Price undergraduate interns turn real estate lessons into real-world action
By Cristy Lytal
This summer, students from the Bachelor of Science in Real Estate Development (BRED) program at the USC Price School of Public Policy built strong foundations as interns at the some of the industry’s most esteemed companies.
From development and asset management to operations and financial analysis, Price students applied classroom lessons to the workplace, then brought workplace lessons back to the classroom.
“We built the BRED curriculum with a series of internships in mind — the real estate curriculum and the professional exposure of the students build on each other,” said Christian Redfearn, the Borstein Family Endowed Professor of Real Estate and faculty lead for the BRED program. “The classes are all rigorous, but grounded in professional practice. As students complete internships, they will see what they’ve learned and then return to the class that much more seasoned and ready for more.”
Real deals at CBRE
Troy Paolucci interned with the Financial Consulting Group at CBRE, the world’s largest commercial real estate services firm. He was one of only 30 interns selected from a competitive pool of more than 400 applicants to CBRE’s Greater Los Angeles/Orange County Region Summer Intern program.
At CBRE, Paolucci’s responsibilities were the same as a newly hired analyst and his finance courses at USC Price prepared him with the skills to underwrite loans and building pro formas.
“Say a broker is selling a $20 million office building — they bring us on board to help with the deal,” Paolucci explained. “What we do is underwrite the entire property, structure the deal for them on the financial side and do all the numbers to help the broker. The good part is you get to experience every different property type and a bunch of different deals. You touch a little bit of everything.”
During the summer, Paolucci worked on retail properties, office complexes and industrial buildings, with the size of the deals ranging from $5 million to $70 million.
“The biggest skill I learned was really understanding the time value of money and how these cash flows and buildings are valued,” he said. “Learning the software program ARGUS and getting all the lingo down and really understanding how that part of the business works was a great learning experience.”
Paolucci contributed as a “full-force member of the team,” according to his supervisor Sara Brock Rollins, Managing Director of the Financial Consulting Group.
“Troy wasn’t afraid of tackling the unknown and starting with a blank piece of paper or Excel spreadsheet,” she said. “He took the lead on deals, delivered his assignments on time and learned new things every day.”
Double duty at Caruso
BRED student Reuben Peters completed his second consecutive summer as an intern at Caruso, a real estate development firm of retail, residential and hospitality properties. The firm’s founder and CEO is USC Trustee is Rick Caruso ’80, who also serves on the Price School’s Board of Councilors.
“Commercial real estate is something I want to get into after I’m done with my undergraduate degree and football, so having the opportunity to intern there was beyond what I was expecting,” said Peters, who plays fullback for the USC Trojans football team. “The thing that excites me is just giving guests the opportunity to be happy on a property. It’s something that they can enjoy, something that I can give back to the community.”
At Caruso, he focused on operations and property management. He also worked with Vice President of Development Michael Gazzano, an alumnus who earned both his bachelor’s degree in urban planning and development and his Dollinger Master of Real Estate Development from USC Price.
“Reuben was not only an invaluable member of our team at The Grove, but also worked hard every day, was creative and added great energy to the property,” said his supervisor Ryan Hawley, Caruso’s general manager of the West Los Angeles Region. “Reuben focused on concepts that are sure to enhance the guest experience at The Grove, especially at our new restaurant, 189 by Dominique Ansel. I’m confident that Reuben’s creative ideas will lead to a very successful grand opening.”
As an intern, Peters was also able to apply the skills that he learned in his RED 375 “Real Estate Development Analysis” course, including how to build pro formas.
One of his favorite experiences was working on a team with several other interns to brainstorm about how to make Caruso more sustainable.
“Our group had the opportunity to present in front of the whole company and give our take on it,” Peters said. “That experience was invaluable because you get to present in front of some very important VPs and people who have been in the business for years.”
Peters believes that internships provide important exposure to the workplace.
“I’d never been in a formal work setting like that before my internship the first year,” he said. “So that opened my eyes to what it’s like to be in the real world, and it really challenged me to think critically. You always have to be on your toes, because there are a lot of smart people out there and you always have to think about the next best thing or the best solution to solving problems.”
Major assets at Macerich
BRED student Melissa Schem, who is also pursuing a minor in business law, interned at Macerich, a real estate investment trust and leading owner and operator of high-end shopping centers.
