Social entrepreneur Josh Seefried G’22 has always enjoyed activism and organizing ideas. It’s what led the retired Air Force captain to use social media to carve out a space for fellow LGBTQ service members to communicate, and eventually enroll in Syracuse University’s MBA Program online.
Offered through the Martin J. Whitman School of Management, the Online MBA Program enables its students to earn their degree from anywhere. Seefried says he wanted to pursue an MBA because while he had a lot of firsthand experience from advocating for the LGBTQ military community and helping fellow service members come out after “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was repealed in 2010, he lacked “book smarts.”
“I had all this good street knowledge, but I didn't have the book smarts that I needed to accomplish my next goals,” Seefried explains. As it turns out, the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown was what finally gave him an opportunity to pursue his continuing education.
He had long debated whether to attend graduate school, but between the COVID-19 lockdown and his GI Bill, the timing was finally right. He liked Syracuse University’s online program for its strong academics and flexibility. He appreciates the networking the program afforded, which, he admits, was not something he was expecting. “I thought that, because the program was online, I wouldn't meet any really good classmates and businesspeople, but I have met people that I've become friends with. I think that's one of the biggest things I've really come to like about the program,” he says, adding that a large portion of his classmates are also veterans, so it was easy to bond over their shared experiences.
Using Social Media to Drive Change
Seefried is the co-founder of OutServe, an association of actively serving LGBTQ members of the military. Helping thousands of U.S. military personnel, OutServe is now the largest LGBTQ employee resource.
OutServe grew from hidden groups Seefried created, first on MySpace, and then on Facebook, eventually growing to about 7,000 members. “People wanted more than just the repeal efforts; they wanted to find friends and connect with people. This was happening not just stateside, but in places like Afghanistan and Iraq. One of the most important things to happen from OutServe in terms of affecting servicemembers was that people could, for the first time, sit down and have coffee together. That’s what changed people's lives,” Seefried says, adding that he regularly received emails before this from servicemembers who were feeling suicidal and depressed.
Seefried is known nationwide for his advocacy work. In 2012, OutServe merged with the nonprofit Servicemembers’ Legal Defense Network. Seefried was voted co-chair of the board, making him the youngest co-chair of a major LGBTQ group. Before that, he worked tirelessly to advocate for the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” as a liaison for the community with Pentagon and White House officials. During this time, Seefried—who says he didn’t know much about the policy when he first joined the Air Force—would appear in shadows during interviews on major broadcasting networks under the pseudonym J.D. Smith to protect his identity while he spoke out about what it was like to serve the country as a gay man under that policy. He also authored the book “Our Time: Breaking the Silence of 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell’” in 2012.
I think the practical experience I’m gaining as an online MBA student with Whitman is what will advance me.—Josh Seefried G’22
Though it was that activism that made him a public figure, he has been interested in public service since he was a teenager. Seefried says he has no interest in running for office himself, but at the same time, he can’t just sit back when he sees a problem. “I see an issue, and I want to solve it.”
Sailing Into a New Career
Much like with his advocacy work, Seefried’s next journey started with social media. While in the Air Force, he was asked to go on a sailing trip. That trip—and his retirement from his position as a cost analyst for the Air Force—eventually led to Yachtlife Cruises, which Seefried co-founded with other sailing companies. The business, which started and grew by word-of-mouth, organized yacht trips for groups to exotic locales.
I'm changing veterans’ lives, and I'm also very heavily involved in the VA's efforts to change their LGBTQ policies.—Josh Seefried G’22
Seefried spent the next several years working in the travel industry, both with Yachtlife Cruises and at other companies, before joining the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) in December of 2020 as the external lead for strategic communications in the Office of Information and Technology. “It's a wild change from where I was a year ago in a completely different career field. But I'm in a great place now and I absolutely love it. I'm changing veterans’ lives, and I'm also very heavily involved in the VA's efforts to change their LGBTQ policies.”
In his current role and in any future advocacy work, Seefried is confident in the skills and knowledge he’s building through his degree program. “I think the practical experience I’m gaining as an online MBA student with Whitman is what will advance me.”