Back in 2013, as South Carolina’s real estate market started gathering strength, the College’s Carter Real Estate Center ushered in new leadership with nationally recognized professor Elaine Worzala. She relocated from Clemson University, where she was the director of the Richard H. Pennell Center for Real Estate Development.
“I was drawn to Charleston because of the really great hospitality program, a supply chain management program working directly with the local manufacturing community and the port, an urban studies program and a unique historic preservation program in the first historic district in the country,” says Worzala. “But I had to convince everyone I wasn’t educating students to sell time shares.”
Established and supported by a generous gift from Ben Carter in 2006, the Carter Real Estate Center provides support for the commercial real estate program housed in the School of Business, and last fall, the commercial real estate finance major became a reality. The new major meets a real need in the Lowcountry and beyond.
“Real estate is more than just selling houses,” notes Worzala. “Stop and think of a large real estate project like the Tanger Outlet Mall in North Charleston: There are tenants, architects, lenders, building designers, investors and brokers who are involved with that project. There are a lot of different career opportunities with that one project.”
The Carter Real Estate Center is focused on working more closely with the commercial real estate industry to provide access for student-learning opportunities, including internships, guest speakers, live projects in the classroom and access to events sponsored by professional associations.
“The industry in Charleston is great, because there are a lot of real estate professionals here to begin with and the market is expanding with new professionals joining us on almost a daily basis,” says Worzala. “The timing was super. It’s the right time and right place to study commercial real estate.”
The commercial real estate finance major is designed to provide undergraduate students with a similar experience to receiving a master’s degree in real estate. There were 24 students majoring in it this past academic year and six graduated with the degree in May.
“We have a great Freshman Year Experience course titled ‘The Wonderful World of Real Estate, According to King Street,’ that I use as a recruiting tool – so students can start studying as a freshman,” says Worzala, who earned her undergraduate, master’s and doctoral degrees from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. “Then, the students have four years to study real estate, be part of the real estate club, work in the field, go to industry events and build their network.”
But, perhaps the most valuable part of the new commercial real estate finance major is how it teaches students to think critically and ask the right questions so they can think through and solve problems that are always changing for each project.
“In commercial real estate, these are $100 million projects. You’re playing with people’s money, many times their pensions, so it’s important to have more people in the industry with solid backgrounds,” says Worzala. “You shouldn’t be able to go take one class, get a license and then be able to impact people’s lives. Good, socially responsible development is important.
“Here, we give them the tools so that they are ready to work,” she adds. “I put a lot of live projects into our courses, so that when they get out, they can think on their feet and have the skills to be an excellent professional and be valuable to their employer from Day One.”