Graduate Students in Real Estate Grow HBCU Case Competition and Launch a Summit

By: Sherrie Negrea
3 men and 3 women dressed in business casual posing in front of a window and smiling.

Philip Payton Society for Minority Real Estate Professionals leaders (back row, left to right): Alexis Marquez, MRP ’23, Christian LeBlanc, MPS/RE '24, Christopher Browne, MPS/RE ’23, and Ariadne Billy, MPS RE/MRP '23 (seated, left to right): Albert C. Matlock III, MBA '24 and Nina Borja, MRP ’23 (photo by Simon Wheeler)

Graduate student members of the Philip Payton Society for Minority Real Estate Professionals at Cornell University are proud to announce that their fourth annual real estate case competition for students from Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) has grown to become the largest student-led competition of its kind, having attracted twice the number of  participants and increased the number of registered teams compared to last year. The society’s HBCU Real Estate Case Competition will hold its final round of judging in New York City in April followed by a summit for students, local government officials, and industry leaders focused on strategies to increase diversity in the real estate and built environment professions.

These events are part of the resurgence of the Philip Payton Society for Minority Real Estate Professionals, a club established in 2018 by students in Cornell’s Baker Program in Real Estate and named after Philip Payton Jr., a pioneering real estate broker who leased and developed housing for Black residents in Harlem in the early 1900s. The club aims to become the preeminent student organization for minority talent in real estate at Cornell. Membership has more than quadrupled from last year and club members are enthusiastic about hosting the HBCU Real Estate Case Competition finals and summit in New York City for the first time.

headshot of Alexis Marquez.
Alexis Marquez, MRP ’23

“The student leaders this year are very motivated not only in keeping up with the original events of the organization but in taking them to the next level,” says Alexis Marquez, MRP ’23, a master’s of regional planning student in the College of Architecture, Art, and Planning and the society’s senior vice president for branding, content, and culture.

“Access is a major barrier of entry for underrepresented minorities,” adds Marquez. “Access to an understanding of the many different career options available to them. Access to opportunities that will allow them to enter the industry. Access to resources needed to pursue those opportunities. The HBCU case competition and other Philip Payton Society programs are mitigating those hurdles. By reaching out to undergraduates, we are able to expose students to potential careers in the industry they otherwise might not have known about and provide them with a roadmap for the industry, including graduate education.”

Expanding the case competition

Two years after bonding over their own real estate case competition experience at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management, the Philip Payton Society’s four founding members decided to organize their own case competition. And because introducing students of color to the real estate profession is the society’s top priority, they geared it towards undergraduates attending HBCUs.

headshot of Christopher Browne.
Christopher Browne, MPS/RE ’23

“We’ve focused on HBCUs because it will create much more impact in the short- and the long-run,” says Baker Program student and Philip Payton Society president Christopher Browne, MPS/RE ’23.

Fifty-one students on thirteen teams representing 11 HBCUs will compete in this year’s case competition, and they have already learned fundamental concepts about commercial real estate through a series of online knowledge sessions. Next, the teams received this year’s case study; their charge is to analyze and to create an innovative and sustainable redevelopment plan for a shuttered factory in Toronto.

The competition’s preliminary judging will take place online on March 23 and 24, when a panel of five judges will narrow the field to four finalists. Those four teams will fly to New York City on April 26 for the finals and to participate in series of activities curated to expand their worldview of the commercial real estate industry: a welcome dinner at the Ritz-Carlton (sponsored by Flag Luxury Group) and a tour of event sponsors’ headquarters. Sponsors participating in the tour include JPMorgan Chase & Co., Blackstone BRE Hotels and Resorts, Lendlease, and Starwood Capital.

The final round of the case competition will be held on April 28 at Saks Fifth Avenue. Use of the space was donated by Richard Baker ’88, a graduate of the Cornell Peter and Stephanie Nolan School of Hotel Administration, benefactor of the Baker Program in Real Estate, and governor, executive chairman, and CEO of the Hudson Bay Co. A total of $10,000 in cash prizes will be awarded to the finalists.

“The aim is to connect the students to industry, to highlight their skills and their proficiency in the real estate and built environment industry, and for students to ultimately transition into an internship, graduate school, or a fulltime role,” Browne says.

2 young Black women, dressed in business attire, are holding a novelty check for $2,500 made out to North Carolina A&T State University. Surrounding them are 7 other people: 1 woman and 6 men.
Undergraduate students from North Carolina A&T State University in Greensboro won the Philip Payton Society’s 2022 HBCU Real Estate Case Competition. Representing the team here and holding the check are Mikayla McDaniel (left) and Yentell James (right). Also pictured (left to right) are Nolan Hotel School Dean Kate Walsh; Ali Daye, MPS/RE ’19, founder of the Philip Payton Society; Amanyi Richardson, MPS/RE ’22, Philip Payton Society president, 2021-22; Richard Baker ’88, benefactor for the Baker Program in Real Estate; Steve Carvell, professor of finance and academic director for the Center for Real Estate and Finance; Christopher Brown, MPS/RE ’23; and Victor Younger, Nolan Hotel School director of diversity and inclusion

Showcasing Cornell’s premiere program in real estate

Another goal is to showcase Cornell’s Baker Program in Real Estate and the Paul Rubacha Department of Real Estate to students competing in the event, says Victor Younger, director of diversity and inclusion at the Nolan Hotel School and the society’s advisor. The Baker Program and the Paul Rubacha Department are jointly managed by the College of Architecture, Art, and Planning and the Cornell SC Johnson College of Business.

“The HBCU Real Estate Case Competition exposes student participants to Cornell’s premiere real estate program, the Baker Program in Real Estate, and to the possibility of graduate school at Cornell as an option to consider,” Younger says.

Answering the Call Summit

The Philip Payton Society will round out its spring events in New York City with its Answering the Call Summit, featuring panels of industry leaders who will discuss trends and diversity-related issues in the real estate sector.

headshot of Alvieno Stinson.
Alvieno Stinson, MPS/RE ’23, MRP ’23

Human resources representatives from major real estate firms will participate in the summit, and Philip Payton Society treasurer Alvieno Stinson, MPS/RE ’23, MRP ’23 looks forward to the impact of hearing their outlook and experiences. “Not only having the heads of the organizations there, but also having people who actually work in the day-to-day of navigating and building a more diverse workforce—that’s really where it’s at,” he says.

A goal to support future students

Club leaders believe one way to increase diversity in the real estate industry is by creating a pipeline for underrepresented students who may want to earn a degree in the field. They also recognize that attracting a diverse range of students to Cornell to earn a graduate degree in real estate, or other fields related to the built environment, will require scholarships and financial aid, Browne says.

That is why the society is working on putting together a fundraising plan focused on supporting students studying real estate, architecture, landscape architecture, and planning.

“The aim is to level the playing field,” Browne says. “If you work hard enough, if you have the smarts and the fire in your belly, you should be able to participate in shaping the real estate industry and the built environment, regardless of finances.”