Clemson moves more students into downtown Greenville

The Greenville NewsAugust 15, 2013 

— At 37, Robbie Shortt is a full-time student and a licensed real estate broker.

Dressed in a dark suit and tie, he talks about his stint as a nursing home administrator, how it burned him out after a while so he left to go into real estate.

Six years later, he’s at Clemson University, enrolled in its graduate real estate development program, which is relocating to downtown Greenville this fall.

University officials announced Thursday that the program will move to the Falls at Clemson campus, joining more than 400 graduate school students already based inside the former Bowater building. The program will make its final move to the One building, at the corner of Main and Washington streets, early next year.

“Development is such a big part of what has made Greenville the place that it is right now,” said Robert Benedict, the program’s director. “It’s just a natural fit for us to be a player in that.”

Clemson is one of only nine universities that offer a full-time Master of Real Estate Development degree. Admission is capped at 20 students a year, so the program is highly competitive, Benedict said.

Flip through the student’s biographies, and you’ll find different backgrounds and a diverse skill set, some students well past middle age and some still in their 20s.

They hail from 27 states – two are from China and Korea – and have undergraduate degrees ranging from architecture to Asian studies.

Shortt, who went Lander University, studied health care management.

He had a passion for real estate inherited from his grandfather but realized quickly he wanted to do more than sell homes.

Benedict uses the phrase “living lab” to describe the program’s migration downtown.

An already hands-on curriculum will now be able to have a front-row view of development along Main Street. There will be more site trips, more opportunities to be involved in the community.

This engagement has long been the vision of university President Jim Barker, who first came to Greenville more than 12 years ago proposing a new kind of “town/gown” relationship.

“This is a big step as a part of that,” Benedict said. “You can have a program like this in Pickens County ... but it’s not going to attain the same level being in an urban environment like Greenville.”

Since 2000, Clemson has launched three major research and education centers around Greenville, including an MBA in Entrepreneurship and Innovation that will also move to the One building.

These are students who often act as recruiters, selling the Greenville story.

Seth Peterson, a 28-year-old in the program, tells of the California prospect who wouldn’t have seriously considered applying to the program if it hadn’t been based in Greenville.

“He’s married, worked for a few years, and Greenville just spoke to him,” Peterson said.

Benedict’s graduate students said the downtown location also lets them network more and still keep their internships at local development firms.

“Greenville gives you the No. 1 exposure to the business leaders, the business community,” Shortt said.

The program is a joint venture between Clemson’s business and architecture schools. Its interdisciplinary curriculum includes courses on real estate, city and regional planning, law, architecture and construction science.

Founded in 2004, the original class had six students. Now an average of 45 apply a year.

Staff writer Rudolph Bell contributed to this story.

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