Six VSB seniors took home first place and a $10,000 cash prize at the 5th Annual Cornell International Real Estate Case Competition on Nov. 14, at the Covene Meeting Center in New York City.  

The winning squad consisted of Michael O’Neill, Lauren Nygren, Rachael Paulino, Jack Herrill, Catherine Millane and Sean Bryce.  

The six members of Villanova’s team were the only students in the senior capstone class, Real Estate Development, taught by Tony Ziccardi.  

 Ziccardi, the vice president of the Brandywine Realty Trust, was also the team’s coach for the competition.   

The six seniors faced off against an international field of 13 other undergraduate student teams, including universities from Hong Kong, British Columbia, and Aberdeen, Scotland.  

The University of Pennsylvania won top honors at the competition in 2012.

Each team of six was tasked with analyzing and forming an investment recommendation on actual real estate transaction for a property in Santa Monica, Calif. 

 The teams were then required to present their recommendations on how to maximize profits on the property to elite members of the industry, from firms such as Blackrock and Goldman Sachs.     

In addition, the website for the Cornell University School of Hotel Administration notes, “The teams are judged not only on their investment recommendations, their approach to the problem and their presentation skills, but also on their ability to answer and respond to direct and probing questions posed by the judges.”

Each team was emailed the case on Saturday morning at 8 a.m. and given only four days to complete its analysis and presentation by Wednesday before presenting in New York on Thursday.  

The VSB team attributes their success to the cohesion developed over the course of the fall working together in the same class.  

“Everything we did this semester we learned to analyze it as if was part of the competition,” Herrill said.  

“We were the class,” O’Neill said.  “It really helped because we were all on a similar wave length from spending time together, so when we got the case on Saturday morning, we knew exactly what to do.”

This diligent preparation showed in the preliminary round, where teams were randomly divided into separate groups of three schools.  Each team had 20  minutes to present its recommendation and then 20 minutes to answer question from a panel of three judges.  

“While other teams were rehearsing speeches up to the last minute, we tried to make ourselves feel comfortable and well-versed so that it felt more like a conversation and not a memorized speech,” Paolino said, who with Nygren worked on the market research aspect of the case.  

VSB’s team scored the highest total for the opening round and even surprised the judges with the depth of their analysis and comfortable presence responding to the detailed questions. 

“One of the judges was so impressed he asked them if they worked for an investment fund,” Ziccardi said.  “He couldn’t believe they were college seniors.”

Villanova joined the University of Wisconsin Madison and Cornell in the final round, where the teams presented to a panel of twenty judges in front of a crowd of over 100 people. They were asked another series of questions about their recommendation.  

Despite the increased stakes, the VSB seniors kept their poise and came out victorious.  

The win was Villanova’s first victory at a major real estate competition and has already helped broaden the reputation of VSB’s DiLella Center for Real Estate.

“The victory’s effect is almost immeasurable,” said Shawn Howton, the faculty director of the DiLella Center and assistant professor of finance in VSB. “The excitement it has caused with our advisory council and alums is great, and the visibility it gave us among elite schools in real estate is causing us to get noticed.”

The DiLella Center, named after Daniel M. DiLella ’73 VSB, President and CEO of BPG Properties, Ltd was founded in 2007 and currently offers an undergraduate co-major and minor in real estate.   A real estate specialization is also an option for graduate students in Villanova’s MBA program.   

Beyond the obvious perk of winning and the $10,000 cash prize, the competition is also an excellent opportunity for students to gain hands on experience in the world of real estate.  

 The real-life aspect of the assignment for the contest takes learning outside the classroom. 

“These cases are the best learning environment our students can have,” Howton said.

“We feel strongly that they are a great example of the power of “learning by doing” that is a focus of VSB education.  I have had students that come to our spring case competition tell me it was the best experience of their college career.”  

This year’s winners of the Cornell Real Estate Challenge agree.   

“It was a blast,” said O’Neill, who also competed at the USC real estate competition the previous spring.  

“All six of us had a great time and we’re all looking forward to do another competition in the spring.”Image


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