Real Estate for the Real World: At Georgetown, Students Take on Today’s Challenges

“We just decided we were going to address the problem head-on,” said Maura McGraw, a Marine Corps reservist and real estate entrepreneur. “You go up there not knowing what’s going to happen.”

A student in Georgetown University’s Real Estate graduate program, McGraw is no stranger to addressing problems head-on. Last spring, she and a team of classmates took home the top prize in the world’s leading real estate development case competition. The challenge: Design a solution for San Francisco’s critical housing shortage and growing homeless population.

For the competition, teams were given a prime piece of city-owned real estate on which to build a hypothetical mixed-use, public-private facility. The Georgetown team’s proposal included nearly 300 units, 68 of which were designated as transitional spaces for the homeless. That proposal marked the third time in five years that Georgetown earned first place, making it “the winningest graduate program in the history of the CASE Competition.” 

In Georgetown’s graduate Real Estate program, dealing with complex societal issues in the context of industry is commonplace. Led by practicing real estate experts, courses focus on the existing and emerging challenges prevalent in today’s real estate landscape.

Take, for instance, “Deal Lab,” a course created by Brian Grindall, a partner at the law firm of Tenenbaum & Saas, P.C. and an instructor in the program. Grindall, who had been teaching a course on the basics of real estate law, was determined to make the classroom experience more reflective of what students would encounter in the field. “We had some students who were chomping at the bit,” said Grindall. “They wanted more.”

So instead of lecturing on leases, term sheets, zoning ordinances, and other tools of the trade, Grindall empowered his students to think like professionals.

Organized into teams of five, Deal Lab students are required to guide various fictional real estate projects through the complex world of planning, financing, and construction. Near the end of the course, the teams take turns going before, or acting as, a corporate investment committee that assesses the viability of each project and the various risks it presents.

The teams typically include students who are well-versed in the financial aspects of real estate, students “who can look at a financial spreadsheet and read it in a flash,” according to Grindall.

While these students are naturals for Deal Lab, so are others who come in knowing little about finance but a lot about the construction process. The beauty of the course, and indeed, Georgetown’s program, is that students learn almost as much from each other as from their instructor.

“It’s not teaching a lesson. It’s helping students learn on their own,” said Grindall.

So whether competing on a national scale against top scholars or defending a proposal in front of a classroom of peers, Georgetown’s students are gaining the well-rounded expertise needed to take on the complex challenges of today’s real estate industry.

Just ask McGraw, who is now the founder and CEO of her own real estate solutions company.




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