The two Bills reached their goal.
The Carlson School Military Veteran’s Initiative, a fund to provide up to 20 two-year veteran’s fellowships for each incoming MBA class, recently reached $10 million, a goal championed by two alumni instrumental in launching the program, Bill Van Dyke, ’76 MBA, and Bill Walter, ’72 MBA.
“Bill and I started talking about this probably eight years ago,” Walter says. “We are both Vietnam veterans and with the current wars in the Middle East and Afghanistan, it brought back a lot of memories of Vietnam and what we faced when coming back.”
Walter, who did two tours in Vietnam in 1969 and 1970, remembers what it was like flying back home. “The first thing I did when I got back was I had to go and change my uniform—there were protests at the airport at that time,” he says. “They were blaming the war on the people who served there. The veterans didn’t go because they wanted to, they went because we were told to.”
What Walter and Van Dyke talked about was to make sure what they went through never happened to other veterans coming back from foreign wars. “We wanted to reach out and do something to say ‘thank you’ to the troops who are serving,” he says. “So we came to the Carlson MBA program. It gave us the skill to make the transition from battlefield to business. We wanted to give that same opportunity to other returning veterans.”
The Bills engaged Art Hill, the John and Nancy Lindahl Professor for Excellence in Business Education, who was the Associate Dean for MBA programs at that time. Hill was enthused about the idea and approached Charles “Chip” Altman to help get a program off the ground. Altman was a retired Navy Commander currently at the Carlson School to earn his PhD.
“My role is very simple,” Altman says. “I advise and counsel veterans in transition. It’s a tangible, viable leg up, that’s how I see the program. For me, it serves a purpose that’s heartfelt and necessary.” As director of the program, Altman has grown the Military Initiative from two students in its first year to 18 in the current Full-Time MBA class. “I think we’re at a good point for sustaining the program over time and the $10 million is certainly the catalyst to provide for veterans and the recruiting of them for now and the future,” he says.
Van Dyke passed away three years ago after battling cancer. “He was in a hospital bed at his home in Pelican Lake,” Walter says about his last visit to him. “Just before I left, we were hugging each other and he said, ‘You know that military initiative? We did a good thing there. We did a really good thing.’ He had a big smile on his face. He died the next day. It’s very gratifying to know we achieved our goal.”
Veterans in Class
Walter says that after the program enrolled its first class of veterans, he would hear back from professors to bring in more military students because they are adding so much to the class.
“It’s been a real pleasure to have them in the classroom,” says Professor and Curtis L. Carlson Chair in Strategic Management Aks Zaheer. “Having them in the classroom changes the dynamic in a very positive way.”
Zaheer teaches strategy, one of the first classes MBAs take, so he meets all the new veteran students right away. “Strategy is something they had some exposure to in the military, so they have some basis for connecting with the concepts,” he says.
The most significant contribution to having veterans in the classroom is how they inject discipline and a strong engagement to their studies, Zaheer says. “There are a lot of ideas thrown at you and you have to respond and react. It needs a quick pivot, if you will. The vets are able to recognize how important that is and deliver in the classroom. They set an example for other folks who are not necessarily coming from that kind of background. They are a very valuable addition to our MBA classroom.”
In it Together
Two such students are Colin and Katherine Robertson. She is a 2005 West Point alum with a degree in environmental science and served as an Army logistics officer for nearly 11 years. He, a 2006 West Point graduate with a BS in economics, served as an armor officer in the Army for more than nine years. Between them they have more than four years in deployments around the globe that include Iraq and Afghanistan.
Today, this married couple are part of the Carlson Full-Time MBA class of 2018. “The school does such a great job taking care of all its students that it has been one of the easiest decisions I’ve made,” Colin offers when asked why he joined the program. “My wife and I were able to use the Post 9/11 GI Bill to cover tuition, but if it weren’t for the generous support of the donors to the veteran’s program, we wouldn’t have been able to make it work for our family.”
With one year in the program completed, Colin says he can’t wait for the second. “The warmth, understanding, and talent in the student body makes class days invigorating,” he says. “The knowledge and professionalism of the professors has piqued my curiosity and laid the baseline that continues to grow as I experience Enterprise projects and my summer internship.”
He says he plans to use the leadership skills he developed in the Army and the marketing skills he is currently learning to find a position in the Twin Cities. “There is such a wide variety of fascinating industries and companies here and I’m looking for someplace that shares my values,” he says. “I am very interested in finding a business-to-business marketing role with an innovative company.”
Katie wants to use her background as an Army logistician to continue to work in supply chain and operations. “I like leading a team that is tackling and solving difficult problems to continuously improve the systems they work in every day,” she says. “I would love the opportunity to work in a national or global company within the Twin Cities where I can combine my military experience and the knowledge I have gained at Carlson.”
What is it like to be in the program with a significant other? “It’s great to be able to have someone who knows just what I’m going through,” Colin says. “We’re able to share notes and bounce ideas off each other while we’re riding the train or biking in to class.” Katie adds, “We are study buddies for each other, can help explain concepts to each other, and celebrate all the milestones together.”
Building Civilian Networks
While sitting in a Marine Corps recruiting station in Minneapolis one day, Tim O’Neil was thumbing through a newspaper when he came across an article. “Veterans recruited for MBA programs at University of Minnesota’s Carlson School of Management” the headline said. Intrigued, O’Neil read on.
This was February 25, 2013. O’Neil, a Marine Corps captain, had been serving as the executive officer of that Minneapolis recruiting station for nearly three years. It was time for a change. After he finished the article, O’Neil thought about it for a while. Later that same day, he contacted program director Altman to learn more.
