Volunteers from the University of Calgary's Real Estate Students Association at a Brookfield Residential International Speaker Series event in spring 2016. Courtesy Westman Centre for Real Estate Studies

Future leaders

Westman Centre for Real Estate Studies is developing tomorrow’s real estate professionals

While interest accruing on a mortgage balance is rarely a welcome sight, the growing interest in the Westman Centre for Real Estate Studies at the University of Calgary is a different story.

Part of the Haskayne School of Business, the Westman Centre was founded in 2012 with $7.6 million in funding from the real estate industry, which included a $5 million endowment from Jay Westman. Its mission is to be a catalyst for the development of real estate professionals and a leading centre of excellence for real estate studies through its teaching, research and community engagement activities.

“Industry saw a need for a program where graduates would have a firm grasp of the real estate sector and the career opportunities it could offer,” said Jessica Abt, the centre’s director.

Since the centre’s creation, the city’s real estate industry has continued to be an important supporter.

“The real estate community has been fantastic,” said Abt. “Not only did they donate to get the centre started, but they provide student mentorship, job placement and expert presenters for our speaker series. The collaboration they have built among stakeholders is amazing.”

The curriculum is available as a concentration for undergraduate students or as a specialization in the MBA program.

“Currently, for undergrads we have three courses, with three additional courses to be up and running for the 2018-19 academic year,” said Abt. “We also offer four courses at the MBA level and hope to have two more developed for the 2018-19 academic year.”

While it’s still early, the initial reaction from students is promising.

“So far, the program has exceeded my expectations. The real estate courses I’ve taken have built a strong foundation for a rewarding career.” – Cory Miles, University of Calgary student

“The instructor evaluations from last year were very positive overall,” said Abt. “The undergrad and MBA courses that are offered this fall are capped at 20 students with waiting lists, so that’s encouraging.”

For current student Cory Miles, the centre was a perfect fit. The former logger and semi-truck driver began a real estate career in 2007 in Vancouver, largely because “it’s an industry that touches everyone in some way.”

Still, he felt something was missing.

“My mentors all had post-secondary education, so I thought the time had come to head back to school,” he said.

When he heard about the Westman Centre, the move to Calgary was a “slam dunk,” and he hasn’t looked back.

“So far, the program has exceeded my expectations. The real estate courses I’ve taken have built a strong foundation for a rewarding career,” he said. “Calgary is one of only five cities in Canada offering such a program and I think it will make this city the breeding ground for the best and brightest real estate professionals.”

The involvement of industry in the centre has made a huge difference for Miles.

“I’m impressed by the volunteer hours that industry puts in,” he said. “Almost every day, someone else comes and talks to us about their day-to-day activities and special projects. For us, that means we don’t just gain knowledge from a book – we learn firsthand from players in the field.”

The professors are also industry professionals with years of experience. It all adds up to a valuable opportunity for students like Miles, who will pursue a career with one of the top five brokerages in Calgary eight months from now when he becomes one of the centre’s first graduates.

“A lot of students come to university without a clear direction of where they want to go,” he said. “The Westman Centre and Haskayne School of Business help you find the path that best fits your interests and skill set. Real estate is more than just your parents’ REALTOR® now. You can be a developer, a city planner or one of a hundred other positions that relate to the industry. The possibilities are truly endless.”

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