Seeing the World Through Green-Colored Glasses

The first graduating class from the University of Maryland's distinctive real estate development program sees the world through green-colored glasses. Most are early or mid-career professionals with real-world experience, and their teachers say they are poised to change the field.

“Our first graduates represent a new generation of professionals with a different way of thinking about development,” says Margaret McFarland, director of the University of Maryland’s Masters in Real Estate Development (MRED) program, a part of the School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation. “They hit the street at a moment of great opportunity - just as the private sector is beginning to embrace the imperatives of sustainable development.”

The Maryland MRED program emphasizes that the bottom line has four numbers, not one: profitability, of course, but also environmental and social responsibility, as well as beautiful design. There are six members in the first graduating class.

“The most important thing I take away from this program is that land is precious,” says Jennifer Portillo, one of the first MRED graduates. “Buildings can always be built and torn down, but maintenance of buildings and the earth beneath is critical to our survival as a community and to the real estate industry.” Portillo currently works for a Washington, D.C. developer (more below).

The two year-old Maryland MRED program, part of the school’s Colvin Institute of Real Estate Development, approaches the field in a way that is unique in the Washington, D.C. region. The approach is used by only a handful of schools nationwide. It goes beyond the fundamentals of finance to teach the many factors that affect and contribute to the kind of development that will sustain a community into the future.

“These graduates have an orientation that meshes with changes in the industry,” says McFarland. “There’s a growing recognition that development needs to get smarter and greener. As our graduates move up in the field, they will hasten the changes.”

The students receive their graduate degrees at ceremonies on May 22 (university-wide) and May 23 (School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation).


Tyler Abrams
"I worked for a brief period in a small, residential architecture firm in D.C. before coming back to school for my masters degree. I knew relatively little of development, other than the fact that developers were the ones ultimately calling the shots, and that architects were essentially hired help. The MRED program has exposed me to development on so many more levels, from the social aspects, to political and financial considerations. I believe this multi-disciplinary, cooperative experience has prepared me well to enter the field of development. I'd like to work in private development."

Derek Meyers
"The MRED program has given me a comprehensive understanding of real estate development - most importantly that it takes a developer leading a strong team of professionals to succeed."
Meyer's Background: Meyers currently works as a planner in the Baltimore area and previously served as a planner for a small western Maryland town.

Jennifer Portillo:
"The MRED program has done wonders for my vision of the real estate industry, especially in Washington, D.C. In the beginning of the program, I thought it was about making money and finding the perfect piece of land. But that isn't the case; a successful developer works with the existing communities to better their neighborhoods economically and aesthetically. There is not just one design that would fit; there are multiple options that should be discussed. It is not just about finding the land and building upon it. A developer has a huge responsibility to society - to develop the land for the future strategically by understanding it and the community around it."

Portillo's Plans: "Prior to starting the MRED program, I was as a title insurance processor for a small firm in Bethesda, Md. Last year, I became a legal assistant for a top local developer in Washington, D.C. I work on acquisitions and refinances. After graduation I plan to take on more responsibilities in metropolitan D.C. area development projects, such as land-use planning, whether on a small project or a larger scale."

Eric Raasch
"I came to the program with the desire to do adaptive reuse projects in downtown Jacksonville, Fla. MRED has expanded my range of knowledge and opened my eyes to many other career opportunities. I have developed an interest in financial modeling, and I am currently looking to begin my career as an investment analyst for a real estate investment trust or a financial analyst for a real estate consulting firm. After I gain the necessary experience, contacts and capital sources, I plan on starting my own real estate development company, in line with my initial goal of redeveloping properties in downtown Jacksonville."

Raasch Background: "I worked as a planner with a consulting firm in Orlando, Fla., and mostly worked on land use plans, land development regulations and comprehensive plans for public entities in Florida. I also interned in the Economic Development department of the City of College Park, Md."


The University of Maryland Masters in Real Estate Development program covers the broad spectrum of issues involved in developing land. It emphasizes "green" approaches to all aspects of design and development, including energy efficiency for structures and communities, adaptive reuse of older buildings, innovative approaches to planning and permitting to support smart growth, public-private partnerships that support mixed-use, transit-oriented development and affordable housing.

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