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Alumnus Helps Students Succeed at Real Estate Competition

by Shelby Ruud Jarman

Posted on Spring 2017 Issue

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Landscape Architecture and Environmental Planning almnus Kurt Alvater has mentored several USU students in the Utah Real Estate Challenge, including LAEP junior Brad Bennett, LAEP senior Steve Woody and Huntsman graduate student Sierra Hofferman, who took third place and recieved $5,000 in prize for their proposed redesign of Jefferson Station in Salt Lake City.

As a high school student in St. Louis, Missouri, in the late 1970s, Kurt Altvater was searching for a prestigious landscape architecture program to launch him into a successful lifelong career. A mentor of his suggested the program at Utah State University, so Altvater applied, was accepted, and packed his bags to move 1,300 miles west.

When he arrived on campus, USU and the landscape architecture program did not disappoint. In particular, Altvater enjoyed attending guest lectures given by professional landscape architects.

“There’s this dynamic, collaborative relationship between USU and the outside world,” he said. “It really made an impact to see these people spend quality time with students. It made me realize that I had to come and give back to students once I had entered the field.”

An opportunity to do that arose when Altvater learned about the Utah Real Estate Challenge from a colleague. The event is an intercollegiate real estate development competition for college students throughout Utah, allowing them to work together across disciplines to prepare and present a real estate development plan to a panel of expert judges.

Kurt Alvater

Altvater, now a senior vice president of CBRE Capital Markets, an international real estate investment firm, decided the competition would be the perfect opportunity for current students at USU.

“I knew that I wanted to help get Utah State involved,” he said. “It is so important for students of different disciplines, such as business, landscape architecture and engineering, to work together as a team. That kind of collaboration is unique in the academic world and an everyday reality in the business world.”

Altvater reached out to USU’s Department of Landscape Architecture and Environmental Planning (LAEP) and Huntsman School of Business to begin preparing for the competition. Working with Todd Johnson, associate professor in the LAEP department and faculty advisor to the teams, Altvater was able to have a large role in helping the students prepare. Though he is based in San Francisco, Altvater communicated with the students via conference calls, video chats and the occasional campus visit. Throughout the project he acted as a sounding board for the students’ ideas, provided market research published by CBRE, and connected the students with more USU alumni and other professionals in the field.

Each team was required to submit a development proposal and present to a panel of judges their idea for a real estate development. The teams had to demonstrate how their proposal would maximize the highest and best use of the site. Judges were also looking for the financial feasibility of the project, the probability of development, the sustainability of the project and the quality of the presentation.

Teams led by Huntsman senior Cole Butterfield and LAEP graduate student Yana Neely represented USU with remarkable submissions.

The sixth place team, consisting of Huntsman seniors John Thompson and Ethan Kaufman, LAEP junior Kyle Funk and LAEP senior Chris Creasy, impressed the judges with their presentations and became the top team consisting of only undergraduates.

Joseph Nielson, an LAEP senior, led the fourth place team and partnered with Jake Nelson, a law student from the University of Utah. They were the first intercollegiate team to enter the competition and received an honorable mention and $800 in prize money.

USU’s top team, consisting of Huntsman graduate student Sierra Hofferman, LAEP senior Steve Woody, and junior Brad Bennett took third place and received $5,000 in prize money. As competition finalists, the students had to create a full, 25-page real estate development business plan, detailing exactly how their project would come about.

According to Altvater, USU’s teams were the underdogs of the competition, contending with teams composed primarily of graduate students working towards specialized master’s degrees in commercial real estate finance and development from the University of Utah. USU’s top team placed ahead of six teams of graduate students from the U of U and all the BYU teams.

Altvater and Johnson worked with each of the USU teams to help round out ideas and clarify details.

“My favorite part of this project was working with professional mentors like Todd and Kurt,” said Woody. “The relevant experience between those two is unmatched and the benefit of being able to pick their brains on a daily basis was incalculable. I think we won’t even realize all the benefits of working with them until we’re in the professional world ourselves and we reapply the concepts we learned from them.”

According to Altvater, the experience was equally worthwhile as a mentor. 

“Everyone has something to give to students,” he said. “And it’s especially rewarding to give back with your time, because you can’t put a price tag on that. It holds value and it’s a lot of fun.”


Be an Aggie Mentor

The USU Alumni Association is hosting a dinner during Homecoming Week as part of its initiative to connect current USU students with alumni mentors. Career Launch Networking Night is Tuesday, October 10 in the Taggart Student Center Ballroom. Alumni and current students will meet and network during an appetizer reception prior to dinner, and will be seated together at tables organized by career or academic interests.

The event is limited to 120 alumni, who are asked to co-sponsor dinner for the students at their table, a cost of $200 per alumnus. Learn more or register to attend at

Other mentorship opportunities will be available throughout the academic year, many without cost. Alumni interested in acting as mentors are invited to sign-up at the same website.