Linking real estate to economic development, community growth and sustainable business practices is what learning “from the ground up” means in the University of Arkansas at Little Rock Real Estate Finance Program.
While UA Little Rock’s School of Business began its real estate program in the 1970s, I stepped into the role of program director as the college began revising the program in 2016. As the former president and CEO of PDC Companies and PDC Construction, I know the value of an educated, ready-to-work pool of candidates and saw it as a vital opportunity to get my peers’ insight on the program’s revitalization.
For students, it all starts with a spark of interest. They see a “For Sale” sign and begin to muse over the potential behind a building’s vacant walls, and they are hooked. As program director, I’m drawn to the challenge of utilizing every available resource to expose students to the wide gamut of real estate industry opportunities.
As the primary instructor of real estate, I rely on my own industry experience and the expertise provided by an advisory board, whose members represent a variety of real estate-related fields. I know first-hand the value of connecting real industry knowledge with talented students. These board members saw my vision and represent some of the most noteworthy names in the industry: Lisa Ferrell of Rockwater Village; Hank Kelley of Kelley Commercial Properties; Cathy Tuggle of Apartment Hunters/Arkansas Suites; Billy Roehrenbeck of Pulaski County Title; Tim Grooms of Quattlebaum, Grooms & Tull; Gus Vratsinas of Bailey Construction and more. These leaders are now invested in students, building a cohesive community for real estate talent in Arkansas.
Every member of the UA Little Rock Real Estate Advisory Board has a passion for strengthening the industry by creating graduates who not only know the technicalities, but also fully recognize the big picture. These board members have hired graduates, provided internships, shared stories and attended student capstone presentations. The advice these professionals give brings the “real world” to each student’s individual reality.
When I started at the university, things looked a little different. By integrating real estate classroom education with experiential learning, the program promotes research in real estate issues and policy and supports the real estate profession in Arkansas. Student engagement is enhanced by the offering of industry association memberships, which prepare them for industry involvement post graduation.
But how do we get talented students and retain them? Quite practically, investment in scholarships at UA Little Rock is an avenue that helps students thrive and learn. Recipients of these awards establish careers in title research, broker firms, mineral rights management, right-of-way acquisition, banks, investment companies and property management offices.
Late in 2020, amid a global pandemic and a tumultuous political season, a gracious daughter made a $100,000 donation to UA Little Rock to honor her father’s legacy. Leslye Shellam, daughter of L. Dickson Flake, one of four original partners of the predecessor to Colliers International in Arkansas, made the donation to establish the L. Dickson Flake Endowed Scholarship.
Leslye’s words struck me: “My father saw a great future for Little Rock. His goal for the scholarship is to give students the chance to get creative and be able to concentrate on his or her vision to bring the real estate industry forth for the city and for the good of all of us who live here.”
Flake placed his trust in UA Little Rock. In fact, he served as a member of the UA Little Rock Board of Visitors for 12 years. When Dean Jane Wayland hired me to teach, I began to turn my conversations with Dickson from the business of real estate to real estate education. He was clear about wanting us to produce graduates qualified to work not only in his office, but in other offices in the region. Dickson saw our students, as we do, as part of the economic development engine that keeps a region strong.
Community members are a crucial part of that development. We maximize all assets for students, such as the UA Little Rock Downtown Campus space, which places them right in the action of local real estate development. Students have real experiences studying downtown redevelopment as it happens and have an opportunity to feel as though they are part of history in the making.
Uniquely, the UA Little Rock Real Estate Program is a complement to the Construction Management Program and offers a built environment track providing a perfect blend for the student entrepreneur wanting to be an owner/developer. There is a marketing track option for students and a straight finance track that fits the mortgage-lending and financial-advising aspirations of many students. They have real-world options that lead to real opportunities.
Our students have been hired at some of Arkansas’ best companies, including Pulaski County Title, JD Finish Line, Apartment Hunters/Arkansas Suites and Regions Bank. They have participated in internships at Rockwater Village and Windstream that provide invaluable experience.
Students enter the workforce ready to work. Their learning curve is much shorter than those who have not engaged in a real estate program, particularly one at this level. Graduates are equipped to take advantage of business contacts made during their college years and tend to stay right here in Arkansas.
Graduates add value to the region, as we emphasize the importance of being involved in the community in which one lives and works. These lessons sow seeds, not only for each student’s future success, but for the success of our communities across the state.
Elizabeth Small is the director for the Real Estate Program in the University of Arkansas at Little Rock School of Business, Economics/Finance Department.
A graduate of Hendrix College and UA Little Rock, Small is the former president and CEO of PDC Companies and a pioneer of the affordable housing industry in Arkansas.