During a recent tour of campus with a group of wide-eyed prospective students, senior Theo Felopulos talked about the time President Herbst played oozeball in the mud with undergrads. He also recalled how his friend was designing candy bars with a 3D printer, and dropped off the leftovers at Felopulos’ house.
He spoke about giving a tour as a Sikorsky helicopter was landing on the great lawn as part of a recruitment event, and how dog-sledders crossed the campus a few weeks back. Felopulos shared that his friend started a cannoli-eating club, which became one of the most popular organizations on campus.
He also talked about how UConn has two alumni astronauts and how they woke up the crew at the International Space Station with the UConn fight song.
And he warned students not to stand on the UConn seal or they won’t graduate in four years. “I walk way around it,” he said. “I’ve seen people step on it. That’s bad luck. But to each their own!”
Showing Them How Much He Cares About UConn
Now completing his third year as a tour guide, Felopulos, a real estate major, is adept at mixing academic knowledge with personal insights on his tours. He makes sure to speak with each student individually about his or her interests.
He wants to create that same feeling he had when he visited UConn. At other schools, he said, he felt like a tourist. At UConn, he felt like a student before he was one.
“I try to put on a show and explain to them how much I care about UConn,” Felopulos said, who estimates he’s conducted some 120 tours. All 40 of the guides, he said, are driven to be the best college ambassadors in the country. Tour guides have to be on their toes, ready to answer everything from obscure retention questions to dating-scene inquiries.
“I tell the new tour guides to have fun with it,” he said. “People remember you as their tour guide as much as they do your knowledge.”
Late Dad Inspires Felopulos’ Career Aspirations
Felopulos has been busy interviewing for real estate development jobs in Hartford, Boston and New York. UConn’s Center for Real Estate and Urban Economic Studies has consistently been ranked among the best in the nation for more than a decade. Students go into commercial real estate, often with some of the largest firms in the nation or the world. Last year, every student who sought employment assistance from the program’s career placement center graduated with a job.
In the real estate department, Felopulos is a favorite.
“I’ve been known to dance in the real estate office—a lot,” he said with a laugh. “I think I’m a pretty good dancer. And if I’m not, at least I’ve done something to make everyone smile.”
“I’ve been called a character a few times,” he said, grinning. “I think everything you do should be fun. Why do something you don’t enjoy? I’ll do homework listening to music. I’ll be the one to try to break up the tension when people butt heads in a case competition. I try to make them laugh or at least smile. Everyone should have a smile on their face.”
But that appreciation for life is a lesson born of loss. Felopulos learned how cruel life can be at age 13, when he lost his father, Paul, to leukemia. His arm bears a tattoo of the words “work harder” in his father’s handwriting.
“Almost every day I think about him and about how he approached life with such joy and so much energy,” Felopulos said. “That reminds me why it’s so important to live the life you want to live, so when you look back, you wouldn’t want to do anything different.”
With his father’s death, Felopulos had to “step up” and help out with his sisters, then just 10 and 7. “It gave me an appreciation for them and how important I hope I am to them,” he said. “We are definitely a lot closer than traditional siblings.”
His mother, Gretchen, has since remarried and in addition to gaining a stepfather, he has two new stepbrothers, who are close to his age. Right now there are four of them in college. “Our parents are excited for all of us to graduate,” he said, laughing. “I’m the favorite because I’m the only student at a state school!”
His late father was an artist whose gifts including sculpting, filmmaking, portraiture and abstract art.
“I feel like I inherited his creativity. Art has played a major role in my life and I’d like to share the importance of art, and originality, with others,” Felopulos said. And that inspires the way he pursues real estate development.
“When I look at buildings, places and spaces that will impact people’s lives I want them to say, ‘Wow! I never thought a building could look like that.’ I have an appreciation and eye for good design. I want people to be excited to live, work and shop in buildings I’ve made.”
Felopulos, a native of Natick, Mass. (“you know, where the mall is!”) said it wasn’t until a trip with the Real Estate Society to Cushman & Wakefield, one of the largest commercial real estate firms in the world, that he knew he made the right choice. Stuart Romanoff, vice chairman of the company, which operates in more than 70 countries and employs some 50,000 people, spoke about how he had turned his vision into reality.
“I want to be able to fall in love with a place and make my mark on cities and skylines,” Felopulos said. “I think it would be cool to make a building that will last 40 to 50 years after I’m gone.”
He also enjoyed a class taught by David J. Reilly, CEO of Cornerstone Real Estate Advisors, and a trip to one of the company’s projects with Fallon Development at Boston’s Fan Pier. “He brought us there to show us just how intense and intricate real estate can be and also, in a way, to make sure that we knew just what we were getting into,” he said. “I didn’t need much convincing to know that this was where I wanted to be—but it definitely helped.”
He’s thrived, he said, because UConn is a place where everyone is rooting for the students.
Felopulos’ adviser, Professor Lucy Michaud, said she believes he has the talent to succeed.
“Theo stands out as a natural leader, with a great sense of humor, who is destined for a successful career in commercial real estate,” she said, noting that he was a participant in national and international case competitions in which the teams did well, including a recent Cornell competition in Manhattan in which the UConn team placed fifth out of 27 teams.
Abundance of School Spirit
The combination of participating in case competitions, working as a tour guide, participating in the Real Estate Society and belonging to Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity, have shaped Felopulos’ UConn years.
“These all contribute to who I am in their own ways. Through case competitions and the Real Estate Society, I’ve learned hard skills. My fraternity has created personal relationships with friends from different majors, and working as a tour guide has strengthened my public speaking skills,” he said. “I know people who do more, but for me this is the perfect balance with time management and the perfect blend to help me grow.”
Felopulos is known for his knowledge of UConn trivia (see below). Occasionally, though, someone will ask him where a building is and he’ll “cheat” and look it up if he doesn’t know.
“I enjoy knowing the UConn trivia and knowing a lot about UConn,” he said. “I’ve got a lot of school spirit!”
As he told his tour group that graduation is less than two months away, Felopulos had a lump in his throat. There are many things that he will miss, but the people he’s met top the list.
“I love walking into the Union and seeing people I haven’t talked to in a while and pulling up a chair and asking, ‘How’s your life?,'” he said. “As we scatter far and wide in the real world, I will miss that the most.”
Student writer Kimberly Nguyen contributed to this article.
Test Your UConn Trivia Knowledge (Five Facts to Impress Your Friends courtesy of Theo Felopulos):
1. UConn takes the cooking oil waste from our dining halls and repurposes it into biodiesel that goes towards powering the campus bus lines.
2. Professor Albert Gurden Gulley, who taught agriculture in the late 1800s and early 1900s, reached out to other state universities around the country and acquired the state plant from every state at the time. (He is also the Gulley for which Gulley Hall is named.)
3. The Little Stone House on North Eagleville Road, across from Swan Lake, is made from rocks from all 50 states.
4. The original Jonathan, the Husky, was fatally injured by a car on Storrs Road and is buried underneath a set of bushes next to the UConn sign across from Storrs Congregational Church. There’s even a little plaque to memorialize him. (Kind of sad, sorry.)
5. We are one of only two schools in the country that offers puppetry as a major.