06/21/2023 | by Liz Wolf
students in a classroom

After forging a partnership last fall, Nareit and Project Destined kick off their internship program this summer with REITs bringing on college students identified by Project Destined for paid internships at their companies.

Ayris T. Scales, Nareit’s senior vice president for social responsibility and global initiatives, notes that a career in commercial real estate isn’t one that’s necessarily top of mind for students of color or young females. “This partnership with Project Destined is helping to change that narrative and just one of many steps we are taking to support pipeline development for our industry, which is top of mind for our CEOs.”

Project Destined, a social impact platform teaching commercial real estate, entrepreneurship, and financial literacy to students from underserved communities, was founded in 2016 by former Carlyle Group Principal Cedric Bobo, who had spent two decades as a real estate investor and investment banker. He saw firsthand the significant need for diverse professionals in the commercial real estate industry, but also recognized the difficulty for organizations to know how to find that talent.

Companies often recruit through universities, networking groups, and contacts that are already established in commercial real estate—and most are comprised of predominantly white members, the majority of which are men. And even if companies recruit at Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) and other institutions, many students aren’t aware of commercial real estate as a career path.

So, in 2016, Bobo co-founded Project Destined. His goal is to inspire young real estate entrepreneurs and expand the number of diverse owners and leaders in the industry. In doing so, Bobo has recruited some of the biggest players in real estate as supporters.

More Talent to Access

Ayris Scales
Ayris T. Scales

The Project Destined/Nareit partnership supports nearly two dozen paid internships.

“Nareit created a wonderful opportunity for their member companies and our scholars,” Bobo says. “For Nareit’s members, whether they have large or small talent acquisition teams, they will benefit from a large and growing talent pipeline that connects them with diverse talent from 350 colleges and universities. For students, Nareit created an access point to both apply for incredible opportunities, but also receive training to prepare them for success when they arrive.”

To date, Bobo’s team has trained more than 5,000 students, from all different backgrounds, across 350 colleges and universities worldwide. Bobo receives 5,000 applications every semester for 700 slots. He also has partnered with more than 250 real estate firms.

Nareit members have access to Project Destined’s Career Platform where companies can access students’ resumes and dive into their experience. It’s like having their own LinkedIn or Indeed platform.

“And since REITs have their own internship programs, we're not asking them to change what they do,” Bobo says. “We're just giving them more talent to access as part of their recruiting.”

Additionally, students hired for Nareit member internships receive 40 hours of training on REIT fundamentals, market research, property analysis, valuation, and financial modeling.

Project Destined also creates an email/social media campaign to promote participating REITs and their internships and sends it directly to students.

Cedric Bobo
Cedric Bobo

The Project Destined program itself consists of 45 hours of virtual training led by Bobo and live lectures from top real estate executives. Students learn about financing, property evaluation, and the market value of properties in their own neighborhoods. Students receive a stipend to attend real estate classes and have access to mentors who guide them during the program. “I had this crazy idea of paying kids to learn about real estate,” Bobo says.

Students also analyze live, local real estate deals. Teams make presentations to industry professionals in Shark Tank-type pitch competitions to earn scholarships. At the same time, industry experts get to know a talented pool of young professionals of color.

“I wanted to break through the jargon and demystify real estate for students while developing a pipeline of new talent,” Bobo says.

Quality of Talent ‘Renowned’

Dallas-based Invitation Homes Inc. (NYSE: INVH) has hired two Project Destined students as summer interns. “It's an opportunity to really diversify our talent pool,” says Angela Gambaro, senior director of talent acquisition at the single-family rental REIT.

Gambaro says the company was already looking into Bobo’s program, so “all the stars aligned” when Nareit partnered with Project Destined. “I've been hiring interns for over 10 years, and we certainly work with a lot of schools and have a lot of sources, but the quality of the talent that we’ve seen from Cedric and his team is renowned worldwide,” she says. “I just can't get over it, nor can my recruiters.”

Gambaro says what sets these students apart is their training and hands-on experience.

During the interview process, “it wasn't just them talking about coursework or school projects,” Gambaro explains. “They can really talk about work and quantify their career goals. We don't always get that with students. It makes such a difference, and they really understood what a REIT is. They understand our world, and that's so exciting.”

Invitation Homes received many applications and interviewed 16 students for the 10-week internships, according to Gambaro. The company is looking for rising seniors, who can make a name for themselves this summer and be invited back for post-graduation, full-time jobs.

