By Nick Erickson
George Washington University senior real estate student Oliver Harris doesn’t feel a daunting tug when he looks at once bustling office buildings now empty due to the pandemic and subsequent work-from-home-culture that has kept many of those spaces unoccupied.
Instead, he feels a sense of excitement thinking about being a part of the solution while reimagining the urban development landscape in a post-pandemic world.
"All of these changes present a huge opportunity for innovation and forward thinking,” Harris said. “(Real estate) has an integral impact on the economic development, look and feel of communities. There’s always a demand for it, even though it’s subject to a lot of disruption and change.”
The Center for Real Estate and Urban Analysis (CREUA), part of the GW School of Business (GWSB), is fostering that kind of enthusiasm in students such as Harris with its rapidly growing programs, opportunities, coursework and networking opportunities.
Since its formal launch in 2010, CREUA now offers graduate and undergraduate classes. It has offered a real estate concentration for GWSB undergraduate students since 2017 and a minor in real estate for undergrads outside GWSB since 2020. From just two students graduating in its first class in 2018, the program now has more than 80 students concentrating in real estate.
CREUA Executive Director Rob Valero, B.A. ’82, credits the growth through organic efforts such as activity outside the classroom, orchestrating networking events in major real estate hubs and connecting with GW alums in the industry. He believes real estate and urban development’s dynamic nature is an exciting reason for young people to hop in the field early.
“It is always changing, and that is part of the fun and part of the challenge,” Valero said. “We are giving them the tools to use in whatever situation they find themselves in.”
Third-year finance major Thea Maletta is concentrating in real estate because she felt it was the perfect way to blend her love for numbers with a commitment to giving back to the community. Real estate made her adapt a doing good—such as providing housing for low-income to individual—while also doing well—for herself financially—approach. The two coincide, she said, as the more she succeeds means that more people will be helped along the way.
An urban sustainability real estate class showed her that some development plans have crossed the starting line but aren’t yet to the finish, and like Harris, she is excited by the challenge of finding the ticker tape.
“There’s so much room for growth in urban sustainability, and I really value us having the chance to make a difference,” she said.
The program’s graduates have proven to be strong resources for current GW real estate students. Alums have ended up at prestigious firms such as Fannie Mae, JLL, Cushman & Wakefield, JBG SMITH, Key Bank, Capital One, Olive Tree Holdings and Benefit Street Partners.
“It’s a huge selling point for us,” Valero said. “Students are getting great jobs and great starting salaries, great internships and unparalleled exposure to alumni professionals in the industry who are willing to give their time and resources.”
This week, students from the Real Estate and Finance Alliance (REFA) will head to New York for two days to meet with real estate professionals in the country’s biggest market, and six of them are GW graduates.
It’s especially vital to connect with alums as CREUA currently depends almost exclusively on financial support from alumni giving as it continues its goal toward, as Valero said, being one of the most recognizable and prestigious real estate programs in the United States.
Mentorship opportunities are also available through REFA as the initiative is designed to prepare GW students to interview in a competitive marketplace, match students with leading alumni and utilize high-level alumni to open doors at their companies for GW students to apply and secure top jobs in the industry. Students must be sophomores next fall to apply to next year’s REFA class.
“It is a year-long bootcamp where students get intensive training and get experience outside the classroom,” Valero said. “We have nearly a 100% job placement rate right after graduation.”
Harris and Maletta, who were both a part of REFA as eligible sophomores, are peer mentors. The Commercial Real Estate Network (CREN) is also an active undergraduate real estate club on campus where students can connect. The club currently has a roster of more than 100 students and hosts dozens of events throughout the year.
CREUA hopes to continue growing organically and innovatively. The pandemic showed industry professionals a path going forward. City buildings will have to be reimagined as hybrid and remote work look here to stay. The quarantine period showed the value of a home, and the housing market is skyrocketing around the country.
It is an exciting opportunity for those who are driven by challenge, and Maletta advises people to hop on board as CREUA at GW looks to build on its already solid foundation.
“I think the two most important things people can invest in is first, education and real estate second,” Maletta said. “I just think it’s really an incredible investment.”