Bill Van Dyke and Bill Walter

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 theclassroom,” 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.”

Visit the Carlson School Driven website for more information about the campaign. You can also read more about the Driven Campaign in the Carlson School Fall 2017 Alumni Magazine.