Weiser Center Breaks Barriers to Real Estate Industry
This spring, a cohort of 21 undergraduate students participated in a four-day session in NYC to explore career opportunities in the real estate industry. Students broke barriers to entry through networking, collaboration, and access.
In May, the Weiser Center for Real Estate at the Ross School of Business held its second annual Real Estate Academy. Building on the success of their inaugural 16-student cohort in 2022, this year's 21-student cohort attended an immersive four-day experience in real estate investing and development hosted by Related Companies in New York City.
As an action-based learning initiative, the academy aimed to spark and cultivate students’ interest in real estate by increasing their understanding of the industry, building their confidence in navigating their academic and career pursuits, and connecting them to an established professional network. Through introductions, tours, and seminars, Michigan Ross and U-M alums shared their insights on careers across the spectrum of the real estate industry.
Connecting Students with Michigan Ross Alums
The week kicked off with programming at Related Companies. Students participated in two days of sessions at their Hudson Yards headquarters including a financial modeling workshop, exploration of internship opportunities, round-robin networking, and individual resume reviews from industry recruiters. Their time at Related was highlighted with a Q&A from CEO and Ross alum Jeff Blau.
Later in the week, students received a building tour by Kartik Desai, BS Architecture ’99, founder of D&A Companies, who provided the students with a candid reflection on the process and outcome of several of his company’s developments along Manhattan’s Highline. To cap the week off, students attended a presentation at Vornado’s Penn1 building from their VP of Acquisitions and Capital Markets, Tatiana Melamed, BBA ’14, followed by a networking event attended by Michigan Ross and U-M alumni.
While Witt learned much from everyone she met during the experience, her most memorable experience was with D&A Founder Kartik Desai.
“Speaking with Kartik and learning about D&A Companies, I was able to see the contrast in a large real estate company compared to a smaller one and look at projects that might be more realistic to what the average day-to-day looks like in real estate."
Aakash Narayan, BS Urban Technology ’26, expressed a sense of confidence he felt he gained during the academy. Narayan articulated the importance of collaboration, particularly in building relationships within the cohort.
“My favorite part of the experience was getting to know our academy cohort and our ability to share our passion for real estate. The networking was so helpful, and I really enjoyed getting a resume and interview critique from a recruiter, but the people I met on the trip and got to spend time with are what made this experience that much more amazing.”
Removing Barriers to the Real Estate Industry
A significant driver of the program is providing access and illustrating a path to real estate success. Historically, starting a career in the industry has depended on leveraging personal and professional connections. While learning alongside industry experts and their peers, students demystified the industry's core functions through action.
Michigan Ross students have historically leveraged the curriculum and action-based activities of the Weiser Center in innovative ways. To codify that creativity and entrepreneurial spirit, programs like the Real Estate Academy provide a baseline of real-world experiences for students to build on. Each student brings unique goals and interests, and the academy provides resources and experiences to develop their passions into actionable career pursuits.
“A core objective of the Weiser Center for Real Estate is to build strong industry partnerships so that we can create accessible and immersive learning opportunities for our students,” said Jake Albers, the center’s managing director. “Through the Real Estate Academy, employers, industry leaders, and passionate Michigan alumni were able to share their knowledge and experience to provide the students with a comprehensive exploration of the real estate industry and create a foundation for them to continue that exploration throughout their time at U-M and beyond.”
Giving Students Unique Opportunities
A vital component of the initiative — which was established by a $6 million gift from Stephen M. Ross, BBA ’62, chairman and founder of Related, and Jeff T. Blau, BBA ’90, Related’s chief executive officer — is to offer students from underrepresented backgrounds the opportunity to learn about real estate and investing and increase their interest in impactful real estate careers.
Leslie Washington, BBA ’25, applied to the Real Estate Academy after attending a lecture on real estate planning and urban development. With a passion for creating communities that foster safety and inclusivity, Washington applied, hoping to gain knowledge and skills within the industry. Washington discovered opportunities in real estate law and learned about how real estate professionals consider the social impact of development.
“I am very passionate about creating positive changes in the Black community. This experience allowed me to share my aspirations about contributing to the Black business community so they can continue to flourish.” Washington said.
Washington’s trip gave her valuable insights into the world of real estate and its potential for social impact. Her aspiration to create spaces that make communities feel safe and welcomed was perfectly aligned with the goals of the Real Estate Academy.
Building a Future Together
Throughout the four-day program, the cohort engaged in constant peer-to-peer collaboration. Students forged professional bonds by sharing their personal goals and aspirations. By developing a sense of community and comfort with one another, collaboration was natural. Students inspired one another while reflecting on day-to-day activities, working through group activities, and planning for future success.
By introducing students to a trusted network of professionals and encouraging them to uplift one another, the Weiser Center hopes to shape the next generation of real estate innovators.
“Our partners, alumni, and most importantly, the students made the Real Estate Academy a huge success. The students’ level of engagement, preparation, and curiosity was incredible,” said Weiser Center Interim Faculty Director, Melina Duggal, MUP ’95. “The program was able to deliver on its goal to introduce students to the breadth and depth of the industry, including how real estate intersects with factors like policy, transportation, and population trends.
Staying Connected With the Weiser Center
The Weiser Center looks forward to continuing and expanding the program in the coming years. In addition to the Real Estate Academy, there are many programs for students interested in exploring the real estate industry such as:
- Future of Real Estate Competition
- Weiser Center Speaker Series and Career Development Workshops
- Minor in Real Estate Development
- Michigan Real Estate Club
- Michigan Ross Real Estate Fund
Finally, students who are interested in real estate internships can take advantage of the multiple internship scholarship funds, which can offset the costs associated with industry internships.