Two Ways Forward
Nearing the end of a job interview, Ella Rasp stood up to exit. But the interviewer, taking another look down at her resume, called Rasp back in. The interviewer wanted to know more about Rasp’s involvement the NAIOP University Challenge, an annual commercial real estate competition hosted by the Commercial Real Estate Development Association.
Rasp, a junior studying urban studies at the University of Minnesota, has grown accustomed to interest in her involvement in NAIOP. “[Recruiters] will hold you back and want to talk about NAIOP because they’re so excited about your skill set,” Rasp says.
Last year, Rasp was one of four members on the U of M’s NAIOP team. Katessa Archer, a senior at the University, was another member of the team. Archer also discovered the project is a beneficial professional tool.
“It’s an amazing thing to have on your resume,” said Archer. “You can bring a copy of the proposal to interviews and people's mouths drop.”
Same Major, Different Paths
Like Rasp, Archer is also an urban studies student, with a double major in urban studies and applied economics. Archer’s studies largely focus on urban economy and urban development. She currently works for Minneapolis commercial real estate developer Cushman & Wakefield. She intends to move into commercial real estate development after graduation.
Rasp, on the other hand, concentrates on urban infrastructure and environment, with an additional minor in landscape design and planning. She is interested in sustainable urban development and transportation systems. Rasp currently interns for the Blue Line Light Rail Expansion project, forecasting the environmental implications of development.
An urban studies degree provides Rasp and Ella a broad academic portfolio, while providing them the skills they need to succeed in their chosen career path. Archer highlighted that most people in the program add another minor or area of expertise, a reflection of the degree’s flexibility.
“You can see the type of collaboration that's within this field and this major,” Archer said. “That’s the beautiful thing about urban studies and geography.”
The Perfect Pairing
Rasp and Archer became friends while working on NAIOP. For both students, it was their first year in the competition.
The NAIOP competition challenges collegiate teams to create a development plan for an area of land. “You are given a site to develop all the way from the financing to the stormwater treatment,” Archer said. “All these different aspects need to be considered.”
This year, the project was to create a development proposal in Bloomington, building new development on a parcel of land near the Mall of America and the Light Rail system. The University’s team went head-to-head with seven other teams.
“[You] have to identify the strengths, the opportunities, and the threats to the site,” Rasp said. “It’s about understanding and gaining an eye for the qualities and facets of any site.”
In many ways, Rasp and Archer were the perfect pairing, combining their individual skills to provide a well-rounded approach to the competition. Archer spearheaded the finances of the project, while Rasp focused on transportation, environmental factors, and pedestrian accessibility.
Unlike most of their competitors, the University’s team is not part of a commercial real estate program. Instead, the U’s team brings together students from a variety of backgrounds, including urban studies. According to Rasp and Archer, this is actually an advantage.
“I think we get more variety that way. We are able to integrate architecture majors, finance majors, and transportation folks, like Ella,” Archer said.
“We have a really unique interdisciplinary approach to the project,” Rasp said. “Our proposals as a U of M team usually look very different than the ones that come out of the real-state heavy programs. Ours have a unique strength in that they take what's been already established through city planning processes… and incorporate that in our vision.”
The U’s team decided to create a mixed-used site, a combination of housing units, public parks, and commercial spaces. Rasp and Archer also incorporated a shared parking system, taking into account the prevalence of ride-sharing apps, such as Uber and Lyft, and the accessibility of public transit in the area.
“It’s those little things that separate us from the competition,” Archer said.
The team worked on the proposal over the course of a semester. According to Archer and Rasp, the project was stressful and challenging at times. “There were many nights where were up to 3:00am working on this stuff,” Archer said.
But for Rasp and Archer, the work was worth it. The U’s team ended up placing third in the competition.
Taking on the City
Utilizing their skills gained through NAIOP, both Rasp and Archer see a world of possibility with their degree. They have worked to enhance their academic pedigree by taking advantage of opportunities in the Twin Cities.
“We go to school in Minneapolis and St. Paul—an amazing urban environment that's small enough to understand a lot of the complexities that are required for it to run,” Archer said.
They point to the surplus of internships and job opportunities offered by local, regional, and state governments, in addition to private firms. For them, community involvement is vital.
“A lot of what gets offered in the classroom doesn’t fully express the complexity of what’s out there in the city, just because it can’t,” Rasp said. “You're not going to understand the layers of governmental interaction unless you're out there trying to get someone to respond to your email.”
These opportunities provide a much needed commodity: experience. “I’ve been exposed to multiple parts of the urban environment that are required to make it function,” Archer said. “As a result of that variety, I feel like I've become a stronger candidate when going into the job field because it gives you the skills and the different interests that make you appealing.”