate my passion for that kind of work.
Vanessa Crossgrove Fry’s Market Failures and the Regulatory Environment class really influenced how I view public service, particularly affordable housing. During that class, I worked on an affordable housing project in San Diego. My partner and I were able to engage with affordable housing task force groups with San Diego’s Community Land Trust, and that project had a really strong impact on me. I believe a task force group actually wrote to the City of San Diego and delivered some of our project’s recommendations. It was pretty cool to experience being a part of an active social process for change.
What about Presidio stood out compared to the other sustainability programs you were considering?
I have a five-year-old son, and once I had my son, it was almost like I was more aware of things that bothered me about the world. It dawned on me that whatever my generation does will affect his generation. And I think that realization, coupled with being the oldest of my siblings and serving in the military, I felt a call to action.
I may have done a Google search for graduate programs with an emphasis on sustainability. At the time, the University of Michigan and Johns Hopkins MBA programs, along with Presidio, popped up. With Presidio, everything resonated with me. In December 2019, I did an on-campus visit, sat in on a few classes, and everything clicked. At the end of the day, I couldn’t see myself at any other school. I think it all comes down to the reasons you want to go to school. A lot of these other programs have more well-known names, but I think if you go somewhere for the right reasons, everything will work out. And Presidio keeps showing that time and time again.
Was there an “ah-hah” moment where things clicked, and you knew Presidio was the right place for you?
Presidio felt like it had an ethos, and it was an ethos that could be shared. I felt like with other more established, well-known programs; it’s more about what you get at the end rather than what you get out of the process. And for me, the process was the most important. My on-campus visit in December of 2019 was during the final residency, and I remember really liking how inclusive everything felt. The professors included visitors, and there was this friendliness and willingness to share what they were doing and believed in. I even remember seeing a Presidio flyer saying, “Presidians are pragmatic idealists.” As I was driving home, I remember thinking, that describes how I feel.
What advice would you give current and prospective students?
I’d give the same advice that Presidio’s faculty gave us: to be active. One of the things we often talked about is that during grad school, you’re at this unique point where you engage with people primarily from an informational standpoint. I don’t like to use the word networking, but you end up doing just that by asking a lot of questions, connecting with people, and sharing information. You’re getting a ton of real-life experience, and your resume is constantly growing.
What’s next for you? Do you have a specific vision or goals for your career?
I wouldn’t say I have a lot of specific career aspirations per se; it’s really much more mission-focused for me. I’d like to prove my hypothesis that meaningful and rewarding work can happen within public service. The Federal Government, despite what people may think about its different elements, helps the country function. And if I can find a way, even if it’s just slightly moving the needle, to help improve public and private sector collaboration on intractable issues while growing and helping others around me grow, that’s good enough for me.
Thank you so much to Erich Fleck for sharing his journey as a Presidian change-maker! If the Presidential Management Fellows program aligns with your career goals, Erich is available on LinkedIn to connect and answer your questions.
If you’re interested in learning more about Presidio Graduate School and how we can help you further your career in sustainability through our MBA, MPA, and Dual MBA/MPA Degree programs, contact us today to find out more