USC Price School of Public Policy

USC Dollinger MRED celebrates 30 years of educating leaders, shaping communities

February 9, 2017

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Speakers, from left: Christian Redfearn, Alison Warner, Sonia Savoulian, Richard K. Green, David Dollinger, Kristina R. Raspe and Dean Jack H. Knott (Photo by Tom Queally) More photos available on Flickr »

By Matthew Kredell

David Dollinger remembers what it was like as a student in the inaugural class of the USC Master of Real Estate Development program in 1987. They didn’t have email or cell phones and to take the comprehensive examination to complete their degree required wheeling around computers that weighed about 100 pounds each.

David Dollinger (Photo by Tom Queally)

Thirty years later, real estate alumni from the USC Price School of Public Policy gathered at the Town and Gown ballroom on Feb. 1 to celebrate the three-decade legacy of the program that now features Dollinger’s name, thanks to his 2012 endowment gift.

USC Price Dean Jack H. Knott declared that the true measure of a program is the accomplishments of its alumni, and that the USC Dollinger MRED program has sent more than 1,200 alumni to positions of leadership in the real estate industry in every major metropolis in the country and around the globe. Many of the cranes across Downtown L.A., San Francisco, Seattle, Denver, Washington, D.C., and New York are from projects managed by Dollinger MRED graduates. USC Dollinger alumni also work with global institutional partners in Mexico, Asia, and Europe.

“When this program began 30 years ago, we were pioneers in the field,” Knott said. “At the time, the industry was going through a major transformation requiring sophisticated financial and analytical skills and the ability to understand the increasingly complex interplay of real estate development with urban planning, policy making and community development. We were one of the first universities to recognize that real estate was a distinct field of study and a professional discipline that requires rigorous research and strong academic theory.”

Establishing a legacy of success

Richard K. Green, vice chair of Price’s Department of Policy Analysis and Real Estate and holder of the Lusk Chair in Real Estate, called attention to two people who have been part of the program for its entire 30 years — Sonia Savoulian as the Associate Director and Allan Kotin as an adjunct professor. He also thanked the program’s first director, Richard Peiser, who was in attendance.

Dollinger recalled that he was a senior in college when someone told him about the program’s creation. As the only one of the original participants straight out of college, he was impressed – and a little intimidated – by the experience and distinction of his classmates.

“I learned a lot that year, more than I learned in all my undergraduate years, and I believe the MRED program gave me a great foundation to start my career,” Dollinger said. “… The program has evolved and grown. Christian Redfearn and Sonia [Savoulian] have taken the program to new heights and turned it into a premier real estate graduate degree in the country, and I’m proud to have my name associated with it.”

Redfearn, the Borstein Family Endowed Professor of Real Estate, commended those early student innovators such as Dollinger who took a chance on a program when it had just launched.

“We’ve moved the industry far enough along that people want to be part of our community because it will help them do their job better,” Redfearn said. “That’s a huge testament to the quality of the USC Dollinger MRED, and the reason we get to do this is that all of you, our alumni, have been out there hitting singles, doubles, triples and home runs for years. You’re our best marketing.”

Building vibrant communities

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Alumna Kristina Raspe, senior director of real estate and development at Apple (Photo by Tom Queally)

Knott noted that he’s sometimes asked why the university’s real estate programs are housed within a public policy school.

“The answer lies in the belief that real estate is a special kind of business with a fundamental impact on how people and communities live, work and play,” Knott said. “As developers, your deals, investments and decisions shape the look and structure of communities and neighborhoods that determine the quality of life for families.”

Kristina R. Raspe, a 2009 alumna, credited the program’s focus on developing technical skills, while promoting a stronger understanding of community interests, for her job at Apple — where she serves as senior director of real estate and development. During the interview process, she was asked many questions about the social issues surrounding real estate development.

“You couldn’t get through this program without having a social conscience, without thinking about the impact of your development, without looking at a site and thinking about the context in which you were developing and understanding its impact,” Raspe said. “I’m a huge believer that taking that into consideration doesn’t mean sacrificing your return. It can actually yield a much better ROI because you deliver what the community wants.”

Furthering the reach of the Trojan network

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Alumna Alison Warner, manager of investments at Regency Centers (Photo by Tom Queally)

Alison Warner, a 2013 alumna, called attending the Dollinger MRED program the best career decision she’s ever made. Not only did it make her more prepared for her job as manager of investments at Regency Centers, but it also provided invaluable connections.

“You get the Trojan family and network, and that means everything in real estate,” Warner said. “From day one at Regency Centers, I started reaching out to developers from connections through the USC network, and I’ve been able to find those potential deals that retail traditionally hasn’t been part of before.”

Savoulian applauded the MRED alumni in attendance for being stewards of real estate at USC, calling the 30th anniversary gala a “celebration of you.”

“Every time you give back, you make our program better,” Savoulian said. “Every time you meet with a student for an informational interview, every time you come back to campus to speak at a career panel or guest lecture in a class, every time you hire one of our graduates, you make the program better. You are our success.”