While much of the world was forced to slow down due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Program in Real Estate has had a busy few months. The program recently received the honor of being named as the #3 best undergraduate real estate program in the nation. The program’s Industry Advisory Board also appointed five new members.

Great Business Schools, an organization that is, according to their website, “dedicated to helping prospective students find the program that will help them make their career what they want,” ranked the Pamplin College of Business program as the third-best in the country based upon multiple factors, including cost, student reviews, and potential salary. The data utilized in the rankings comes from the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System, College Scorecard, and Niche.

The organization commended the program’s mentorship experiences and internship opportunities that provide real-world applications to theoretical knowledge. According to Great Business Schools, “Graduates enter the professional business workforce with the skills necessary to become real estate leaders of tomorrow.”

The program also announced the selection of five new members to serve on its Industry Advisory Board. Mervyn Alphonso, Jessica Miller, Brandon Rule, Kevin Scharr, and J.J. Wilhour were all recently appointed to serve on the board for a three-year term. Alphonso and Rule are the first two African Americans to serve on the board.

The Industry Advisory Board is comprised of 53 members and is led by Willis Blackwood ’72, founder and president of Blackwood Development Company Inc., and Anna Shaffer, senior vice president at JLL. “Virginia Tech is on the leading edge of real estate education,” said Blackwood ’72. “A diverse student body is critical to a contemporary education and diverse graduates are extremely valuable to employers. This diversity, which enhances program success, starts with our Industry Advisory Board and I am excited by the new members who are joining our support of students. For such a new program (founded 2013) to be ranked #3 demonstrates excellent progress toward our goal to be the #1 program.”

In addition to assisting the Program in Real Estate financially, board members also advise the director on curriculum and serve as mentors, participate in networking and recruitment events, serve as independent study advisors, and other activities to advance students' career success. “We have some of the most talented leaders from across the real estate industry serving on our board and it is exciting to see the growing number of women participate both in the Real Estate curriculum as well as with the Advisory board,” said Shaffer.

“We have worked hard to reach out to leaders and rising stars, which includes alumni and non-alumni, to position this program to have far reaching impact in our industry. Women play a large part in the Commercial Real Estate Industry, and one of the main reasons I joined the Advisory Board was to shed light on the breadth of career opportunities available to women in Real Estate. I am thrilled to see the new faces on our Board, which will only help our students identify and thrive in the Real Estate program.”

Brandon Rule (left) and Mervyn Alphonso were recently appointed to the Program in Real Estate's Industry Advisory Board.
Brandon Rule (left) and Mervyn Alphonso were recently appointed to the Program in Real Estate's Industry Advisory Board.

“I was flattered to receive the invitation, particularly being that I am an alumnus of Virginia Tech,” said Alphonso, senior vice president and partner with Anchor Health Properties. “It allows me to share my knowledge and experience with students as well as other board members. The lack of diversity on the board stood out to me, and I hope to bring another perspective given my personal and career experiences.”

Rule echoed Alphonso’s sentiments regarding bringing a unique perspective to the board. “There aren’t many African American real estate developers across the country,” explained Rule, a real estate developer and president of Rule Enterprises. “Being 31 years old is also unique, and I believe I can build a genuine connection with the students, as it wasn’t very long ago that I was in their shoes.”

Rule added that he liked what he learned about the program while speaking to a group of African American students at the February 2020 Uplifting Black Men Conference. “The program has already done some great things,” he said. “I want to be part of the growth of the program, an emerging program.”

He continued, “We’re both emerging in the field.”

Alphonso believes that his depth of experience in development, acquisitions, and asset management will prove beneficial. “I hope to mentor students and to help strengthen the real estate program, as well as the university at large.”

Rule also hopes to utilize his experience to “create an impact and connect with students, faculty, and fellow board members.” He continued, “I ultimately want to leverage our ecosystem to help create sustainable communities throughout the country.”

Kevin Boyle, the Willis Blackwood Director of the Program in Real Estate summed up, “We are positioned with a dedicated group of industry advisors and have tremendous growth of students majoring in real estate. We are an interdisciplinary program, which is how the real estate business operates, and an academic home in the Pamplin College of Business is helping us to rise in academic and professional prominence.”