She first became acquainted with the company as the recipient of a Macerich Scholarship, which gave her the opportunity to meet the company’s chief executive officer, chief financial officer and head of development. She reconnected with the CEO during a Price speaker series event and he offered her a summer internship.
“I’ve been really interested in mixed use retail/residential development,” she said. “And that’s a big part of what the company does.”
During the summer, she worked in asset management, where she had the opportunity to help with budgeting and building pro formas, using skills gained in her RED 375 “Real Estate Development Analysis” course.
She also sat in on numerous insightful meetings, including some that focused on the future of certain retail spaces.
Those conversations “were really interesting to hear, and it inspired me to do my senior thesis on [retail] boxes and plans for adaptive reuse for those boxes,” Schem said.
Schem’s engagement and contributions impressed her supervisor Rebecca Strom, Vice President of Asset Management at Macerich.
“There is no doubt in my mind that Melissa will do great things with whatever company she ultimately works for,” Strom said. “She is exactly the type of person we look for in our department — strong financial and social skills. She was a meaningful addition to the team.”
Infill insights at The Olson Company
Chad Lonski, a BRED student also pursuing a minor in architecture, completed a summer internship at The Olson Company, a real estate developer and pioneer in urban infill — which involves using land within a built-up area for further development in order to minimize sprawl.
“The Olson Company is really well-known in infill home building,” Lonski said. “They’re the original firm, in this area, that came up with that idea and they’ve always been the market leaders in that respect.”
Lonski’s interest in infill inspired him to initiate an informational interview with Aaron Hirschi, Vice President of Land Acquisition at The Olson Company and alumnus of the Dollinger MRED at USC Price.
“Chad seemed like a talented guy,” Hirschi said. “And so we just created the position for him because he seemed like the right person to come in and help us out. I was impressed before we even brought him in and even more so when he was here by the grasp that he already had on the industry.”
During his internship, Lonski used Google Earth to create an interactive map depicting the history of The Olson Company’s many projects.
“When we’re giving a presentation to someone, we can pull out an iPad now, pull up what he’s created, click on any of the projects and show images,” Hirschi said. “He’s created a really cool tool for us that was something we wanted to build for a long time.”
Lonski also helped with entitlements, city planning approvals, the underwriting process, and community meetings.
“One memorable experience was going to a Garden Grove community meeting and just hearing the sentiment of the neighbors, hearing their disagreements and support, and understanding their point of view on development that’s coming into their neighborhood,” Lonski said.
For Lonski, one of the most valuable aspects of the internship was experiencing how a homebuilding organization works in practice and comparing that to how it’s supposed to work in theory.
“RED 417 ‘History of Planning and Development’ taught me the background theories behind some of the urban planning trends that we’ve experienced,” he said. “So seeing some of those theories come to life through our everyday work was interesting, and comparing what we do to what academics think is ideal.”
Return on investment at Colony Northstar
BRED student Christiana Ritchie, who is also pursuing a minor in psychology, spent the summer interning at Colony NorthStar, Inc., a real estate private equity firm.
“I decided to pursue this internship because Colony NorthStar is a prominent leader in the industry and I knew I would grow and learn so much,” Ritchie said. “From both debt and equity deals, to their healthcare, industrial and hospitality platforms, there was so much to learn.”
One of the highlights of the internship was a tour of One Cal Plaza, a downtown Los Angeles property recently acquired by Colony NorthStar and Rising Realty.
“With the new Related California project, Grand Avenue, adjacent to One Cal, it was great to witness the shift in energy towards Bunker Hill right before it peaks,” Ritchie said.
As an intern, she dedicated the majority of her energies to underwriting past investment opportunities, factoring in their historical cash flows and predicting their future returns. She then used this analysis to determine the price that Colony NorthStar would bid on the properties, utilizing skills she had learned in her RED 375 “Real Estate Development Analysis” course.
“Christiana was very professional and eager to learn,” said Shai Shwartz, an Asset Manager at Colony NorthStar. “She brought a positive attitude and an inquisitive mind to every task in which she was involved.”
As a culmination of the summer experience, Ritchie and a team of interns presented and pitched an equity deal with financing at a mock investment committee meeting comprised of mid- and senior-level executives.
“Working at Colony NorthStar has definitely built a brighter future for me,” Ritchie said. “From what I have learned over the course of my internship, I feel that I am a stronger candidate for future jobs. I also met with many incredible people at the company. Everyone was so gracious to meet or get coffee with me, and I really made some strong friendships. I know we will be doing deals together in the long term.”