Note: The NAIOP-Drexel Summer Program is a partnership between NAIOP Greater Philadelphia and Drexel University. The program, which just celebrated its fifth summer, brings together 30 high school rising juniors and seniors of color for a 10-day immersive experience, exposing them to nearly every aspect of commercial real estate. This five-part blog series seeks to deliver a little bit of that experience through the eyes of the students and their college-level ambassadors as well as the faculty and staff of both organizations who work year-round to plan and execute the program.
Of all the program’s offerings, nearly all the students agreed: site visits were their favorite.
On the first full day, the group walked about six blocks from Drexel to tour a building at One UCity, a life science project being developed by Wexford/Ventas. They were met by Pete Cramer, NAIOP Greater Philadelphia Board Member, who serves as Senior Director, Development at Wexford Science & Technology, LLC. He walked them through the 450,000-square-foot Drexel University Health Sciences Building, a $30 million project that is 100% leased by Drexel for two schools, the College of Nursing and Health Professionals and College of Medicine.
“Four thousand students and faculty will utilize this building, and when it is in use this fall, it won’t be available to tour,” intimating that the students were receiving a very rare opportunity to tour be inside before opening. “It is the tallest academic building on campus,” he continued, as students boarded elevators in small groups to begin tours. “This is so cool,” one young woman said to another as they boarded. “I feel like we’re sneaking in.”
Other tours followed, including one which was not on the original schedule. A few days before the morning that Mark Seltzer, NAIOP Greater Philadelphia board member and senior vice president of Development for Ensemble Real Estate Investments, was supposed to teach a class on campus about the fundamentals of CRE, he learned the final beam would be installed on his project at 1201 Normandy Place in the Navy Yard in Philadelphia. The state-of-the-art life science building is being developed in a joint venture with Mosaic Development Partners under the banner of Ensemble/Mosaic. The 130,000-square-foot project has kicked off a 20-year, $4.8 billion initiative that includes the development of life science, office, residential, hospitality and amenities.
“What started as a scheduling conflict became a great opportunity for the students to be on-site and see a topping-off ceremony,” said Seltzer. “We all saw how instructive – and fun – it might be to come onto a working site in a vest and hard hat and we wanted to make it happen.”
To allow the students to participate and for Seltzer to make his teaching time, program chair Phil Butler Senior, NAIOP Greater Philadelphia board member and a senior vice president at MRA Group in Philadelphia, worked the phones for transportation while Seltzer obtained enough equipment.
Even in the heat of mid-July, the students were animated, taking selfies in hard hats and vests and asking questions about the development process. They lined up with construction workers to sign the beam before it was lifted into place, which many students captured on video with their phones. They were excited to learn they could keep their NAIOP-MRA co-branded hard hats as a souvenir.
Next, they were treated to lunch at the Ensemble/Mosaic office. Seltzer led the class in the JV’s training room, a nice break from the classroom and a valuable, low-key demonstration of what working in an office might feel like.
Aubrey C., 18, of Philadelphia, shared that the site visits were what brought the classroom work alive. “Putting on that hard hat made it more real. My favorite [trip] was probably watching the final beam being raised on a building at the Navy Yard because it showed me that they job was not just about sitting at a desk. You could be outside, on a site, building something.”
More trips followed, including the Riverwalk Apartments, West Tower at Schuylkill Yards and Cira Green, all hosted by NAIOP members.
Abu Saccoh, 16, from Boys Latin School in Philadelphia, reflected that the “program has helped me understand that real estate isn’t just purchasing houses … After high school and college I would most likely continue to do real estate.”
All photo credit to Ralph Oswald III.
Read the first chapter, Getting There, about the students’ arrival at Drexel University and how the summer program kicked off.
Read the second chapter, The Mirror Matters, about why having access to CRE professionals and programs as early as the summer before junior year of high school can make such a difference for students of color.
Read the final chapter, A Race to the Finish, about the students’ experience competing in a case study competition.