Property management students find location, location, vocation

March 14, 2017

To explain the value of UAA’s property management program, let’s turn to simple economics. The supply of graduates is low (UAA is among a handful of American universities to offer a property management program). The demand for graduates is high (recent growth in the industry motivates companies to hire managers with a full slate of skills). Add that to the vast industry connections at UAA and the deep pool of academic and travel awards, and you have a quadruple threat of career opportunities for UAA students.

The end result? “Every student has left the program with a career opportunity, most secured early in their senior year,” explained Terry Fields, Weidner professor for UAA’s Weidner Property Management and Real Estate Program.

This track just opens up a lot of opportunities”

2016 property management grad Robert Erickson is now manager of the 387-unit Alpine Apartments community. (Photo by Phil Hall / University of Alaska Anchorage)

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, and produced its first graduates last May. 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. “Historically, it’s been a mom-and-pop industry,” Terry noted. “Over the last 25 years it’s really started to mature professionally and financially. 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.”

“For the students, at the end of the day, they end up with a strong B.B.A. management degree either way,” he continued. “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 at UAA, 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, Terry 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,” Terry 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

Ellen VanGorder, another 2016 graduate of the Weidner program, turned her internship into a career in Seattle. (Image courtesy Ellen VanGorder / HDR)

The young program is producing its first graduates, many who turned summer internships into career opportunities after college. Robert Erickson graduated in December 2016, after interning with Weidner Apartment Homes. 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.

“He 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 get the chance to pitch themselves — a kind of “verbal résumé,” in Terry’s words — before the board, a mix of real estate managers, brokers and finance gurus. 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 looking to hire talent for their companies,” said student Arina Filippenko, who interviewed with six companies, received job offers from four, and interned last summer with Alaska Housing Finance Corp. (she has also received scholarships and traveled to three conferences through UAA’s Weidner program). Thanks in part to internship credits, Arina 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.

“Being in the program has opened up countless doors for me and other students,” she added. “I am thankful for Weidner Apartment Homes for the generous contributions to the university in allowing for this program to exist and bringing up some of the best budding property management professionals after graduation from UAA.”


Written by J. Besl and Anne Gore, UAA Office of University Advancement

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