College of Business: University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

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Nurturing Connections in Real Estate


by Sarah Small

FIN 490/580, Real Estate Development is taught by one great professor, Roger Cannaday, and as many as twenty talented real estate professionals from around the state.

The seed of the idea behind the Real Estate Development class came from Peter Borzak, a partner at Pine Tree Commercial Realty in Northbrook, Ill., who wanted find a way to connect students with established professionals in the real estate industry. Thanks to Borzak’s impressive contacts within the real estate industry through Chicago, he was able to gather ample professionals interested in sharing their real estate wisdom and interacting with ILLINOIS students. Many of these guest lecturers for the course are also ILLINOIS alumni.

The course, which is in its third year, follows the real estate development process from the initial idea through construction completion, says Cannaday. The class has been extremely well-received by students and recently expanded from a one-hour class to a three and four hour class for undergraduates and graduate students, respectively.

“Students tend to be really happy with it because they get real people who are big shots, and students just think ‘I’m getting the real scoop,’” Cannaday said. “They’re telling them what’s really going on, in terms of how real estate development actually gets done.”

Networking is extremely important for students looking to be successful in the real estate industry, which is one of the reasons this course is so important, Cannaday said. Each of the guest lecturers provides his or her biographical and contact information, and students are encouraged to reach out to the speakers.

“They seem to be enjoying being involved, and they take it seriously,” Cannaday said. They respond to students almost immediately.”

Although many of the speakers are alumni of the real estate program, and some are even former students of Cannaday, the reputation of ILLINOIS’ real estate program has also attracted the attention of professionals who are so impressed with the program that they have essentially “adopted” the University, Cannaday said.

He cited the example of Donna Pugh, a partner at the law firm, Foley & Lardner LLP. Last semester Pugh spoke to the Real Estate Development students, as well as members of Rho Epsilon, the real estate student association. She routinely visits campus and is always eager and willing to get involved in what the ILLINOIS students are doing, Cannaday said.

Todd Caruso, senior managing director at CB Richard Ellis, is another guest lecturer who volunteered his services to ILLINOIS more than 20 years ago and is still actively involved with students.

Thanks to active and involved alumni and friends of the College, the real estate program is essentially cyclical; today’s students who are getting the opportunity to build relationships with real estate professionals will, in time, assume the responsibility of staying connected with future students. 

UIUC College of Business