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Real Estate class connects UW–Madison students to local policies

By Abigail Becker | Photography by Paul L. Newby, II

January 24, 2023

As a University of Wisconsin–Madison junior, Ashley Dinerman has navigated the challenging situation of securing housing throughout her years in college. 

Students often sign agreements early in the lease cycle to ensure a rental for the following academic year and are faced with increasing rents year to year. 

“We’re all living it in real time,” Dinerman said. 

Throughout the past semester, Dinerman was able to bring hard data to her own experience with student housing in the city of Madison in Real Estate 420 Urban and Regional Economics. She and her classmates were divided into 15 project groups, which studied the sustainable development strategies in city plans and policies. 

“It’s pretty cool to see the parallels through what we’re experiencing and how it’s actually affecting the city,” Dinerman said. “Coming up with a plan to combat those issues made all of us feel very involved.” 

The students presented their analyses and recommendations during a final poster session at the Madison Municipal Building, 215 Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd, on Dec. 14. City staff attended the event and engaged students on their topic areas, providing additional information and asking questions. 

“It’s one thing to study something and see it on paper and memorize something for the exam,” Dinerman said. “It’s another thing to dive in and really look at the real comprehensive plan for the city of Madison, analyze it, find research, and find solutions to this problem. It’s more hands-on.” 

That connected learning experience is what Professor Yongheng Deng, John P. Morgridge Distinguished Chair Professor in Business, ultimately hopes to provide with the experience.

“These student group projects allow students to learn from the city and urban space they are studying and living in, and also provide students opportunities to influence people’s lives beyond the boundaries of the classroom,” Deng said. 

UW-Madison student Juliana Bennett, who graduated in December, presents to City of Madison Deputy Mayor Christie Baumel and invited guests during the poster sessionl. (Paul L. Newby, II /UW-Madison Wisconsin School of Business)
City of Madison Deputy Mayor Christie Baumel talks with students Lucas Zhou and Justin Ochalla as (left) Leadership Development Specialist Amy Deming looks on during the poster session. (Paul L. Newby, II /UW-Madison Wisconsin School of Business)
Susan Cho presents alongside her teammates to City of Madison Deputy Mayor Christie Baumel. (Paul L. Newby, II /UW-Madison Wisconsin School of Business)

New perspectives 

With support from UniverCity Alliance (UCA), Deng’s course partners with the city of Madison to pair students with tangible city topics. The recent poster session expands the student work from the Fall 2021 semester when groups of students analyzed the sustainable development component of the Imagine Madison plan.

UCA Managing Director Gavin Luter said the relationship with Deng’s course is a “great example of how our role as a civic anchor institution can be activated on behalf of the city.”

“Through the lens of the Wisconsin Idea, we hope to expose students to new ways to think of their academic discipline and perhaps even influence their career paths,” Luter said.  

City of Madison Performance Excellence Specialist Kara Kratowicz, who is also a member of UCA’s advisory board, and Sustainability & Resilience Manager Jessica Price worked with students over the past semester to consider how elements of the city’s Imagine Madison Comprehensive PlanVision Zero initiative, Complete Green Street ProgramConnect Madison Economic Development Strategy, and the Mayor’s Housing Forward agenda align with equity, sustainability, and inclusion principles. 

Project topics included student housing, affordable housing, affordable workforce housing, electric scooters, Metro Transit bus service, street design, and “green” buildings, among others. 

The students made recommendations that included adding more places for students to keep bicycles, considering e-scooters as a transportation option, introducing financial support for “green” construction methods, preserving land for workforce housing, offering financial incentives for the new Bus Rapid Transit system, and establishing designated medians for bikers.

“Together, we give voice to the next generation of educated leaders to help shape communities all around us,” Kratowicz said. “Student projects aimed to improve equity, sustainability, and inclusion in city plans. As public servants, city staff are encouraged to stay open to fresh perspectives aligned with the values, mission, and vision of Our Madison: Inclusive, Innovative, & Thriving.” 

Deputy Mayor Christie Baumel speaks to the audience before the RE420/RE720 students’ Poster Session on Wednesday, December 14, 2022 at the Madison Municipal Building. (Paul L. Newby, II /UW-Madison Wisconsin School of Business)

At the event, Deputy Mayor Christie Baumel said she appreciated the ideas from the students and hopes to keep the conversation going through the “very fruitful” relationship between the city and university through UCA.

“I’m so glad you’re interested in thinking about how we can be investing in our community and our collective wellbeing,” said Baumel, while addressing the students. “It’s so exciting to hear the new perspectives and ideas that you help us all to see and hear.”

Sustainable Development Goals 

The students also connected their topics with United Nations’ 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) following a guest lecture about how the framework is increasingly being used in the United States, in the business sector, in cities and in civil society, from UniverCity Alliance Co-Chair Lori DiPrete Brown. 

Nicole Buchheim, a senior who worked on a project about the city’s Vision Zero traffic safety plan, said connecting the SDGs to a city plan made them click. 

“Applying the SDGs to these projects and learning about Madison makes it all come together,” Buchheim said. 

Juliana Bennett, who graduated in December, worked with Buchheim on the Vision Zero project. As the Madison City Council alder for District 8, Bennett was able to study a policy that she could ultimately influence as a local elected official. 

“I learned a lot more than I ever did before,” Bennett said. “It’s cool because I have actual data and recommendations that I can bring back to City Council.” 

MS-GREM student Kevin Yang presents alongside his teammates as City of Madison Deputy Mayor Christie Baumel and Professor Yongheng Deng look on during the poster session. (Paul L. Newby, II /UW-Madison Wisconsin School of Business)

Students in the Global Real Estate Master Program also participated in the graduate level section of the course. This program is designed for non-U.S. graduate-level students and alumni from top international business schools.

Simon Wang, who holds a masters degree in finance from Fudan University in Shanghai, China, said analyzing where the SDG goals overlap with the city clarified the project’s focus.   

“The problem solving and the solution was greatly benefited from the city perspective,” Wang said.

Kevin Yang, who previously received an MBA from University College London, said the project allowed him to dive into all aspects of the city: social, economic, technological, political,or environmental, and legal. 

“Now I know the city better from all those perspectives,” Yang said.

—Abigail Becker