Alumni Step Up to Place Real Estate Interns from Boca to Buffalo
When Liam Pierce ’21 interned in New York City in the summer of 2019 through the Fetner Architecture and Real Estate Collaborative Summer Program, he couldn’t believe he was lucky enough to be selected to work at his first choice in firms: Fetner Properties Inc. Pierce, a double major in real estate and finance at the Whitman School, calls the Fetner Program “the Holy Trinity” for the networking, academic and professional experiences it provides.
Liam’s internship was part of the inaugural year of the experiential learning initiative in New York City for students from the Whitman School and the Syracuse University's School of Architecture, combining internships at architecture, finance or real estate firms with classwork and other programming that tapped into the vast University alumni network in the Big Apple.
The program was made possible through the generosity of Syracuse University Trustee Harold “Hal” Fetner ’83, and his wife, Nina. After the success of the first year of the program another group of students was preparing to intern at various New York City firms this past summer when the unthinkable happened. The city became the epicenter of the COVID-19 pandemic, and on-site internships that had been secured through the Fetner Program were canceled as businesses sent employees home to work and offices essentially shut down. The Whitman Career Services, Corporate Relations and Alumni Engagement teams went to work to find new opportunities and to work with firms to transition internships into remote experiences for the students.
“Fetner Properties focuses on a very niche part of development in New York City, and the firm works with the city to create unique compromises and plans that utilize underused sections of land or air rights,” says Pierce. “They get things done that most developers wouldn’t even touch, and I got to be a small part of that.”
Pierce credits Chris Grant ’12, associate in acquisitions and development at Fetner, for mentoring him in both 2019 and 2020. “I’m very thankful for the generosity of Hal Fetner, and, of course, Chris Grant, who was instrumental in helping me find my way,” he says. “My first year in this program was outstanding, because I was able to be in New York City, but the second year, even during a pandemic, didn’t disappoint either.”
I was able to be in New York City, but the second year, even during a pandemic, didn’t disappoint either.”
Liam Pierce ’21
Continuing Connections Outside of NYC
While the Fetner program was created to focus on firms in New York City, the pandemic made it critical to branch out geographically in order to make sure students still had opportunities despite the challenges. Thankfully, Whitman staff was able to leverage alumni with real estate ties from cities around the country to keep the program going strong.
Khalil Hamrouni ’22, who is double majoring in real estate and business management, lives in Binghamton, New York, and had originally received an internship placement in New York City. When COVID-19 hit, however, he was reassigned virtually to Blue Cardinal Capital, a real estate investment firm in Buffalo, New York, about 400 miles from his original destination.
Who gets lucky enough to have access to the CEO as a mentor? He was super inspiring and very helpful to me.”
Khalil Hamrouni ’22
Hamrouni couldn’t have been more excited, however, for what was his first internship experience. Blue Cardinal Capital focuses on finding locations in need of stabilization. While Hamrouni was not able to disclose details of the project he worked on during his internship, he says, “I was really excited and loved the community involvement and outreach. I was able to work with lawyers, mayors and city council, and it was interesting to see all the working parts come together and see changes brought back to a community that hadn’t had the stabilization it needed in years.”
He also credits his mentor, Robert Richardson ’93, managing partner of Blue Cardinal Capital, for making the experience so valuable. “Who gets lucky enough to have access to the CEO as a mentor?” says Hamrouni. “He was super inspiring and very helpful to me.”
Because everything in our organization had to be virtual this summer, it was easy to incorporate a student into our routines and projects. We tried to give Khalil unlimited access to see how the various teams within our company attack a development.”
Robert Richardson ’93
Managing Partner, Blue Cardinal Capital
Richardson was happy to assist. “The internships I did as a student at Syracuse were so influential in my career path and academic choices that I couldn’t sit by and see motivated students lose the opportunity because of a once-in-a-lifetime disruption,” he says. “Because everything in our organization had to be virtual this summer, it was easy to incorporate a student into our routines and projects. We tried to give Khalil unlimited access to see how the various teams within our company attack a development. I think he had a great world experience and hopefully a better sense of what role he might like to be pursue.”
