Steers Center Creates ESG-Inspired Internship Program for Students Impacted by COVID-19

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The economic fallout associated with COVID-19 made it especially important for the Steers Center for Global Real Estate at Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business to ensure students had access to quality learning experiences during the pandemic. The center quickly banded together with its board members and business leaders to create Steers Advisory Services (SAS), an exclusive five-week internship opportunity that provided a Steers Center-funded financial stipend to all students.

Together, undergraduate and graduate students tackled advanced areas of commercial real estate that addressed critical and timely environmental, social, and governance (ESG) issues including the socioeconomic disparities of low-income housing, urban farming as an affordable housing amenity, and pathways to “net zero” office development. 

“The commercial real estate industry is the backbone of communities, creating the single largest asset class in the world and touching virtually every facet of our lives,” said Matthew Cypher, Atara Kaufman Professor of Real Estate and director, Steers Center for Global Real Estate. “We are moving to the forefront of research within the ESG space and it is our top priority to prepare our students to become industry leaders in addressing complex moral, social, and environmental challenges facing our world.”

The center offers a unique breadth of knowledge as it relates to ESG within commercial real estate. Housed at a prominent Jesuit university, the Steers Center strives to address the serious issues facing our environment and society. The SAS program was created to provide students more than just stop-gap employment — the goal was to create engagement with forward-thinking partners working on active projects that have the potential to create global impact.

The center deliberately takes an experiential learning approach, which is why it was important to expose its students to unparalleled opportunities, including the chance to help a governmental consulting firm identify a “net zero” energy space. Students worked alongside the AM Group, which is focused on creating a highly sustainable physical space for the firm to occupy at the end of their current lease. A “net zero” energy space requires all the building’s energy needs be produced onsite through photovoltaic roof systems. 

“My involvement in this project opened my eyes to what could be the future for sustainable infrastructure in the era of climate change,” said Colin Chiarodo (MBA’20).  

This project also considered the role that new construction plays in carbon dioxide emissions through a term known as “embodied carbon,” which is the amount of carbon emissions generated during the development process. An eye-opening realization for the team was understanding the carbon impact of construction that often dwarfs that which occurs during the operational phase of the building, which suggests the adaptive reuse of existing buildings is a more sustainable approach.

Another project of timely importance addressed the issue of healthy and sustainable food options in low-income and minority communities. In partnership with Jubilee Housing, a nonprofit with a 50-year history of serving the Washington, D.C., area, SAS analyzed the feasibility of including a rooftop aquaponics farm as part of a planned affordable housing community. This holistic concept serves as a reentry program for returning citizens, but also includes providing fresh produce to residents of the local neighborhood in Adams Morgan and creates jobs that help maintain the farm. SAS developed complex financial modeling that provided the inclusion of the urban farming operations within the overall affordable housing rental proforma.

“Finding and creating affordable housing is hard enough and even harder is supporting men and women coming home from incarceration who often face this as one of their greatest barriers,” said Jim Knight, president and CEO of Jubilee Housing. 

Knight has spent his career supporting families and individuals who have experienced difficult circumstances, often related to economic hardship. “It was very meaningful to Jubilee to have this connection to the Steers Center and receive quality work from students to help position us for greater success,” he said.

Nicholas Quaglia (MBA’20), SAS team leader, highlights “the program gave students exposure to real-world client projects and helped us form strong connections with alumni. We were forced to develop new skills and learn a new language to speak to the client.” 

The work done by the SAS team “far exceeded our expectations,” said Andrew Pence (F’12), senior vice president and project sponsor, The Meridian Group. “They did a phenomenal job finding the answers to questions we had and produced research that was an amalgamation of a bunch of different sources we did not have access to. The work quality was equivalent to that of any well-known third-party consulting firm.”

A total of 30 Steers Center students took part in the five-week program this summer, learning from and contributing to more than 10 real estate companies, including:

  • Capital Hill Group – RE Heavy Entertainment Company
  • CBRE – Real Estate and Washington, D.C.,  Politics
  • Cushman & Wakefield – 7901 Westpark Drive Project
  • Hotel Harrington – Post-COVID Project and Private Trust
  • Invesco Real Estate – Legacy Fountain Plaza Case Study
  • Jubilee Housing – Affordable Housing Development Project
  • Kairos Real Estate Partners – 518 Township Line Road Case Study
  • The AM Group – Net Zero Feasibility
  • The Meridian Group – Laboratory and Biotechnology Analysis
  • Steers Center – Consolidation of Public and Newly-Formed Private Equity Real Estate Clubs