Portland Business Journal: PSU real estate center director sizes up program's impacts, potential
Author: Jon Bell
Posted: June 5, 2019

To read the original story, visit Portland Business Journal.

A little over 13 years ago, Julie Gibson was at home with her 1-month-old son, breezing through the latest Portland State University alumni letter.

Gibson, who holds an MBA from PSU's School of Business Administration, noticed the school hoped to raise money to fund an associate director for its new real estate center. The idea piqued her interest because of her banking and affordable housing industry background. She also recognized it might take time for the center to raise that money — time that Gibson herself could spend with her infant son.

“It was a total lightbulb moment of, oh my gosh, I can transition my real estate knowledge into something that just feels right and I’ll be able to help students and employers,” Gibson said. “I went through the interview process and they said, 'the job’s yours if you can wait until we raise the money.' I’m like, ‘Perfect. I’ll stay on.’”

Thirteen years later, Gibson still helms the unique center she helped launch. It’s self-funded and small in size — the staff includes just Gibson and a part-time assistant — but the PSU Center for Real Estate has helped hundreds of students find careers in commercial real estate while also providing employment fuel for the industry. It offers a Master of Real Estate Development, holds one of the largest CRE conferences in Portland each year and wants to expand in coming years with more curriculum and opportunities for students and employers alike.

Gibson recently spoke with the Business Journal about doings at the center and beyond.

Who are the students who come through the center? We have about 50 students at any one time. About 60 percent are coming not necessarily to change careers; they’re just filling in the gaps. They’re lenders, brokers, property management folks who just want to have the bigger picture understanding, a more holistic study of development. Twenty percent of our students are looking to transition from one area of real estate into another, and then another 20 percent are brand new to real estate. Some of them have had totally different careers.

What are some of the challenges facing students in the commercial real estate space? I think our industry as a whole is not very diverse, but I think our center can (increase the industry's diversity). Historically we've hired in the industry who we know, right? It's friends and family. It's a very networked industry, right? Which is great for everyone in the industry. But how about the people who have no connection to real estate? I think we can play that connector role and create awareness about these fields and the pathways into them through our curriculum and our connections with employers.

You have a background in banking and affordable housing, but you’ve been in academia for 13 years. Did you ever think you’d go into education? My parents are both educators, but I intentionally didn't go into education because I thought that I would always wonder what else was out there. All of their friends and family and my whole network growing up were educators, and I didn't really feel called to that. But I found out that it's very meaningful work. Almost every week I'm seeing students get placed in jobs or I'm seeing students just figure out what they want to do. Being able to help them is huge.

Do you have a favorite development project in Portland? I love the work that Brad Malsin (of Beam Development) does on the east side. I’m inspired by his work. I just love the Portland firms who are contributing positively to the city. And that’s what our program is all about. You’re looking at, holistically, how we can positively impact the industry through the built environment. Our students are passionate about that, and I think that’s a unique identifier both to Portland and to our program.