Working in the Campus Community
Another Whitman student in the Fetner Program worked virtually this summer, though the location was just blocks from the Syracuse University campus.
Michael Young ’22, a double major in real estate and finance with a minor in data analytics from the School of Information Studies at Syracuse University, was offered a virtual internship with the Scholar Hotel Syracuse thanks to Gregg J. Wallace ’91, owner and president of AMA Financial LLC, a Philadelphia-based company that recently added the hotel to its brand.
Wallace explains that he and Gary Brandeis, business partner and president of Scholar Hotel Group, acquired a hotel near the Syracuse University campus and rebranded it as Scholar Syracuse, which gave them a stronger connection to the community. Both men had dreamed of acquiring hotels near their alma maters (Brandeis is a graduate of Penn State University, where other Scholar hotels are located).
When it comes to giving back, both Gary and I have children currently in college who are extremely affected by the pandemic, so being able to help anyone, especially a college student, get through these unprecedented times is an honor.”
Gregg J. Wallace ’91
Owner and President, AMA Financial LLC
Being in the hospitality business, Wallace wanted to make sure the hotel was more than just operating in the community, but truly involved in it. “When it comes to giving back, both Gary and I have children currently in college who are extremely affected by the pandemic,” says Wallace, whose wife Debra ’91 has a degree from the David B. Falk College of Sport and Human Dynamics, “so being able to help anyone, especially a college student, get through these unprecedented times is an honor.”
Young felt he was very fortunate to be able to intern with the Scholar Hotel Group. “My job was to continue to build their database of college towns and prospective hotels,” he says. “Even though I was unable to be there in person, they did a great job not only communicating my tasks but also explaining the significance of my work. In a time where internships were difficult to come by, they adapted to the circumstances and made a difficult situation into an enjoyable and educational experience.”
In a time where internships were difficult to come by, they adapted to the circumstances and made a difficult situation into an enjoyable and educational experience.”
Michael Young ’22
Emphasizing the Importance of Mentors
A few years ago, Jason Isaacson ’97, founding partner and president of IP Capital Partners LLC, in Boca Raton, Florida, started thinking about the importance of good mentors for his own children. The idea pushed him to reach out to Alison Kessler, director of alumni engagement, and offer his help to students at the Whitman School. He has since become actively engaged with students in several ways including lecturing and mentoring.
When the pandemic hit and New York City-based internships were falling through for students, Isaacson was asked if he’d be willing to take on a Whitman intern virtually. He agreed, and soon Ethan Innes ’22, a finance major and Fetner Program participant, was on board at IP Capital Partners.
We were game to give it a try... Ethan is being academically trained for a place in the real world and was really thoughtful in immersing himself in what he was doing.”
Jason Isaacson ’97
Founding Partner and President, IP Capital Partners LLC
“We were game to give it a try,” says Isaacson, whose wife Tara ’96 has a degree from the College of Arts and Sciences. “We had had interns from other schools who didn’t necessarily meet our expectations, but getting someone from the Whitman School made a real difference. Ethan is being academically trained for a place in the real world and was really thoughtful in immersing himself in what he was doing.”
Innes worked remotely with the company’s analysts, to whom he was purposely assigned to give him a taste of the daily responsibilities of the role. However, once a week, Innes had a Zoom call with Isaacson and other company leaders as a forum to ask questions and learn more about the business.
“I was originally planning on interning in New York City, but that firm was unable to take on the process remotely,” says Innes. “Jason Isaacson and IP Capital Partners stepped in for a fantastic, virtual internship, and I got to learn a lot about commercial real estate and real estate private equity. I’m very grateful for the knowledge and experience I gained through the process.”
Isaacson, too, was pleased with the outcome. “Commercial real estate is still a Monday-through-Friday, in-person business, but we made it work,” says Isaacson. “I wouldn’t have done it if it wasn’t fun for me; I liked helping out. It was rewarding to know we were impacting a student’s life and helping him decide what he might want to do next. It was a great experience, and we’d do it again.”
Jason Isaacson and IP Capital Partners stepped in for a fantastic, virtual internship, and I got to learn a lot about commercial real estate and real estate private equity. I’m very grateful for the knowledge and experience I gained through the process.”
Ethan Innes ’22
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