Envisioning Growth for the Greater Good with Up-and-Coming UVA Real Estate Students

The UVA Center for Real Estate and the Built Environment supports students as they consider and promote avenues for society to solve pressing concerns.

Vishal Jayan (Architecture ’23), Erik Smith (Darden ’23), and Hannah Yi (McIntire ’23)

Vishal Jayan, Erik Smith, Hannah Yi

Real estate is drawing interest from students across Grounds representing a variety of disciplines. As the built environment and society’s role in shaping it continue to become more pressing in the context of major challenges ranging from climate change to social justice and everything in between, UVA students are learning how they can best help to impact the landscape for the better.

Three students, Vishal Jayan (Architecture ’23), Erik Smith (Darden ’23), and Hannah Yi (McIntire ’23), are exemplary in demonstrating how their studies and experiences are poised to spark transformational changes to the real estate industry and welcome additions to the built environment.

A graduate student in the Master of Urban Design program at the School of Architecture, Jayan came to UVA after obtaining his Bachelor of Architecture degree from the School of Planning and Architecture in New Delhi, India, in 2014; he also spent time working as an architect and occasionally teaching architecture design at Architecture schools in Mumbai. He is a Research Assistant with Architecture Professor Ali Fard on the NOVA Urban Futures project.

Jayan was part of a team that represented UVA as one of four selected finalist teams in the 21st annual ULI Gerald D. Hines Student Urban Design Competition, an event challenging teams of graduate students to devise a theoretical yet comprehensive design and development plan for a real-world urban site. Jayan and his four teammates designed “The Quilt,” a 1.62 million-square-foot, $850 million plan for a mixed-income, mixed-use community in North Charleston, SC; key considerations in the competition focus on housing attainability, equity, connectivity, sustainability, and resilience.

Smith, a second-year at the Darden School of Business, serves as the President of Darden’s Real Estate Club. Upon graduation, he will be joining Elmington Capital in Nashville, TN, and working towards applying their strategy to the Maryland area.

Fourth-year Yi, who is concentrating in Information Technology with a track in Real Estate and a minor in Urban and Environmental Planning from the School of Architecture, is the former President of the Virginia Undergraduate Real Estate Club (VUREC) and a current student assistant for the UVA Center for Real Estate and the Built Environment. Starting in June, she will begin her professional life at Wells Fargo’s Hospitality Finance Group under their commercial real estate division.

We spoke with these driven individuals who embody excellence in different areas of the field to get their perspective on the role of the University in their efforts, their plans, and the issues that they feel matter most.

School Support and Center Connections

Jayan says that the School of Architecture has played a big part in helping him arrive where he is today. “I am extremely grateful to my professors at the A-School, especially my program chair Professor Mona El Khafif, who has always supported, encouraged, and motivated me to push my limits as an urban designer.”

Smith credits Darden with helping him become a well-rounded professional through its core curriculum.

“Being well-rounded means understanding finance, effective communication, and, unfortunately, even accounting,” he jokes, noting that the aforementioned are all important skills in the scope of real estate development.

Yi says that as a first-year, she had no familiarity with real estate or finance. “Like many people, I associated the word real estate with only residential real estate,” she says, recalling how, as a member of VUREC, she discovered the commercial real estate world and learned the basics. But her UVA coursework guided her into more advanced territory.

“My classes in real estate allowed me to further understand financial real estate concepts I was able to apply during internships and will be able to apply at work. In addition, my education at the University, especially the School of Architecture, was crucial in my understanding of the what the built environment is and how to be conscious of my impact on the built environment,” she says.

Yi insists that beyond the classroom, the University’s vast network has been integral to her early career connections. “I have reached out to numerous alumni in the industry, and everyone was willing to share about their careers in real estate. These kind gestures allowed me to form an understanding of the industry and form a career path in real estate,” she says.

But turning to an important point about the Center, Yi references its three pillars, designed to help create a better built environment.

“First, the Center supports professors at the University in studying numerous topics that affect the built environment; the built environment has aspects from all schools at the University, so the support has become multidisciplinary. Second, the Center holds biannual conferences to allow alumni and students to engage with leaders in the industry and connect with their peers,” she says, pointing out that discussions on the subject of bettering the built environment are often facilitated in these conferences. “Finally, the Center supports students outside the classroom to have a better understanding of real estate and the built environment, connecting them with firms, helping them learn from industry professionals, and financially supporting student organizations related to the built environment.”

Regarding the role of the Center, Smith sees it as a nexus that builds on strength in numbers. “The Center will continue to inspire the wide-eyed youth to pursue real estate and create a close-knit, welcoming community that can foster development to innovate like no single person can.”

Leading the Charge for Change

The Center will also play a part in supporting students as they consider and promote avenues for society to solve pressing concerns.

Jayan believes that the most important challenges of our times are “to create an equitable and just society while moving towards a sustainable way of living.”

“The built environment contributes to around 40% of the global CO2 emissions sector. As an architect and urban designer, I would love to create built environments with low carbon footprints,” he says.

“One of my major takeaways from working on the 2023 ULI Hines competition was how interconnected urban design and real estate are,” Jayan adds. “Developing equitable and sustainable urban centers is challenging, and understanding the real estate dynamics and financial challenges can help us realize these ideals. What excites me the most about urban design is getting an opportunity to literally the shape the world.

While Smith is intrigued by the innovation and adaptive reuse opportunities for vacant office spaces, he also has similar thoughts to Jayan about the biggest challenges that lie ahead, pointing to the environmental impacts of development and construction, the rising cost of debt, and the lack of housing supply. He hopes to address the latter in his career.

“My current work will be bringing affordable multifamily housing developments to the Maryland, Washington, DC, and Virginia region. Systemic change and neighborhood transformation really excite me. I believe that well-placed affordable housing builds cohesive and interesting communities that lead to more opportunity for the disenfranchised,” he says. “I would be most interested in building more housing supply, but with a focus on renewable energies through exploration of net-zero concepts, and more environmentally friendly construction methodologies.”

The housing crisis and climate change figure prominently for Yi as well. “There is a growing population and a lack of affordable and equitable housing in many American cities and suburbs. This is, in part, the aftermath of Euclidean zoning laws and redlining, among many other issues that exist today. Climate change is also a leading challenge in the built environment due to increases in natural disasters and declining coastlines,” Yi says. She hopes to be able to address affordable housing and housing inequity issues in her career, referencing the time she spent in her education learning how to model real estate and understand land use. “There seems to be reasonable solutions to sustainably create more affordable and equitable cities. However, I would like to have a better understanding of this concept and would like to continue studying it,” she says.

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