After years of serving others at sea, Stephanie Royal delighted to find her footing at Daniels’ Burns School
Rendered jobless by COVID-19 in the spring of 2020, Stephanie Royal took inventory of her life.
After a dozen exhilarating yet exhausting years in the private service industry, working for the fabulously wealthy on yachts and at their massive estates, she was ready for a change. More specifically, it was time to tap a lifelong interest in design and architecture as well as an appetite for sustainable business practices.
When a pointed internet search yielded the Master of Science in Real Estate and The Built Environment at Daniels’ Franklin L. Burns School of Real Estate and Construction Management, the serendipity proved overwhelming.
“I’d already decided that I wanted to move somewhere to establish a home base, and I was interested in Denver and Boston,” said Royal, who’d briefly lived in both areas previously. “There was no turning back for me at that point.”
Following the ensuing flurry of applying, getting accepted, moving 1,400 miles into an apartment sight-unseen and jumping into the online world of 2020 graduate education, Royal was stunned by the depth and relevance of the Burns experience.
“There’s no other program like this right now,” she said. “I’m ecstatic that I found it.”
A few years earlier, Royal had enrolled in a construction management program closer to her family’s North Carolina home, but she found the traditional ways of the program, which was suggested by a mentor, limiting.
“The old, siloed design-bid-build model doesn’t work anymore as it’s a much more integrated industry where all of these professionals communicate and work together while integrating aspects of sustainable and regenerative development,” she said. “Given the real-life experience that Burns professors have in the field, we’re learning about the cutting edge from the people at the forefront of that change.”
Royal added that the School’s take on online classes has helped smooth the challenges of remote learning. Group projects requiring abundant meeting time away from class sessions have built connections nearly as strong as those formed in and around campus.
“Between the small class sizes, the personable professors and the group work, I definitely feel like I’m getting the classroom experience virtually,” she said.
The camaraderie has also helped ease the challenges of landing in a new city amid a global pandemic, while providing a welcome contrast to the pressures of Royal’s previous life.
Within days of receiving her undergraduate degree in Spanish, Royal was working on the yacht of a Mexican business tycoon. Over the next 12 years, she worked for an assortment of ultra-high-net-worth individuals, managing day-to-day matters, planning extravagant parties and frequently overseeing other crew and staff members.
“There’s a misconception of yachting that it’s all uber-glam and while yes, I did go on excursions to exotic places and I did occasionally fly home on a private plane, the work could be very dogged with 20-hour days common on the boat,” she said. “To be successful it’s all about being meticulous and paying attention to every last detail.”
Currently, while glad to be writing a new chapter in her life’s journey, Royal’s set her sights on working as a luxury sustainable hospitality developer or an urban planner who adapts, reuses and recreates an existing community in a regenerative fashion. The latter draws upon her experience working for the individual who revitalized Brooklyn’s Williamsburg neighborhood 20 years ago.
“When he told his story, a light bulb went off for me about the incredible power of placemaking,” Royal said. “Time will tell where I end up, but I like the idea of bringing something into being—not just managing a project but to have that pulse of creating something.”