Aspire: Inspiring Equity in Real Estate

The inaugural Aspire internship program at the College of Built Environments gave undergraduate students across the University of Washington the opportunity to interact with industry and academic leaders while learning about the importance of home and homeownership to individuals and communities. Students spent eight weeks learning about the single and multi-family residential real estate market in partnership with Windermere Real Estate.

“Two key focuses for Windermere are increasing the diversity of our company and making home ownership more accessible to people of color, so when (CBE Dean) Renee Cheng approached us about being a part of the Aspire internship program, we knew it was an ideal opportunity,” said Windermere Real Estate President OB Jacobi. “The Aspire students have played an invaluable role in helping us understand how we can begin to act upon our goals and deepen our engagement in the BIPOC community.”

Through a combination of classroom lectures and professional interactions, Aspire students developed a broad knowledge of residential real estate and a critical understanding of homeownership’s role in the creation of thriving communities and intergenerational wealth. Specifically, students had an opportunity to observe the range of processes involved with home buying, visit residential real estate offices serving a diverse array of communities, and apply their learning to address equity issues in real estate through their final projects. Most of all, students in the Aspire program valued the connections they made with each other, with the professionals who gave them a behind-the-scenes look at residential real estate, and with the lecturers who helped them think critically about what they observed in the industry.

Jah’lil Frans, senior

“I got a lot more out of this program than I had first thought,” said student Jah’lil Frans, a senior from Spokane, WA. “Going to all the Windermere offices and being able to learn something new every day about the real estate field was very eye opening, and, with every piece of new information that we learned, there was also a point of contact that we could reach out to if needed, to help to expand our networks.”

“The ASPIRE program this year was a highlight for me as a professional and hopefully the beginning of an impacting and lasting relationship between the University of Washington and Windermere Real Estate.

We wanted to be involved with this internship because of my own lived experience, and the fact that our brokerage was founded on community and doing what we can to eliminate disparities in home ownership. In addition to that, we aim to provide more opportunities and on-ramps into the real estate profession for BIPOC communities. We already feel strongly about being in the community and schools to educate people about home ownership, so this was an easy choice for us to be involved.

What we got out of the program was an injection of new energy and ideas on how we can make home ownership more accessible to black and brown people who have faced housing insecurity. What struck us the most is how much the interns’ attitudes changed over the course of the internship. Another unexpected value-add was the Intercultural Development Inventory component for the owners; taking a deep look at our own biases and where we stand. Such an important exercise for not just the owners involved with the internship, but would be of value for all owners, in my opinion.

Overall, I’m looking forward to watching this relationship and internship grow, providing more awareness around the housing and wealth gaps, even amongst highly educated college students.” – Dave Jones, Owner/Operator, Windermere Abode, Aspire Mentor

Francy Garcia
Francy Garcia, senior

Student Francy Garcia, a senior majoring in Real Estate and minoring in Entrepreneurship, said this about her experience: “Coming into this program I didn’t know what to expect. I knew I wanted to learn more hands-on about real estate, but I just came into it with an open mind. My Aspire experience surpassed my expectations for the program mainly because, every day, we were making connections and seeing the real impact of real estate in our city. It was amazing to learn so much in such a short period of time.”

Dean Renee Cheng says, “The Aspire program showcases the amazing things that can happen when a college like ours is a catalyst. By connecting professionals, faculty, and students in a structured way, we highlight a mutual learning process. Both groups offer unique points of view and expertise and I’m proud we were able to facilitate this level of dialogue.”

The Aspire program will return in Summer 2022, with plans to expand the number of students served. Given the high level of student interest in the first year of the program, we anticipate another highly competitive application cycle next year. We encourage interested students to keep an eye out for the application and additional details as we head into 2022.

Archinect Deans List: Renée Cheng on How Comprehensive Design Can Engender Inclusivity

The Deans List is an interview series with the leaders of architecture schools, worldwide. The series profiles the school’s programming, as defined by the dean — giving an invaluable perspective into the institution’s unique curriculum, faculty and academic environment.

Read entire Q&A on Archinect

For this installment, Archinect spoke with current University of Washington College of Built Environments dean Renée Cheng. A licensed architect with years of experience working at firms like Pei, Cobb, Freed and Partners and her personal practice, Cheng-Olson Design, Cheng has specialized in researching the application of new technologies within the design and construction process while also helping to pioneer innovative project delivery approaches. In our interview, Cheng shares how these approaches can be applied to the wide-ranging curriculum of an integrated design program.


Dean Cheng speaking at a recent Women in Construction symposium in Seattle. Image courtesy of McKinstry.

Briefly describe CBE’s pedagogical stance on architecture education.

The University of Washington’s (UW) Department of Architecture sits within the multidisciplinary College of Built Environments (CBE) that includes the specific disciplines most central to the built environment: architecture, landscape architecture, urban design and planning, construction management, and real estate. The Department of Architecture recently completed a major revision of the professional degree program to further emphasize research, collaboration, and integration. These three themes are reflected in the other departments as well, creating a college with unique disciplinary strengths that can collaborate effectively.

design build
Photo of students participating in a neighborhood design-build studio. Image courtesy of UW CBE.

What insights from your past professional experience are you hoping to integrate or adopt as the dean?

Running my own firm, as well as working in architectural firms large and small, has given me a healthy respect for the hard work it takes to run a firm today, as well as unbounded optimism for how architectural profession can become more relevant, resilient, and equitable.

My research and teaching experience has focused on emerging practices, everything from technologies like parametric design to organizational systems like lean and/or equitable practices.

I’m also interested to see how far we can carry the focus around collaboration, asking what it would mean for all of the faculty, students, and staff to be effective collaborators.

With these experiences in mind, I am applying some practices of inclusion and values-based decision-making to understanding the processes of the college. I’m also interested to see how far we can carry the focus around collaboration, asking what it would mean for all of the faculty, students, and staff to be effective collaborators.

All of this is related to the research practices program that I started at the University of Minnesota. I am in the process of growing that model and network here at the UW with the multiple disciplines of the college. At UW, for example, we are starting an applied research consortium with a group of founding members we hope to announce before the start of the next academic year.

Read the rest on Archinect