Winter 2018

From battlefield to business


Translating military experience to the language of business is one skill M.B.A. student Katie Robertson is learning. A former U.S. Army logistics officer who was charged with outfitting a 600-person cavalry squadron with everything they needed for their survival, she's now interviewing for jobs in supply chain management.

It’s a tricky balancing act for a married couple to pursue M.B.A. degrees while also raising three young children—but for Katie and Colin Robertson, it’s nothing compared with what they experienced during 10 years of active duty in the U.S. Army. “It’s not the hardest thing we’ve ever done,” says Katie Robertson. “The stakes are lower. No one is shooting at us.”

The Robertsons, both West Point graduates, are two of 36 veterans enrolled in the full-time M.B.A. program at the U of M’s Carlson School of Management. The large number of veterans in the program—they comprise about 20 percent of each year’s class—isn’t a coincidence. It’s the result of the school’s strong commitment to recruiting and supporting these students, says assistant dean Phil Miller. 

The Carlson School is the only business school in the country, he says, that puts such a strong emphasis on veterans, with an on-staff military coordinator, a dedicated pool of scholarship funding, and veteran-specific career counseling. “We are not unique in targeting veterans, but we’re unique in the level and depth of support we offer,” Miller says.



The U’s Carlson School of Management is nationally known for its focus on military veterans, but it’s not the only part of the University that’s assisting those who served. Approximately 1,300 to 1,500 veterans attend the U of M's five campuses, according to University Veterans Service, a Twin Cities resource for student veterans, service members, and their families. About 1,000 of those are at the Twin Cities campus.

The Twin Cities, Duluth, and Rochester campuses have student veteran clubs that provide a sense of community and offer career counseling, professional development opportunities, and other support. At the University of Minnesota Morris, donors have established two new scholarships for student veterans and their families: the Krasicky Endowed Veterans Scholarship and the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 5039 of Morris Scholarship.

Some of the U’s colleges and professional schools, such as the Carlson School and the Law School, also have their own student groups for veterans.

The University of Minnesota ranked 35th (out of nearly 100 schools) in U.S. News and World Report’s list of Best Colleges for Veterans.

The most visible—and important—part of that support is financial. About eight years ago, two Carlson School alumni and Vietnam vets, Bill Van Dyke, ’68 B.A., ’76 M.B.A., and Bill Walter, ’66 B.S., ’72 M.B.A., began talking about how they could help young men and women who were returning to civilian life after serving in the current conflicts in the Middle East and Afghanistan. Both credit their business education with helping them launch successful careers after serving in the military: Walter is president and founder of Heartland Realty Investors, and Van Dyke retired as CEO and chairman of Donaldson Co.

Walter, who remembers changing out of his uniform after flying home from Vietnam because of war protests at the airport, says he and Van Dyke wanted today’s veterans to feel appreciated and honored. 

“We wanted to reach out and do something to thank the troops who are serving,” he says. “The Carlson School M.B.A. program gave us the skills to make the transition from battlefield to business, and we wanted to give that same opportunity to other returning veterans.”

With that commitment, the Carlson School Military Veterans Initiative was born. From 2013 to 2017, the “two Bills,” as they became known, helped raise $10 million in scholarships. That included $5 million from Van Dyke, who passed away in 2014, as well as significant gifts from Walter and other alumni and friends. The initiative also received financial support from companies and foundations, including Donaldson,  C.H. Robinson, UnitedHealth, Polaris Industries, Deloitte Partners, Graco, Newman’s Own, and 3M. Since it began, the initiative has assisted more than 80 military veteran students across the school’s full-time, part-time, and executive M.B.A. programs. 

“When we announced the $10 million target, I don’t think many people thought we could do it,”  recalls Miller, noting that the fundraising effort reached its goal two years earlier than expected.  Because of that success, the Carlson School is now able to give every veteran in the M.B.A. programs a scholarship or stipend for living expenses.

That support is essential for the Robertsons, who will graduate in May and are meeting with potential employers. Although the federal GI Bill provides a stipend to help with tuition, it doesn’t cover the entire cost of an advanced degree for many, nor does it pay for living expenses like rent, food, child care, and insurance. “We couldn’t do this program together full-time without scholarship support,” says Katie Robertson. “It has made all the difference, and it’s changing our lives.” 


In addition to financial support, student veterans often need other types of assistance—for example, help translating their military experience into business terms. “Their resumes are in a different language,” says Chip Altman, a retired Navy commander who serves as director of the Carlson School’s M.B.A. military and veterans programs. “They use all these acronyms that mean something very important, but no one in the business world understands them.” 

Katie and Colin Robertson both have fathers who were in the military, which gave the couple a "sense of service," says Katie. The West Point graduates spent 10 years as officers in the U.S. Army in Iraq and Afghanistan, earning two Bronze Stars apiece for distinguished service.
Photography by Wally Agboola

Career counselors help veterans “learn how to tell your story in a way that makes sense,” says Katie Robertson, who as a logistics officer in Iraq and Afghanistan was responsible for supplying a 600-person cavalry squadron with everything necessary for survival—from food to ammunition to fuel. Although corporate recruiters may not understand her military experience at first glance, she’s learned to describe the skills the job required in terms that are meaningful in business: strong leadership, meticulous attention to detail, and the ability to make quick decisions. 

The counselors also help student veterans find internships in their areas of interest—from finance to logistics to marketing—so they’ll have relevant business experience when they graduate.

And recruiters are taking note of the unique skills veterans bring to their jobs. In the last three years, Nick Koewler, talent acquisition manager at Land O’Lakes, has hired four Carlson School M.B.A. grads who are veterans—all of them in marketing. He’s found they’re passionate about their work and quick to adapt to the corporate environment. “The military is built on teamwork, so they come in knowing how to partner and understand what everybody else is thinking,” he says. 

Koewler has also noticed that veterans are accustomed to being flexible when approaching challenges. “They have that skillset of knowing that at any time something drastic might change and knowing how to work around it,” he says. “They come into these roles as leaders.”

Koewler is not alone in appreciating the leadership and work ethic veterans bring to businesses. Other corporations are seeing the benefits as well, making the Carlson School grads sought-after employees. The Military Veterans Initiative’s employment rate for full-time M.B.A. graduates? One hundred percent.

Amy Sitze is a contributing editor for Legacy magazine.