Photograph of Ryan Dietz, the new director of the Master of Real Estate Development program at Clemson.

Ryan Dietz is the new director of the Master of Real Estate Development program at Clemson. Image Credit: Clemson University Relations

A real estate developer draws on a wide range of skills for success.

No surprise, then, that the Master of Real Estate Development program at Clemson welcomes students from an array of undergraduate disciplines.

“A lot of fields come together in real estate development,” said Ryan Dietz, the program’s new director. “It requires both analytical skills and creative skills. Students who come from an artistic background do very well, as do students from engineering or finance.”

Dietz succeeded Robert Benedict, who led the program for over half a decade, and is still serving the MRED program as faculty. Dietz came to Clemson University following two years as a top leader in a similar program at Florida State University.

Apart from academia, Dietz worked for more than 10 years in commercial real estate development, community development, project development and brokerage. He began his career with Lennar Homes, currently the nation’s largest homebuilder.

Dietz, an advocate for responsible and sustainable development, was attracted to Clemson by the individualized attention the Greenville-based program provides.

“Other programs can’t offer the one-on-one support, the top-notch education we give our students and the incredible job placement we offer once they graduate,” he said.

This master’s program within the Department of City Planning and Real Estate Development educates students to become leaders and innovators in the development of sustainable communities.

Students can complete the Master of Real Estate Development degree in 18 months, but there’s also a fast-track 12-month program for experienced development professionals. Classes take place at Greenville ONE, a towering building in the heart of Greenville’s bustling downtown.

The degree plan emphasizes real-world experience. Real estate professionals are frequently invited to classes for roundtable discussions with students. Faculty members such as Dietz share their considerable private-sector experience, and students in the 18-month program participate in summer internships.

Partnership and perspective

The Clemson program offers a unique approach to development through its partnership with the Urban Land Institute, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization that focuses on responsible real estate development. That collaboration was particularly appealing to Dietz.

“I like to teach from the principles of responsible development,” Dietz said. “This program believes that development is a public-private partnership and that quality development means you have to consider the community’s perspective, environment and economic situation. We believe responsible development is the only kind of development that should be done.”

Dietz is also a professor of practice. This fall, he is teaching real estate finance and leading the real estate roundtable course.

Dietz’s predecessor, Benedict, began teaching at Clemson in 2004 and was appointed director of the Master of Real Estate Development program in 2011. Benedict, who had been a real estate developer for 25 years, moved the program to downtown Greenville and streamlined the time required to earn the master’s degree.

“Dr. Robert Benedict created a wonderful legacy with our Master of Real Estate Development program,” said John Gaber, chair of the Department of City Planning and Real Estate Development. “As director, Robert was constantly exploring connections in how to improve the quality of the education, impact on the community, and relevance of the real estate profession to historically significant developments.”

Expansion

Currently, 31 students are enrolled in the real estate development program, but Dietz hopes to see that number expand.

“One of my biggest initiatives off the bat is to double our recruiting effort,” Dietz said. “Many of our incoming students learn about it through friends, family and coworkers. It’s great to have the word of mouth, but we need to get our message out there so the prospective students know to look our way and know why they should look our way.”

Dietz, like his predecessor Benedict, also is focused on recruiting a more diverse student body. A recent $100,000 gift from Russ Davis and Nancy Lollis Davis should provide a significant boost to that initiative by funding fellowships for students from underrepresented populations.

Graduate programs in real estate development are relatively new, having emerged at a few universities over the past two decades. At Clemson, the program has been around for more than 15 years.

The program fits well in the College of Architecture, Arts and Humanities because “a developer has to have a broad skill set to be successful,” Dietz said.

“Development is not just financial analysis, real estate acquisitions and development,” he added. “It requires creativity and negotiating skills.”

Before such programs, a young person hoping for a career in real estate development would have to “job-hop through several different specialties – or be born into a real estate family.”

Dietz earned a bachelor’s degree in finance from Missouri State University and an MBA focused on real estate finance from Florida State University. Among his other interests, Dietz is a licensed pilot and experienced backcountry outdoorsman.

Dietz approaches his new job at Clemson with a sense of mission, he said.

“I want to make sure that when someone thinks of hiring someone from a real estate program, the first place they think of is Clemson University because they know our students are coming out with the best real-estate education they can possible get,” Dietz said. “They are coming out with industry contacts from Day One, work experience through internships and the work ethic that is required of real estate developers.”