Introducing minority high school students to commercial real estate in national REEX Program

July 20, 2020

By Richard Westlund

Spencer Mateega was introduced to career opportunities in commercial real estate through the Real Estate Exchange  (REEX) summer program for minority high school students across the country. 

“I was able to learn about going to college, as well as business and real estate, while connecting with other students from diverse backgrounds,” said Mateega, a rising senior from Plymouth, Minnesota. “It’s been a great experience that I know will help me in the future.”

Mateega was among 47 students who took part in the Miami Herbert Business School’s cohort, which provided an immersive virtual experience that included market analysis, design, development and financial analysis for two underutilized sites in Miami’s Wynwood neighborhood.  Two other student cohorts, led by faculty at Cornell University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), looked at commercial sites in Ithaca, New York, and Boston.

“Our students at UM formed five virtual teams that came up with innovative concepts for transforming these linked sites,” said Andrea Heuson, professor of finance and academic director of Miami Herbert Business School’s real estate programs.  “While there were many challenges in preparing this virtual program, it was a great success, thanks to the high caliber of the students.”

Jackie Mansfield, a principal in Tristar Capital, and member of the Miami Herbert Real Estate Advisory Board, offered the two sites, totaling 1.34 acres, as a case study for the teams.  Because the high school students were not on campus, she prepared a video tour of Wynwood, as well as detailed information about the local market to provide a foundation for their creative proposals.

“Diversity has always been important to me, and REEX is a great program for high-achieving kids in challenging economic situations,” Mansfield said. “Miami Herbert Business School is a great resource for all of us in the community.”

Manteega was member of the “Canvas Development” real estate team, which included Emma Limor, Grace Yan, Ryan Githuku, Justin Smith, David Jenkins, Yolanda Rodriguez and Alexia Picon. Their proposal for a $151 million luxury hotel connected by a sky bridge to a second building with a parking garage, studios and offices took first place in the UM semifinal competition on July 16.

“Enhancing the existing Wynwood community was a strong point of the Canvas team’s proposal,” said Pamela West, senior director, Global Real Estate, Impact Investing for Nuveen. She judged the semifinals with Lynn Hackney, CEO, Community Three and Miami Herbert Real Estate Advisory Board member; and Raoul Thomas, CEO, CGI Merchant Group. 

In the finals of the competition on July 17, three judges ranked the Cornell, MIT and UM proposals in that order, and student participants received cash awards from Toll Brothers, the national homebuilder.

“We have been very impressed by all of you,” said Deborah Harmon, CEO, Pension Real Estate Association (PREA), one of the national sponsors. “You presented better than most college students as well as many of the professionals who come into my office. I hope you all want to stay in real estate.”

At the REEX closing ceremony, Lauren DeVarona, a rising senior at Archbishop McCarthy High School in Broward County, said, “This program has taught me so much more than configuring the net operating income of a site and deciding the level of risk. It also taught me to step out of my comfort zone and make presentations on completely new topics. It’s given me information I will use throughout my life.”

Manny Shoyombo, a rising senior from Short Hills, New Jersey, said the REEX program was a big step forward in his career plans.

“Real estate is a relationship business and REEX introduced me to many great people,” he said.  “This program is really important because it empowers young people and exposes them to more opportunities, helping to level the playing field for us.”

Ken McIntyre, CEO, the Real Estate Executive Council, a professional trade association for executives of color in commercial real estate, said a record 141 students participated in the fourth summer REEX program.  

“It’s an opportunity for high school students to expand their vision while being surrounded by their peers across the country in a college-like environment” McIntyre said. “We plan to continue that momentum by building ongoing connections with our sponsors and professional members.”

Reflecting on the REEX program, Alaura Cakley, a rising senior from Columbia, South Carolina, said, “Three things I have learned that I feel are very important are how to predict a business idea‘s success, how to present effectively, and how to take control and be a leader. This program gives students a chance to learn about things they most likely would have never learned in their teenage years. It has been a great experience.” 

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