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M.B.A. STUDENTS are often willing to invest heavily in their education to advance their careers. Fred Van Alstine has raised the level of that investment sky high.

Many Weekend M.B.A. students fly into Chicago to attend classes, but Van Alstine may well be the only one who learned to fly and bought a plane for the sake of his business education. Van Alstine says his weekly journey–200 miles and 50 minutes over Lake Michigan each way–is the easiest and most direct route from his Owosso, Michigan, home to Chicago.

"I have the option of driving, but it would take five hours each way," he explains, "and commercial [air] travel is not very practical. There are no direct flights from Lansing or Flint, and I’m a 45-minute drive from the airport to begin with."

So Van Alstine, who has had a lifelong interest in flying, decided to become a pilot. Optimistically, he started lessons at the same time that he applied to the GSB.

"I was reasonably confident that I would get in," says "and if worst came to worst, I would at least have a new skill." The physician who also serves as Shiawassee County medical examiner, found time to earn his pilot’s license in less than three months. He spent another 70 or 80 hours on top of that to earn an instrument rating. He also logged 50 hours and a visit to flight safety school so he could fly a multiengine plane.

He flies a Beech Baron, a multiengine aircraft considered the Cadillac of small planes because of its top-of-the-line safety features. It has onboard weather radar, storm scopes, de-icing mechanisms, and performance capabilities that exceed many other craft. He learned early the value of these these features: during one of his first flights to Chicago his single engine plane iced up so badly that he couldn’t see through the windshield and had to make an instrument approach.

Van Alstine now owns three planes, which he rents out for commercial training and charter when he isn’t flying them. "The planes pay for themselves this way," he says. "You have to try and control costs somehow."

Van Alstine, who began the weekend program in the fall of 1997, has engaged in something of a juggling act to accommodate his studies. The father of five has cut down his work at a local hospital. On a typical day, he spends three hours in the morning studying, works from 1 p.m. "until I get done," then comes home and has some family time before studying from 9 p.m. to midnight. Unlike his commuting classmates, of course, he can’t study in the plane on the way to Chicago.

"I’ve had to work hard to do okay academically," Van Alstine admits. "It’s all brand new to me, it’s a completely new field of study."

Van Alstine says he doesn’t know precisely where he hopes his Chicago M.B.A. will take him. "I’m looking at it as an enhancement of skills," he says. "Where it takes me from there, I don’t know."

The sky’s the limit.


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