By Ed Brennen
Sophomore business major Mansi Thakkar wasn’t sure she could fit a paid virtual internship into her busy schedule this fall. By finding the time, she discovered a potential career path in the commercial real estate industry.
“It’s probably the best decision I could have made,” says Thakkar, who was among six Manning School of Business
students to participate in Project Destined
, an eight-week internship program that introduces undergraduates from diverse communities to careers in real estate while helping them build their technical, financial and leadership skills.
Launched in Detroit in 2016, this is the first year Project Destined has been offered to college students in the Boston area. Students accepted to the internship program are assigned to intercollegiate teams of about a dozen students from their region and partnered with a sponsoring real estate firm.
Each team is given a case study — a real estate project that its firm has already developed — that students use to learn about industry concepts such as market research, valuation, financing and leasing. Each week, teams compete against each other in “Shark Tank”-style pitch competitions, presenting their analysis to judges playing the role of potential investors.
All six UML students who completed the internship this fall have concentrations in finance. Joining Thakkar were first-year student Soumik Naini, sophomores Anirban Dasgupta and Sara Van Voorhis, junior Robert Pepen and senior Sam Tecun.
Wanting to learn more about real estate since it “plays a big role in finance,” Dasgupta had already joined the Real Estate Network Association (RENA
), a student organization at UML.
“When I showed up for the first RENA meeting, I felt like a little kid because I had no clue what they were talking about,” says Dasgupta, who applied for Project Destined after learning about it from Dean of Business Sandra Richtermeyer
at the beginning of the semester.
The internship’s educational content — provided by industry mentors, program managers and executive guest speakers — was “literally life-changing,” he says.
“I never anticipated learning so much in two months,” says Dasgupta, who was on a team sponsored by Hines, an international real estate firm based in Houston, Texas.
Dasgupta, who is from Westborough, Massachusetts, also appreciated the internship’s financial benefits. In addition to a base stipend of $500, interns could receive a share of $1,000 for winning the weekly team pitch contests. There were also small stipends for social media contests and for providing feedback on optional lectures.
“If you put in the effort, the incentives really add up,” he says.
Naini, who was on Team Hines with Dasgupta, says the internship confirmed his desire to work in the commercial real estate industry.
“It was a good opportunity to learn about fundamentals and financial terminology like cash flows, net operating incomes, cap rates, and net losses and profits,” says Naini, who is from Shrewsbury, Massachusetts.
Interns can also connect with more than 100 real estate firms from across the country that partner with Project Destined, many of which post internship opportunities on a community portal.
“They do a great job of networking and propelling you to where you want to go,” Naini says.
While most teams never got to meet in person, Thakkar’s team, sponsored by Greystar Real Estate Partners, was able to visit its case study property, a mixed-use development with 126 residential units in Boston.
“It was awesome to see the building that we’d been analyzing for the past eight weeks,” says Thakkar, whose team included students from Boston University, Northeastern University and UMass Dartmouth. They ended up winning the New England region and advancing to Project Destined’s national finals, where they finished second.
Thakkar, who is from Wilmington, Massachusetts, says the internship was a good way to develop confidence in her presentation skills.
“I’m really shy, and I wanted to break out of my comfort zone,” she says.
The internship also opened her eyes to career possibilities in commercial real estate, such as in analytics, appraisal and portfolio management.
“It’s not just property management and real estate agents,” she says. “I can definitely see myself working in the industry.”
Thakkar, Naini and Dasgupta enjoyed the internship so much that they all applied to be program managers in the spring, when Project Destined will launch in several new international markets.
“It’s going to be so big that if companies see ‘Project Destined’ on your résumé, they’re going to take notice,” Naini says.
, a visiting faculty lecturer in marketing, entrepreneurship and innovation, oversees the internship program for the Manning School and is currently taking applications for the spring semester.
“It’s a great networking and experiential learning opportunity for students to consider,” she says.