As the new headquarters building for Simon Property Group Inc. was going up downtown last fall, a group of Indiana University students donned hard hats and toured the 13-story building.
After riding the construction elevator to the top floor, students got a bird's-eye view of the city and a firsthand account from the developers about the building's cost, size and challenges in constructing it.
The students were members of the IU Real Estate Club, and the tour of the 350,000-square-foot building was one type of activity members participate in to learn about the industry and make connections with those in it.
The club's current president, Wesley Podell, made connections that helped get him a job offer even before he graduated.
The entrepreneurship and real estate studies major will graduate next month. After taking a short break, he will go to work for Indianapolis-based Duke Realty Corp. as a leasing representative for the developer's Anson project, a 20-year, $750 million mixed-use residential community project near Lebanon, just northwest of Indianapolis.
"The club got me more interested in real estate than I already was," said Podell, whose father is in the business. Podell has been involved with the club since his freshman year.
The 20-year-old club has taken off in recent years as the number of real estate majors has increased along with job opportunities in the field, said Jeff Fisher, director of the Center for Real Estate Studies within IU's Kelley School of Business and the club's adviser.
"Officers of the club such as Wes Podell have done a great job generating interest in the club," Fisher said.
Membership in the club has grown from 30 to 135 in the last two years. Most are real estate majors at IU in Bloomington, but students studying other subjects also participate.
The $30 annual membership dues-plus funds from the Center for Real Estate Studies and private donations-help pay for the club's two main events each year.
This year's Collegiate Real Estate Conference will take place April 28 in Chicago. Podell and about 25 club members will join students from eight other universities for the all-day event where industry professionals will share insights about commercial brokerage development, public sector land use, construction and other topics.
Last fall, the Indiana Commercial Board of Realtors hosted its annual conference and recruitment event. About 30 club members attended, networking for internships and job opportunities. That was the same day the members toured the Simon headquarters, as well as the new Conrad Indianapolis Hotel.
The club also has monthly meetings with guest speakers from the industry. An annual etiquette dinner shows members the benefits of good manners during a twohour, six-course meal.
Members also get the chance to job shadow and be mentored by industry leaders.
The club might do as much for the industry as it does for its members, said Tom Dickey, vice president of Duke's Anson project and Podell's future boss.
"It's often hard for us to connect with students simply through the interview process," Dickey said. "So getting to know club members early helps our recruiting efforts."
Podell's leadership within the club convinced Dickey he'd made the right decision in hiring him.
"[Podell's] participating in the club impressed us here at Duke," said Dickey, an IU graduate in finance and real estate administration. "We could see we'd chosen a leader who can get things done."
Also, unlike accounting or finance studies, which generally provide students with clear-cut job choices, it's not often easy to understand practical careers in real estate because the industry has so many facets, Dickey said.
"So the club provides members with that practical knowledge that's hard to obtain elsewhere," he said.
While Podell will move on next year, the club will continue with new initiatives, he said.
The club will hold a license review class and be involved in Habitat for Humanity in Bloomington.
And, Podell hopes, continue to expand its membership.