As the College of Charleston’s Class of 2020 crosses the finish line, The College Today will highlight how some of our graduating seniors spent their time at CofC, and what the future holds.

When Daphne Lerner arrived at the College of Charleston in 2016 from her home in Bethesda, Maryland, she was about as undecided as you could be about your major. But in her second semester, she took a First Year Experience class on King Street real estate taught by Professor of Real Estate Elaine Worzala, and it’s not an overstatement to say the course literally changed her life.

“It was pretty awesome,” says Lerner. “Dr. Worzala brought in so many different and interesting speakers who made me realize how big the industry is. I played a lot of sports growing up so competitiveness is kind of in my blood, and I think the competitiveness of the real estate industry just really excited me.”

After earning a degree in Commercial Real Estate Finance (CREF), Lerner will be moving to Greensboro, North Carolina, in mid-June to start her career as an associate with the Lincoln Financial Group Real Estate Investment division. She’ll be learning to underwrite new commercial real estate loan investment opportunities for the company’s $13 billion portfolio.

“I’m excited for it,” she says. “I’ll also be in the Lincoln Preparation Program, which is designed to prepare recent undergraduates for more challenging roles within the company. It’ll be a good transition from college and a great learning opportunity.”

2019 student winners of the ImpactX competition

Daphne Lerner, second from left, with Charleston Mayor John Tecklenburg, Tristan Soliven, Candace Pfister and CofC President Andrew T. Hsu at the 2019 ImpactX competition.

Lerner credits the CREF program – the only one in the state – and her close relationships with Worzala, the director of the Carter Real Estate Center, and Assistant Professor of Real Estate Kenneth Soyeh with her ability to secure the position.

“They both played a huge role in getting me to where I am today,” she says. “It was obvious that they cared so much not only about my academic success, but they also did whatever they could to help me secure internships and full-time job opportunities.”

Lerner’s three internships exposed her to different aspects of the industry and were instrumental in helping her decide that the lending side of the business appealed most to her. That experience, along with her coursework, has really set her up for success, says Worzala.

“Daphne is going to make a fantastic commercial real estate professional,” Worzala says. “She was an excellent student, but she also has great people skills and is a very well-rounded individual. In her work in my classes, I witnessed terrific critical thinking skills that will be essential as the industry works to regain its footing.”

Perhaps her favorite course was Worzala’s Real Estate Market Analysis, which included a class competition to recommend the best use of a parcel of land in a North Charleston strip mall. The real-world experience provided students access to the invaluable CoStar database for market analysis.

“It was really beneficial to get to use this expensive real estate tool as a college student and be able to put that on your resume,” says Lerner. “It’s something that the major offers that I haven’t really seen anywhere else.”

Although Lerner’s team didn’t win (they made a good case for a Dunkin’ Donuts, but the owner went with a laundromat), she was on the winning team of the 2019 ImpactX competition, the tech startup accelerator program for students to develop a business that not only makes a profit, but also solves a societal or environmental problem. She and her two partners won $6,000 for an app called Foodfighter that simultaneously addresses hunger and food waste.

“The ImpactX program really helped me improve my public speaking skills and also challenged me in so many ways,” says Lerner. “I gained such strong business experience through it. ImpactX is probably the most beneficial type of experiential learning you could possibly receive anywhere as a college student. I’m extremely glad I came to the College of Charleston. Probably the best decision I’ve ever made.”