The ‘Real’ Path to C-Suite Opportunities featured industry professionals and speakers, including Dawnita Wilson, Angie Valdes, Erick King, and Brandon Rule (not pictured).
The ‘Real’ Path to C-Suite Opportunities featured industry professionals and speakers, including Dawnita Wilson, Angie Valdes, Erick King, and Brandon Rule (not pictured).

“For minority students, there are certain barriers which prevent them from working in the corporate world,” explained Erick King ’00, executive director of Capital Youth Empowerment Program and founder of KCDG Inc., a Northern Virginia-based consulting firm. “In some cases, they simply lack the connections or network.”

King continued, “One of the career areas where a connection is very important is development, specifically real estate development.”

The ‘Real’ Path to C-Suite Opportunities, a four-part workshop held during the 2020-21 academic year, was created to help remove obstacles – such as the lack of corporate connections – facing minority students interested in careers in real estate. The workshops were the product of a collaboration between the Program in Real Estate, KCDG Inc., and real estate investment trust JBG Smith.

The collaboration began when King connected with Dawnita Wilson, the vice president of diversity and inclusion at JBG Smith. “Wilson mentioned JBG Smith’s need to diversify within the company,” said King.

“Historically, real estate has not been a diverse industry,” said Wilson. “How do we diversify the industry and the workplace, because, as we’ve learned, diversity leads to better collaboration within the workplace.

We want to have not only a diverse environment but an inclusive one where that diversity can thrive.”

King added, “That’s when it occurred to me that minority students have barriers, while at the same time the industry is trying to find ways to diversify their workforce. There was a real opportunity there to begin to make these connections.”

Kevin Boyle, Willis Blackwood Director of the Real Estate Program, added that the barriers go deeper in that students may not even know about these opportunities so that collaboration with Erick and JBG is important build knowledge of the opportunities and then to facilitate pathways to success.

And the connections go even deeper. JBG Smith, an owner and developer of mixed-use properties in the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area, was named developer for the Amazon HQ2 project, as well as the master developer for the Virginia Tech’s Innovation Campus.

“There is so much synergy there – wouldn’t it be great if we could get some students opportunities with the developer that is building the Innovation Campus,” said King. “It made a lot of sense to cultivate that relationship.”

Through JBG’s strong connection with the Real Estate Program, the plan was developed for a series of workshops focusing on topics like understanding the hiring process, how to negotiate salary, navigating the corporate world, and applying for internships.

“We looked at what traditional barriers existed for minority students when deciding what topics would be covered,” explained King. “Things like internships. A lot of internships are very competitive, and you need to have connections to secure them. A lot of internships also start the application process very early, so students need to understand the timeline involved.

“A lot of what we talked about had to do with awareness.”

“We wanted to get diverse student populations the exposure they need and provide them with education about the world of real estate,” added Wilson. “It is important to build the right relationship and exposure to the diverse talent that is out there.”

Initially, participation was extended to members of the Black Student Union. However, the success of the workshops spurred the group to extend invitations to members of Virginia Tech’s Latinx community as well.

“JBG Smith is expanding their partnership in the college and university space,” said Wilson. “It is one of the ways that we connect with diverse talent, working with colleges and universities to specifically engage with a diverse student body.”

She continued, “Virginia Tech is one of the first schools to build a strategic partnership with us from a diversity perspective.”

The benefits of participating in the workshops were multi-faceted for JBG Smith, as Wilson explained.

“Another reason to engage with colleges and universities is that we do hire interns and entry-level talent from workshops such as these,” she said. “These types of opportunities give us the chance to engage more intimately in the hiring process.”

Students participating in the workshops were able to speak directly with hiring managers and the staff involved in the hiring process.

“It is important for organizations to do more of this type of work and involve themselves more in programs that allow students to have better access to leaders and hiring managers,” Wilson said.

King stated that he is interested in continuing, if not expanding, the workshops in the future. Boyle explained that the real success of the workshop is repetition on an annual basis to build awareness among students to establish a pipeline of internships and jobs for participants.

“We want to improve upon and continue to do this,” he said. “I think this is something that will only continue to grow.” King continued, “We also want to continue to expose people to the Virginia Tech Real Estate program.”

As King explained, the partnership was a win-win-win for JBG Smith, the Real Estate Program, and Virginia Tech’s diverse student population.

“It was a great opportunity to bring higher education and the corporate world together to solve a problem. That’s what the whole thing was about – find an issue or a gap and create a bridge where students can thrive directly out of college while also solidifying corporate partnerships with the university.”