Gambaro says the interns, working with the finance and development teams, will report to a hiring manager and also have a mentor. They will be assigned daily tasks as well as a project, which typically is an opportunity to solve a business problem. They will present the project to leadership at the end of the summer. In addition, interns participate in an executive speaker series and a volunteer event.

Helping Make Plans a Reality

Son Nguyen
Son Nguyen

Son Nguyen is a corporate strategy and capital markets intern at Invitation Homes this summer. He’s a bachelor of business administration in finance and real estate student at the University of Houston and will graduate in 2024. At 44, Nguyen is a licensed real estate broker and worked for his family’s restaurant business for seven years and ran his own dry-cleaning business for 13 years before going back to school for a finance degree in real estate.

“When I got into real estate, my passion for it grew,” Nguyen says. He spoke with mentors who suggested that earning a finance degree was the best way to further his career. He wants to be a financial analyst for a real estate firm.

Nguyen also discovereProject Destined, which is helping make his career plans a reality. “It has provided me with an incredible opportunity to gain live real estate experience and build a foundation in real estate fundamentals,” Nguyen says. “It has also empowered me with a network of peers and leaders across commercial real estate.”

This internship is a critical next step in his career path. “I’m extremely excited to bring these skills and experiences to Invitation Homes,” Nguyen adds.

Opening Doors

Meanwhile, Detroit native Brittany McGee landed a summer internship with Santa Monica, California-based Macerich (NYSE: MAC), one of the nation’s largest mall operators. Macerich hired three summer interns through Project Destined as development associates for its 10-week program. McGee is working at their Rochester, New York office.

Brittany McGee
Brittany McGee

McGee earned her real estate license at age 18 and graduated this spring from Wayne State in Detroit with a bachelor of science in business management. Project Destined has opened many doors for McGee, including a previous internship with Related Cos. and Olympia Development.

McGee receivedseveral internship offers for this summer and a full-time offer that she turned down.

“I'm super invested into going to Macerich this summer,” McGee says. “They're a company that has a very high trajectory, and I want to be a part of that.”If Macerich offers her a position after the summer, McGee says she will accept. If not, she will leverage the high-level experience when she returns to Detroit to look to work for a developer.

“The internship will give me experience in large markets like New York and New Jersey with a large REIT that people know and that's actively growing,” McGee notes. “I’m excited.”

Helping Foster Future Leaders

Macerich continues to focus on increasing representation by gender, race, and ethnicity, notes Kelly Meyers, Macerich’s assistant vice president of people & inclusion. The company saw the Nareit/Project Destined partnership as a way to support their mission.

“We have to create opportunities for people to get their foot in the door in the commercial real estate industry,” Meyers says. “So often, we hire people who already have experience, and unless people are part of a real estate program or have some sort of exposure in some other way, they’re not aware of opportunities that exist.”

By helping young talent gain exposure to commercial real estate and explore opportunities, “the hope is we're helping foster the future leaders of the industry,” Meyers says.

Meyers adds that the training and hands-on experience that Project Destined provides allows students to really understand the language and concepts of the business, giving them an advantage when they come to Macerich.

“It will certainly provide them with a more favorable experience with our team, and we want to set them up for as much success as we can while they're with us,” Meyers says. Macerich provides interns with mentors. Additionally, it offers an executive leadership series and a summer trip. This year it’s to Washington, D.C., to tour the company’s Tysons Corner Center as well as peers’ properties to better understand different markets.

Learning the REIT Business

Another participating Nareit member is Scottsdale, Arizona-based STORE Capital , a private net-lease REIT The company hired one summer intern from the program who joined the portfolio management and underwriting department for 12 weeks.

“The intern will work very closely with an underwriter and portfolio manager and will learn the REIT business, how we come to credit decisions, and how we manage our portfolio,” says Leandra Long, STORE Capital director of HR, talent & diversity.

STORE Capital received 50 applicants from the Nareit/Project Destined partnership and conducted eight interviews. The company has three intern cycles throughout the year and will continue to promote positions through Project Destined to attract a diverse pool of young professionals.

“Based on our DEI strategy, that’s been a priority for many years,” Long says. The company is encouraged by Project Destined’s recruitment from different colleges and geographical markets. While STORE Capital operates across the U.S., the company only has its one home office in Arizona.

“[Project Destined] lets us tie into those different states rather than just our backyard,” Long says. “We have a lot of talent that comes in from Arizona State University and other local schools, but Project Destined is our direct pipeline to those other schools. We’re excited to continue to get candidates from that pipeline.”