Nicolle Lee, Vicky Plestis, and Kayla Weismuller (WG’22) share the Wharton resources that furthered their passion for real estate, social impact, and diversity & inclusion.

The three of us came to Wharton’s MBA Program looking to pivot into real estate. We met through the student-led initiative Penn Student Women in Real Estate (PSWiRE) and quickly became friends after discovering mutual ambitions to increase visibility of female real estate leaders and integrate social impact into our careers.

According to the Urban Land Institute (ULI), women make up 25% of its membership but only account for 14% of its CEOs. We believe there’s a lot of work to do, and the work won’t be done until women comprise a majority of these leaders. With our post-graduation plans set in real estate investment banking, development, and private equity, we wanted to share how we have leveraged resources at Wharton to help each other and other women join the industry.

Get to know the Wharton/Penn real estate community.

Nicolle: The Zell Lurie Center provides ample opportunities for students to network with women leaders who give candid advice about career switching into real estate. I have already found many mentors and champions — women and men — through Wharton’s network, and am very grateful to be at an MBA program that has such a strong presence both in real estate and finance.

Wharton Real Estate Club trek to New York City and tour of Related’s Hudson Yards project

Vicky: What is special about Penn is how our community of women in real estate connects across schools. Through PSWiRE, all three of us have been really lucky to learn from women not just at Wharton, but Penn Law and the Weitzman School of Design. PSWiRE also hosts conversations with alumni on their experiences navigating the industry and speaker panels that showcase the diversity of leaders, perspectives, and passions in real estate. It’s helped us think about real estate from different vantage points: as a matter of design and architecture, planning and social equity, legal transaction, and financial investment.

As a dual-degree MBA/City Planning student, I cannot say enough about all the classes available at the Weitzman School. Build that into your electives, if you’re interested in understanding the opportunities and challenges of public-private partnerships and the role of real estate in community and economic development.

Get hands-on experience and make a real impact through case competitions.

Kayla: Case competitions have played a large part in our experience at Wharton. Last year, we competed in ULI’s 19th annual urban design case competition and reimagined Kansas City’s East Village neighborhood. It was a cross-disciplinary collaboration in which the Wharton MBA students were able to bring their business and financial prowess while the Weitzman students brought this to life with their renderings of our vision.

Nicolle: What’s also great about these case competitions is they are an opportunity to network with our professors, professionals, and other business school students. Kayla and I had the opportunity to work closely on our ULI project with Alan Feldman, who is now my development professor. The competitions are also usually sponsored by major development firms such as Hines or investment firms like Invesco and are really great opportunities to get to know firms outside of traditional on-campus recruiting.

Kayla, Nicolle, and Vicky

Vicky: Nicolle and I also worked together on the 2021 Miami Herbert Impact Investing in Commercial Real Estate case competition. Over the course of the year, we developed a project concept that was both socially conscious and commercially viable. It also gave us a chance to connect with faculty at Penn and experts in the Philadelphia community to explore how we could incorporate creative financing, anchor institutions, and community-centric uses. Our final proposal, “17th Street Crossing,” was for a transit-oriented, business and workforce development hub in North Philadelphia. We ended up placing first!

Put yourself out there — and find support in your peers.

Nicolle: Don’t be afraid to put yourself out there and start meeting people right away. In Ari Shalam’s Real Estate Entrepreneurship class, our first assignment was to call up brokers and ask questions about commercial real estate properties. This was a very early lesson in the importance of cold-calling and sales in real estate. I have also had great luck in asking my peers for recruitment help. My classmate Britt Drengler was a real estate banker prior to Wharton and when I reached out to her for help, she not only picked up the phone but helped me analyze an entire REIT merger deal that I was then able to speak to during my early interviews. It is friendships like these that make Wharton such a special place to study real estate!

Penn real estate cross-club mixer at 2116 Chestnut

Kayla: I am grateful for the extraordinary women I have met through the Wharton network and am more motivated now to pave the way for other women looking to pursue a career in the industry. At my new firm, I’d like to continue helping build out their commitment to diversity and foster a strong women’s network. My advice would be to do what you are passionate about and start reaching out to people for coffee chats… you never know where a conversation might lead!

Vicky: Be relentless about reaching out to, talking with, and learning from leaders in the industry. For me, this started with finding a supportive group of 5–6 women through PSWiRE (both students and young alumni) who were incredibly willing to share their real estate experiences and make introductions.

— Nicolle Lee, Vicky Plestis, and Kayla Weismuller (WG’22) 

Posted: November 23, 2021

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