Above: (From left) The inaugural recipients of the Helms Scholars Program Lily Urban, Stanton McDuffie and Samantha Costello. (Photos by Heather Moran)

A new scholarship program at the College of Charleston School of Business is giving students pursuing a degree in commercial real estate finance a leg up in the industry before they even enter the workforce.

A recent gift from business alumnus L. Scott Helms ’84 has established the Helms Scholars Program, providing commercial real estate students with a scholarship as well as funding for professional development to complement their studies.

scott helms

Scott Helms

When asked what sparked his philanthropy, Helms said that another significant donation to the College made him think about making one of his own.

“I liked the fact that the real estate major was created with the donation by Ben Carter (president of the Atlanta-based commercial real estate firm Ben Carter Enterprises), and I felt like a scholarship program would encourage more students to pursue a real estate degree,” he says.

Helms, a South Carolina native who currently resides in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, graduated from the College with a bachelor’s degree in business administration with an emphasis in finance. In 2016, after more than 20 years at IDI Gazeley (formerly IDI) in various roles, he founded Helms Development to address the industrial real estate market in Florida. As principal of Helms Development, he is responsible for shaping company vision and strategy, including selecting land development and vertical assets for the company.

Elaine Worzala, professor of real estate and director of the Carter Real Estate Center, says his gift will make the College’s commercial real estate finance program — the first of its kind in the nation — more attractive to prospective students.

“Scott Helms’ very generous gift will help the commercial real estate finance major grow in stature and reputation,” she says. “This scholarship program will attract passionate students that will be able to hit the ground running once they graduate. We are incredibly grateful for this gift.”

Each year four rising juniors will be chosen for the two-year scholarship program. To qualify, students must be majoring in commercial real estate finance, have a minimum GPA of 3.0 and demonstrate a strong interest in the real estate profession and industry. In addition to receiving two years of academic scholarships, student-scholars are also awarded a professional development stipend to actively work toward laying the foundation for a career in real estate.

Elaine Worzala

Elaine Worzala

“The professional development portion of the award allows the recipients to experience what it is like to be a real estate professional while they are still studying. It is a unique part of the gift that will make the field come alive for the Helms Scholars,” says Worzala.

The inaugural cohort of Helms Scholars were selected after an application and interview process. Helms has met the students virtually and is impressed with their ambitions to learn about real estate.

“My vision is that this award helps the real estate program become the premier program at the College, as well as the state of South Carolina,” says the seasoned real estate professional. “We have the ability to really create something special.”

And that is already reflected in the trio of 2020-22 Helms Scholars:

Samantha Costello is a junior majoring in commercial real estate finance hailing from Rochester, New York. She says the program’s professional development stipend was particularly intriguing as she found herself starting to get more involved in professional real estate organizations to prepare for her post-graduate endeavors.

Costello plans to use her stipend to attend conferences and join more organizations to establish herself in the profession. She hopes to work in commercial real estate appraisal after she graduates.

Stanton McDuffie is  a junior in the commercial real estate finance program. He is from Virginia Beach, Virginia, and has family ties to the industry.

“My grandfather has been in commercial real estate since he was in his early twenties and still goes to work every day,” shares McDuffie. “As I was thinking about what I wanted to study, I took note of the fact that he loves what he does even after a 60-year career.”

McDuffie is interested in becoming a developer specializing in the redevelopment and rehabilitation of older buildings.

Lily Urban is a junior from Annapolis Maryland, double majoring in commercial real estate finance and finance. She was excited to hear about the Helms Scholarship opportunity from her advisor.

“I am always looking for ways to further my education and career knowledge, especially in the real estate field,” says Urban. “The program is an amazing opportunity to have funds to further my career interests while in school, as well as fund a portion of my college education.”

With the professional development stipend from the award, she hopes to obtain her real estate license and pay for student memberships in organizations such as the Urban Land Institute (ULI) and Commercial Real Estate Women (CREW). She aspires to work as a financial analyst or certified financial planner after graduating.

Each with their eyes on the coveted commercial real estate finance degree from the College of Charleston, Costello, McDuffie and Urban are all grateful for the opportunity a fellow Cougar has afforded them through the act of giving back.

For Costello, it is nothing short of an incentive to make her mark in real estate.

“I am now more motivated than ever to succeed in this field,” she says.