Taubman College has made a similar impact on Jamie Simchik, M.U.P./M.B.A. ’15, and Roland Gainer, an urban and regional planning student: it cemented their passion for real estate development and showed the field in a larger context. “Taubman College connects the dots by putting students from many backgrounds in the same room with faculty who are experts in many areas,” Simchik says. Adds Gainer: “Beyond all that I’m learning, I’m excited by the opportunities to get my hands dirty.”
Their paths to Taubman College were different, however. Simchik first learned about real estate development from his father, a developer. After earning his bachelor’s degree, Simchik worked for an urban planning consulting firm in Australia and then for a municipality near Boston. “I liked the public engagement side of development and decided to study urban planning,” he says. “But I was attracted to the business school and the real estate certificate program. My dual degree made me a student of the entire university.” In grad school, Simchik founded his own firm; he still is principal of Boston-based Simchik Planning & Development. “I saw an opportunity in the real estate industry. In 2012, planning firms had downsized or were on hiring freezes, but the work still needed to be completed on time and on budget,” he says. His firm has undertaken projects for both public and private sector clients in New England, Southeast Michigan, and Australia spanning transportation, urban planning, public engagement, and more.
Gainer became interested in real estate by walking the streets of his native New York City, wondering who owns the buildings, who owns the land, and how decisions are made about both. “Putting resources into communities is great, but we have to keep the integrity of the neighborhoods. I want to be developer, but I came to Taubman College to gain the mindset of a planner,” he says.
As a first-generation college student, Gainer has faced many challenges: One brother was murdered. Gainer has experienced homelessness. His mother has battled cancer. Gainer came to Michigan as an undergraduate on the advice of a mentor. Sight unseen, Gainer took the bus to Ann Arbor with $200 in his pocket. “I came here with a purpose and am doing my best to fulfill it,” he says. Scholarships have made it possible for Gainer to pursue his education, and he is the inaugural recipient of the scholarship fund that Simchik established.
When Simchik was a student, his neighbor, who worked in philanthropy, talked about the importance of private support for universities like Michigan. Simchik thought of the Urban Land Institute (ULI), with which he was active as an undergrad and graduate student, including several Hines competitions. As a Taubman College student, he gave money to host a ULI webinar, and after graduation, he wanted to pay expenses for students to attend ULI conferences. Professor Margi Dewar encouraged him to think broader. “She said the bigger need is tuition assistance for students who tack on an extra semester to complete the real estate certificate,” Simchik says.
When Simchik created a scholarship fund based on Dewar’s advice, he didn’t realize what a kindred spirit the first recipient would be. “I hoped to give a leg up to a student who is interested in real estate and was thrilled when that was the case. Then I got a letter from Roland and was blown away by his story,” Simchik says.
He encourages alumni to stay connected to and support Taubman College. “It’s in the interest of every alum to help strengthen the college and bring in the best students because building the college’s reputation enhances the prestige of our own degrees. And it feels good to be engaged. I’m a firm believer that to keep something great or make it even better, you have to be involved.”