I’m probably unique from having such a history and wearing so many hats in the James A. Graaskamp Center for Real Estate. I was an undergrad and graduate student in the program and have taught students at both levels since coming back to my alma mater. I’ve been on the Alumni Board and now serve as the faculty advisor for the UW Real Estate Club.
Having that connection with James Graaskamp, understanding the history of the university and knowing the undergrad and graduate programs, actually going on Real Estate Club trips as a student and then experiencing them as a faculty member. I am about everything that you can be, or have been, in this program.
I’ve been in the Madison area 40 years and UW is more than just a home to me. These are the reasons why the Graaskamp Center is so special:
Innovation – The real estate program at Wisconsin is one of the oldest programs in the nation. We’ve been teaching real estate in some form or fashion since the 1900s. We’ve been a forerunner in the education of professionals in the real estate industry and have been ranked one of the top programs by US News and World Report for many, many years. We’re widely recognized in the industry as a leader and will continue to adapt our curriculum and teaching methods with time.
Applied Learning – In real estate, you need to have the academic foundation, but you also need to understand how it applies to the real world. Part of our Applied Learning activities include various projects in classes, case study competitions, being a part of the Real Estate Club with nearly 200 student members. The Club brings in industry professionals for you to learn from their experiences and each semester we take a domestic trip to a different place, spending a couple days meeting with alums and understanding the industry.
Global Focus – We strongly believe that students should understand what’s going on in the world. We’re not just citizens of the U.S.; we are citizens of the world. Real estate is becoming more global. It used to be where your intelligence, money, supply and demand were very local. Now, the money is cross border. You have pension funds in Finland that are looking for investments in the U.S. That part of the real estate industry is getting larger and larger and we need to give students exposure to that, whether they go into international real estate or not.
Unmatched Industry Connections – The Wisconsin Real Estate Alumni Association has been around since 1976 and is the only standalone alumni association I believe in the real estate industry. The industry is very relationship based because within the typical role in real estate, you are not just working with people who are your co-workers in that same company. The alumni association is one of the most valuable resources that we have because you can literally pick up the book and send an email or make a call to another Badger and they will help you out. We connect our alums with our students through our annual conference and regional events and our mentorship program has been going on for almost 10 years now.
In addition, our Graaskamp Board of Advisors is different than others. It is big, with close to 140 members, and more industry-facing. The advantage is that our MBA students are strongly encouraged to come to these conferences and we facilitate networking. Between the board contacts and the industry information that the students get, it’s a very valuable resource for them.
Strong Job Placement – Real estate is an industry, not a function. Our students want to do a lot of different things and real estate is really sensitive to business cycles. We usually have 100 percent placement with internships and close to 100 percent placement with our full-time second-year students and a big part of that is our strong alumni association and our board of advisors.
Outstanding Students – All of our students are passionate about the industry. I always joke that we are boring at cocktail parties because all we want to do is talk about real estate. I want to make sure our students are always leaders as well as joiners. The students are outstanding both academically and professionally. I want them to feel committed to this program as well as be passionate alums when they get out. The reason students have that special experience at Wisconsin is the people who came before them.
Our commitment to the MBA program and exploring new opportunities
The full-time MBA program is here to stay. We’ve doubled down on making it stronger. While there was a short thought of putting a pause on the full-time program, we found it was too much of a rushed decision without bringing in other stakeholders. We have done real estate education for over 100 years and we are always changing to adhere to the needs of the industry and we will continue to do that. The full-time MBA program still fits a need and the students and alumni are passionate about it.
But from a real estate standpoint, our brand is larger than just the MBA program. Our reputation, if you came from Wisconsin, that’s all that matters. Part of the vision was to expand the undergrad program, to create online learning opportunities and explore and bring online some one-year programs. All of those directions are great for us with the Graaskamp Center. We’d have more students, potentially be able to add more classes, we’ll have more of our allies out there in the industry. The more people that come through the program the better for all of us.