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UAA Feature: Property management students find location, location, vocation

UAA among a handful of schools training students for a changing industry


Robert Erickson, a 2016 property management graduate from UAA, now manages the 387-unit Alpine Apartments community in Anchorage.

Photo by Phil Hall / University of Alaska Anchorage

In the span of a generation, the property management field has transitioned from mom-and-pop rental shops to a sophisticated industry of real estate professionals. Amid the rapid change, University of Alaska Anchorage created a property management academic track, becoming one of only a few American universities to offer a tailored program for the industry. The Weidner Property Management and Real Estate Program, which produced its first graduates in 2016, combines industry connections and a deep pool of academic and travel awards to train students for an in-demand career field.

 The result? “Every student has left the program with a career opportunity, most secured early in their senior year,” explained Terry Fields, management professor and director for the Weidner program.

This track just opens up a lot of opportunities”

UAA’s property management and real estate concentration—part of the management degree—is funded by a $4 million donation from Weidner Apartment Homes, the largest private residential landlord in Alaska (Bloomberg estimates the company manages about 12 percent of Anchorage rentals).

The relatively new program primes students for careers across the property spectrum. While other universities focus on real estate development, UAA emphasizes real estate management, or the oversight of income-producing properties like apartment communities, retail centers, warehouses and office buildings.

In recent decades, the property management industry has consolidated from many small operators to large, even publicly traded investment organizations. “Over the last 25 years it’s really started to mature professionally and financially,” Fields explained. “When managers are responsible for assets worth $5 to $100 million, the focus on educated professionals with a bachelor’s degree in the field becomes really desirable.”

Because demand is high, and few universities offer similar tracks, Fields sees the Weidner program as an opportunity for his students. “At the end of the day, they end up with a strong B.B.A. management degree either way,” he added. “This track just opens up a lot of opportunities and provides greater depth for those with an interest in this area.”

Road to real estate

UAA’s concentration offers eight industry-specific classes in the College of Business and Public Policy. Students who major in management—a top 10 program in enrollment, with 72 graduates in 2016—can focus on property management and real estate en route to their degree. The property track covers topics like leasing, investment and real estate law. One 300-level course, real estate principles, doubles as pre-licensing, meaning students can sit for their Alaska real estate license after completing the course.

Licensing is just one part, though. Weidner students also gain experience in the field; up to six internship credits count toward the degree, which turns summer breaks into career opportunities. Students who intern in Anchorage often continue working for their company through the academic year (of his 2015 summer interns, Fields noted, “all of them were offered full-time positions afterwards.”)

Each year, students have dozens of opportunities for funded travel and academic awards. Four-hundred thousand dollars—10 percent of Weidner’s initial gift—was set aside for awards, allowing UAA students to travel to national conferences and receive tuition assistance ranging from $1,000 to $5,000 a year.

More recently, advisory board connections have provided travel opportunities as well. Trinity Property Consultants, a member of the program’s advisory board, actively looks to UAA for new hires (“there are only a handful of schools to recruit from,” Fields noted). This spring break, Trinity is sponsoring local transportation, lodging and meals for 10 students to tour properties and attend networking events for three days in Seattle.

An abundance of internships     

The young program produced its first graduates last May. Robert Erickson graduated in December 2016, after interning with Weidner Apartment Homes as a student. Today, he’s managing the 387-unit Alpine Apartments community, the largest Weidner asset in Anchorage. “I think it was a well-rounded education that has given me the tools to succeed in this industry,” he said.

Another 2016 graduate, Ellen VanGorder, is now in Seattle with HDR, an international engineering firm, where she assists with purchasing properties for large infrastructure projects. She met her employer at REAL Connections, an annual speed-interviewing event arranged by the Weidner program.

“They hired me as an intern with no previous industry experience,” she said. “Engaging in events and opportunities the program offered really made it all happen for me.”

That experience is not uncommon thanks to the program’s advisory board. Each year, UAA students can pitch themselves—a kind of “verbal résumé,” in Fields’ words—before a mix of real estate managers, brokers and finance gurus on the board. That pitch is followed by an afternoon of one-on-one speed interviews.

“Speed interviews are a fantastic opportunity to get a chance to speak with potential employers,” said student Arina Filippenko, who interviewed with six companies and received job offers from four last school year (she has also received scholarships and traveled to three conferences through UAA’s Weidner program). Thanks in part to internship credits, Filippenko plans to graduate this May after just three years in college.

“The UAA program is one of the best at UAA,” she said. “I feel like I learn more in my property management and real estate classes than in any other courses at the university. That—when coupled with the endless networking, learning and scholarship opportunities—makes it unbeatable.”

With few universities training graduates for an in-demand field, the market is in favor of real estate students.

“Being in the program has opened up countless doors for me and other students,” Filippenko said.


J. Besl highlights alumni stories and campus events at UAA.


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