FSU Real Estate Investment Fund prepares master’s students for rewarding careers 

Key players on the FSU Real Estate Investment Fund team include Master of Science in Finance student Jacob Kelly, faculty adviser Mariya Letdin, MSF student Sierra Wicker and MBA student Will Myers. (Katie Xanders/College of Business)
Key players on the FSU Real Estate Investment Fund team include Master of Science in Finance student Jacob Kelly, faculty adviser Mariya Letdin, MSF student Sierra Wicker and MBA student Will Myers. (Katie Xanders/College of Business)

Select master’s students in the Florida State University College of Business continue to reap the educational and professional benefits of a distinctive investment vehicle that provides real-world experience in real estate securities.

The FSU Real Estate Investment Fund, or REIF, stands among the few funds of its kind and size, with a balance of about $2.35 million only in real estate investment trusts, or REITs, and teams of graduate students managing its holdings.

“We know of very few, if any, student-run REIF funds of this size that specialize in REIT securities,” said Will Myers, a student in the college’s accelerated full-time Master of Business Administration (MBA) program. “And I think the close-knit team we have here, especially this semester, is extremely unique to FSU.”

Myers manages the fund with fellow master’s students Jacob Kelly and Sierra Wicker, plus three other students in a graduate-level directed independent study course. Kelly and Wicker both are pursuing a Master of Science in Finance (MSF) degree with a specialization in real estate.

The core team of Myers, Kelly and Wicker has been involved in the fund’s management or analysis since the first half of last year. Last semester, they took the lead in establishing the fund’s performance-monitoring and reporting processes and building a detailed website, which provides information on its holdings and sector breakdown, core team, history and more.

Faculty adviser Mariya Letdin, the Madeline Duncan Rolland Associate Professor of Business Administration in the Department of Risk Management/Insurance, Real Estate and Legal Studies, applauded the students for their work and their commitment to the REIF.

“I’m inspired by their energy and creativity, and it’s the most rewarding part of my teaching to work with this group of students,” she said.

Also, students in Advanced Real Estate Finance and Investment, an MBA and MSF course also available to top undergraduates getting a head start on graduate studies, provide analysis of REIF investments.

“The fund attracts students who are bright and are looking to learn,” Letdin said. “They’re willing to work and come up with original solutions.”

The FSU REIF, pronounced reef, launched in the spring of 2022 on the strength of $320,000 in gifts from R.K.M. Development Corporation President Bill Lloyd (BS Real Estate ’86), R.K.M chairman Richard Maloof (BS Real Estate ’85) and other private donors, plus $2 million from the FSU Foundation.

The fund mirrors the college’s Student Investment Fund, which likewise started with generous seed investments from donors, works with a faculty adviser and is overseen by a panel of industry professionals. The REIF investment committee features four college alumni: Lloyd; Scott Darling (BS Finance ’78), president of America Realty Advisors; Kyle Riva (BS Management ’77), a college Alumni Hall of Fame member and CEO of Alexander Investments International; and Thekla Salzman (BS Accounting ’83), a principal with Salzman Real Estate Advisors.

“Their labor is – like the students’ – a labor of love,” Letdin said of committee members. “This is their third year of sitting in investment committee meetings for four hours at a time, and I’m grateful for their time, support and guidance.”

Student teams analyze REIF securities and present recommendations to the industry committee members, who evaluate teams’ analyses, ask questions, deliberate and decide whether to act on the recommendations and allocations.

“The REIF has provided the opportunity for us to really experience what fund management is,” Myers said. “And we’re not working with chump change – $2.3 million is a lot of money, so we have real risk and processes that we need to follow.”

Myers’ professional experience includes a technology investment banking internship with Truist Securities, where he’ll work after earning his MBA. He said his work with REIF makes him realize: “I want to do more fund management.”

Students note the fund combines their interests in real estate and finance. The fund website shows holdings in various real estate sectors, including multifamily, office, retail, industrial, gaming, storage and health care.

“The exposure you get to all the different asset classes and the level of responsibility given to you is huge,” Kelly said. “You have a fiduciary responsibility to maintain capital but also to not…over-push potential investment opportunities.”

Kelly, whose multiple internships in development include multifamily and hospitality, plans to pursue a career in real estate development.

“The REIF has allowed me to look at every single real estate sector, from multifamily, industrial and retail down to some more-niche sectors like day centers and cell towers,” he said, “and that breadth allowed me to land on what I wanted to do long-term.”

Kelly and Myers said they have spent – in addition to their other coursework — up to 35 hours a week on the fund, especially as they built the fund’s systems and operations components, and average about 20 hours a week. The typical student spends five to 10 hours a week on it, they said.

“Those 20 hours don’t really feel like work,” Myers said. “It’s what I would much rather be doing.”