REBE grad student forges own path in real estate finance
When Harris Griswold (MS 2021) was researching master’s degree programs, he was looking for the perfect fit.
“My girlfriend had family in Denver, and we always had our eyes on Colorado. I had close connections and mentors who graduated from the University of Denver, and they all spoke highly of their experience,” Griswold recalled.
He called Marie McNichol, assistant director of graduate admissions at the University of Denver’s Franklin L. Burns School of Real Estate and Construction Management. Not only is McNichol an expert at helping prospective students find the right programs for them, but she also has 28 years of construction experience.
“He had such great experience coming from the construction side and having worked on some serious construction projects in the Bay Area. He wanted to pivot into real estate development, and this program could help him to do that. He was a great fit,” McNichol said.
The yearlong Real Estate and Built Environment (REBE) degree program teaches students the complete cycle of real estate, construction and asset management. It’s all built on a foundation of business principles. Students have the option of concentrating on real estate, construction management, integrated product delivery or customizing their concentration.
Griswold spoke with the program director, a faculty member and prominent alumni before deciding on DU.
“I liked that you could create your own path within the program and choose the curriculum that best suits your career goals,” he said.
He anticipates graduating this year with a real estate concentration.
Before attending DU, he had worked for both a large general contractor as well as a large development firm for seven years, gaining experience on several projects in various market segments including high-rise and campus commercial office, bio-tech office, high-rise multifamily and condo, retail and tenant improvements. The more he learned about the development side of construction, the more he wanted to know.
“I had an opportunity to work on the development side on a high-rise project in downtown San Francisco called The Avery. It opened my eyes to opportunities on the other side of the table — the development and equity sides. Just seeing the process and that 30,000-foot view stuck with me. Since then, I have been interested in getting into the development side of real estate,” Griswold said.
One of his most informative classes was a real estate financial analysis course with Professor of the Practice Jeff Engelstad. Because of COVID-19, the 30 or so students attended classes virtually. Griswold had not completed the prerequisite course, so he was in the class provisionally. It was his first class with Engelstad, who, unbeknown to Griswold, had a reputation for challenging first quizzes.
“He got blindsided by that first quiz, scored poorly and started panicking. I remember talking him off the ledge,” Engelstad said. “And then, he absolutely crushed that class. His attitude was, ‘What do I need to do to overcome this?’ Students come across once in a while who have that incredible tenacity.”
This year, Griswold started working with the Denver-based firm HighSide as a development manager. He oversees the project lifecycle from land purchase to grand opening. Along the way, he’s involved in due diligence, entitlements, design and construction. The REBE program helped prepare him for his new role by providing a foundation of real estate development knowledge.
Griswold is grateful for Engelstad’s guidance, for a scholarship (for which all REBE students are automatically considered) and for the evening classes that allow him to continue to work full-time while he pursues his degree.
Today, he serves as a student ambassador helping prospective students.
“In the real estate industry, a lot of it’s about your network. I would love to be a resource to incoming students,” Griswold said.