O’Neil soon enrolled and was impressed how the program quickly advanced his own understanding of business fundamentals. “Then there is the applicable experience you gain both in and out of the classroom as part of the course,” he adds.
While still in school, O’Neil and some classmates launched Fidelis Co., an accessories company that uses specific components that have military and tactical applications and incorporates them into rugged, well-built carry goods. “That had been a tremendous experience in that it has allowed me to learn a great deal first-hand how to build and grow a business,” he says. Since graduating in 2015, O’Neil has turned his attention to lead the day-to-day growth and execution of a non-profit called Bunker Labs Minneapolis. “Bunker Labs helps veterans start and grow businesses,” he says. “Through that work we have had occasion to make a significant and meaningful impact in our community here in Minneapolis and St. Paul.”
Besides gaining business acumen, O’Neil also credits the Military Veterans Initiative with fostering personal connections with peers, faculty—really the entire ecosystem involved with the school. “Coming from a service background, one really does not have a professional network that exists outside of their own unit,” he says. “Carlson provides the opportunity to build and grow that network in a meaningful way.”
Guide to Navigating the Corporate Landscape
Tyler Scheidt, ’16 MBA, first heard about the Carlson Military Veteran program from a West Point classmate who had gone through the program a few years prior. Scheidt had recently finished his Army Company Command time with a unit in Colorado Springs and was planning to return to Minnesota to be near his twin sister and older brother, both living near the Twin Cities.
“I was considering a few options and leaning toward going directly to work when I connected with this classmate,” he says. “He told me about how much both the veteran program and the Carlson MBA experience helped him with his transition.”
Scheidt was a 2007 honors graduate from West Point with a bachelor of science in civil engineering. He served more than seven years in the U.S. Army, obtaining the rank of Major. He had been deployed more than 24 months to Iraq, Kuwait, and Afghanistan in support of both Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom. “I had experience leading combat engineers, guiding various cross-functional teams and managing a construction company with a multi-million dollar budget,” he says.
Now it was time to bring that leadership experience to the civilian world and the Carlson Military Veteran program was there to help. “I knew this program was a good fit for me because of the positive comments I received from everyone I spoke with at the school,” he says. “I was told about the large veteran population within the cohorts and how it created a close-knit community similar to what I was accustomed to in the military.”
Scheidt also learned about the extensive relationships the school maintains with Twin Cities companies, which was nice to hear because he wanted to find a great company close to home. “After moving more than 10 times in seven years, I was ready to plant some roots and join a community,” he says. “I knew the Carlson veteran program would offer me that community.”
Upon graduation, Scheidt followed his passion for the detailed structure around corporate finance and is one year into a business finance role at 3M, where he supports global product and manufacturing teams. “I also have quickly immersed myself in the 3M culture by taking on a leadership role as the co-chair of the 3M Military Support Network,” he says. Scheidt’s career goals include reaching senior management levels within a Fortune 500 company through a combination of finance and strategy roles.
Scheidt says the Carlson program has helped him on this career path by giving him the time to identify his true passions in life and the tools to apply them to the corporate world. “Without the Carlson veteran program, I would have likely started down a career path before I truly understood the corporate landscape,” he says.
Carlson Vets Have Each Other’s Backs
Jen Schreifels-Watkins began her post-secondary education studying psychology and sociology at Stanford. This background served her well, as she served in the U.S. Army Special Operations community for seven years in Psychological Operations. “Your job is to think culturally in order to communicate strategically in support of the mission,” she says.
Focused on the Middle East and Central Asia, she deployed to Afghanistan twice. She worked with teams operating in far-flung villages to inform and assist rural populations as well as with military units, federal agencies, and international partners to create nationwide messaging campaigns in support of the Afghan government.
“As I was preparing to transition out of the Army, I knew I was coming home to Minnesota and going to grad school—just not what kind of grad school,” she says. Her husband’s transition preceded hers by a year, and he was already studying at the Humphrey Institute, right next door to the Carlson School. A friend who was in the Full-Time MBA program told him about Carlson’s military program, and he relayed that information to his wife.
“There are several inflection points in my life where I later realized that I had unknowingly made the right choice, and I am very grateful for those lucky breaks,” Schreifels-Watkins says. Leaving Minnesota for Stanford was one. Joining “Psyop” was another. “Choosing Carlson was my third lucky break,” she says.
She admits she didn’t know much about business schools until a few months before she applied. But, as she has learned more about business education and heard from her classmates about their journeys, she’s realized how unique the Carlson School is in its dedication and commitment to recruiting and supporting veterans. “And how amazingly lucky I am to have stumbled onto this program in my own backyard,” she says.
Schreifels-Watkins is poised to graduate next year. Based on her experience, she is strongly inclined toward marketing and consumer-focused roles, but she has a passion for organizations, systems, and processes. “I grew up in rural Minnesota with fantastic blue-collar and small business role models, but far fewer examples of corporate and manufacturing,” she says. “One of my goals in business school and going forward is to take advantage of the Carlson community to learn more about the roles and opportunities that exist in the business world.”
As she crosses the graduation stage next year, Schreifels-Watkins knows she will have the knowledge and experience to make her successful. And she wants other veterans like her to have the same opportunity. “As president of the Full-Time MBA Veterans Club, I’m excited to see the Carlson veteran community grow. We’d like to build stronger ties to part-time student veterans as well as with veteran alumni from before Mr. Van Dyke and Mr. Walter began their groundbreaking initiative,” she says. “The mentorship and networking potential is immense. Carlson vets have each other’s back.”