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Hollo School students gain skills, recognition in National ARGUS University Challenge.

This spring, a team of graduate students from Florida International University’s (FIU) Hollo School of Real Estate embarked on their first national contest, entering ARGUS Software’s 2013 University Challenge, a business case competition using the real estate software. With 20 other prestigious university programs in the mix, the FIU team was expecting a solid learning experience in their first outing. Yet their hard work and skilled analysis brought something they didn’t expect: a third place finish.

“Placing ahead of prestigious programs like NYU and the Wharton School in our very first competition demonstrates the rigor and relevance of our Master of Science in International Real Estate program, and the quality of our students,” said William Hardin, director of real estate programs at FIU’s College of Business. “This is an exciting moment for everyone at the Hollo School.”

The FIU students’ plan, which also came out ahead of those from Columbia, Cornell, UNC Chapel Hill and the University of Chicago, took shape through a combination of intense study and guidance from faculty and Miami real estate professionals.

“This is a dedicated team that met after our evening classes and did great work,” said Hollo School faculty member Zhonghua Wu, who advised the team.

Marshaling studies, industry insights and hard work leads to success.

After learning about the contest from Wu, students William Lee, Zavier Moreno, Adam Dahari, Juan Morales and Kevin Gibbons accepted the challenge. They were given a case study entitled “Urban Regeneration:  The Springfield Monorail Redevelopment.” The case competition involved conducting a real-life investment analysis using ARGUS real estate software and creating a business plan for bringing an abandoned project back to the market as a mixed-use development.

FIU Business team members (l. to r.) Zavier Moreno, Juan Morales, William Lee, and faculty advisor Zhonghua Wu. Not pictured: Adam Dahari, Kevin Gibbons.

Most team members held down full-time jobs while attending school, forcing them to come up with creative ways to build their final project.

“We’d meet in smaller groups, and I tried to help coordinate the decision making process and consolidate the decisions so that all the input made it into the final submission,” said team member William Lee. He credits the diversity of students’ background and expertise as an important asset, with a realtor, property manager and banker all adding their experiences to the process.

The resources of the Hollo School, Lee said, provided a foundation for the team’s success.

“The graduate classes in the real estate program build from one concept to the next over the course of the curriculum,” he said. “This challenge allowed us to incorporate all the skills we’ve been learning – finance, development, property management, construction, marketing – and put our theoretical knowledge to use in a real-life scenario.”

The school also brings in frequent guest speakers, who give students direct exposure to up-to-date information on current market developments, faculty advisor Wu said.  In addition, the program provides students with the opportunity to network with leading developers at several events, allowing the team to learn from experts in the fields related to the challenge.

“That exposure helped motivate the students, and it gave them confidence in the direction they needed to take,” Wu said. It also gave the students new insights into how the full spectrum of real estate and community development issues interplay to create a successful business plan.

For team member Lee, a real estate analyst with Rialto Capital, a subsidiary of Lennar Corp., the opportunity to delve deeply into the ARGUS software will ultimately give him more options for his career in real estate.

“We did this for the experience of learning the software,” Lee said. “The win was an unforeseen bonus.”

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