When architecture sophomore Francisco Erazo began his fall internship in September, he probably didn’t expect that, within a few short weeks, he’d be marketing a live real estate deal, Shark-Tank style, to a panel of seasoned development professionals. He also didn’t expect to have the skill, confidence and knowledge to do it successfully.
But, then again, Erazo is not in a typical internship. He is one of 500 undergraduate students—and five UMD students—to participate in Project Destined, a highly-competitive eight-week internship experience that introduces underrepresented students to the fundamentals of real estate development and ownership through team-based, real-world development deals, often in their home cities. Leveraging a network of peers, program alumni, professional mentors and real estate investors, Project Destined is working to change the face of real estate by creating pathways for individuals typically not part of the real estate deal—including women and people of color—to pursue careers in vibrant community building.
“I honestly didn't know what to expect coming into Project Destined, but I have learned a lot about real estate,” said Erazo. “It’s been really exciting so far. [This experience] helps us build that grind mentality and take ownership of any opportunity that presents itself.”
Erazo and four other Maryland undergraduates—Rita Washington, Audrey Lin, Preet Patel and Carrie Znamirowski—are part of this semester’s national cohort, selected from a competitive pool of over 3,000 entries. Acceptance in the program is a foothold into a network of 1,400 mentors, team leaders, industry experts and peers. Together, they work through the steps of building an idea from the ground up, including market research and analysis, evaluation, deal financing and presentation training. Each team of eight students, mentors and program leaders—all Project Destined alumni—develop one “live” deal within their region over the course of the internship and go head-to-head against other student teams from around the country through regular presentations to potential investors.
“The experience has been great so far and I have learned so much in such a short amount of time,” said Znamirowski, an undergraduate finance major. “The program has expanded on what I am learning at the Smith School, plus has introduced me to the field of real estate business. From working with mentors at such reputable companies, I really hope to make lasting connections for future internships.”
Project Destined was launched in 2016 by seasoned private equity executive Cedric Bobo after watching a documentary on the resurgence of Detroit; while diverse parts of the city were experiencing massive investment, he noticed there were very few diverse owners. Buoyed by early support from baseball legend Alex Rodriguez and entertainer Jennifer Lopez, Project Destined’s mission and model soon attracted development and corporate sponsors interested in diversifying their talent pool but who lacked the capacity for recruitment. The program now boasts over 100 company and corporate sponsors, connecting them to students from 70 universities nationwide and internationally.
“An opportunity like this really kick-starts that passion and drive around real estate,” said Maria Day-Marshall, Director of the Real Estate Development Program and the Colvin Institute at the University of Maryland, who has been a proponent of the Project Destined program with her undergraduate real estate minor students. “My hope is that this opportunity will inspire students to pursue a real estate development education and enroll in the undergraduate and/or the graduate real estate development programs at the University of Maryland.”
Washington, who is majoring in Spanish and minoring in real estate development, has always been interested in the entrepreneurial aspect of real estate development. Project Destined was her first college internship and is connecting her with other people in the business, allowing her to understand the industry first hand. While she knows those connections will come in handy after graduation, the program’s other aspects—such as mentorship, teamwork and the adrenaline rush of competition—have been transformational.
“I love it, and feel it was a big step for me in learning something new,” she said. “After every presentation I feel like I’m at a different level as far as confidence and knowledge of the industry is concerned. This program is really helping me grow personally.”
Bobo sees Maryland’s participation in Project Destined as a boon to the program, exposing students from across the country to its strong graduate real estate development program, minor program and planned undergraduate major.
“The University of Maryland has so much influence over the greater D.C. real estate market and is a very strong program,” said Bobo, who spoke at the Colvin Institute’s Innovation and Entrepreneurship Real Estate Awards Gala in March 2019. “Particularly for some of our smaller colleges and HBCU’s, it shows the possibilities and gets them to see real estate differently.”
Project Destined is open to students at all undergraduate levels and from any discipline, but looks for students that will truly benefit from the exposure and community that comes with being a program intern.
“For so many young women or individuals from diverse backgrounds, they just haven’t had that connection point,” he said. “We want students who are curious about why neighborhoods and communities are changing and, frankly, why it doesn’t include them. That, plus a strong work ethic and a desire to meet and connect with people, that’s what we’re looking for.”
Project Destined is currently accepting applications for its Spring 2022 internships. Learn more at projectdestined.com.