Internationally Recognized Real Estate Firm Invests in Students

David J. Reilly teaches "Real Estate: The Practical Approach." (UConn School of Business)
David J. Reilly, former and now retired CEO of Cornerstone Real Estate Advisers, addresses students in the course, “Real Estate: The Practical Approach.” (UConn School of Business)

$1.4M Gift Gives Students Practical View of Real Estate Industry

An international real estate company is giving $1.4 million to the UConn School of Business’s highly-ranked Real Estate Center to continue offering a popular course that gives students a realistic, hands-on approach to real estate.

The gift from Hartford-based Cornerstone Real Estate Advisers will make the course, “Real Estate: The Practical Approach,” a permanent addition to the Center. Prior to 2015, Cornerstone executives had been teaching the course with UConn faculty on a trial basis for three years.

“This gift will help attract and retain talented faculty and enhance the educational experience of our real estate students by linking them to the realities of the current real estate market,” said John A. Elliott, dean of the School of Business.

The course emphasizes real estate investments in equity and debt, and exposes students to various case studies, requiring them to think on their feet. Students team up to research and analyze the information contained in the cases, and then make a formal team presentation to the course instructors, focusing on pricing, negotiation, and observations.

“It’s almost as if you are in the industry as an employee of a real estate company that has to make a decision on the transaction,” said Alex Cattell ’16, of Falmouth, Maine, who is currently enrolled in the class. “It’s the most real-world applicable class I’ve had since I’ve been here to date.”

In some classes, asset managers, analysts, portfolio managers and acquisition officers are brought in as guest lecturers to give students an idea of what their jobs entail. This gives students a better idea of what type of job they might want to pursue in the industry. In the fall semester, students took an overnight field trip to Boston to visit Fan Pier, an upscale 21-acre office, retail, residential, and restaurant complex on Boston Harbor that Cornerstone is developing.

“The course lets the kids kick the dirt. They get to see real projects. They get to look at the buildings. They get to look at the plans. They get to look at how the funding’s coming in,” said Professor John Glascock, director of the business school’s Real Estate Center. “That makes you a better real estate person because you’re starting to see what actually happens.”

David J. Reilly, the former and now retired CEO of Cornerstone, orchestrated the design of the course after observing that many newly minted college students were book smart, but had no concept what it was really like to work at a real estate investment company.

“We wanted to design a course that would basically force students into an environment where they would sense what it was like to work for an advisory firm,”┬áReilly said. “Whether they end up working for an investor, developer, public entity, wherever, the point is that once you get into a work environment everything’s different. Business works and moves at a much quicker pace.”

The gift, which will be spread out over seven years, further cements Cornerstone’s relationship with UConn. In addition to helping to develop and teach the course, the company has provided internships to students and hired about a dozen graduates in recent years.

“As part of our corporate social commitment, the one thing important for Cornerstone is to give back a little,” Reilly said. “Cornerstone is the only internationally recognized real estate advisory firm that is headquartered in Connecticut. Given that, why not take our knowledge base, experience and capital support and export it to a university that might be interested in partaking in that? The obvious choice was UConn.”

Frances Gibbons ’13, now an analyst at Cigna Realty Investors, took the course during her last semester at UConn.

“I think the class, and the Real Estate Center in general, have had a really big impact on my career,” she said. “I think the most impactful part of it was the industry experience. We weren’t being taught by academic professors. We were being taught by real professionals who are in the business day in and day out.”

Austin Smyth ’15, a multifamily asset management analyst at JP Morgan in New York City, said the course gave him an inside view of the industry.

“It’s like you are actually doing a deal as if you were a Cornerstone employee,” he said. “It helped us with our presentation skills and our financial modeling skills and helped our understanding of the market. It’s like the best internship you could have in a six-month time span.”