Jennifer Schumann

Informing girls of career choices in commercial real estate.

Jennifer Schumann knew in high school she wanted to be an attorney.

She went on to become a litigator, practicing for a few years, before eventually discovering a passion for real estate law. She likely would have focused more on her current specialty had she learned about it when she was younger, she says.

“I enjoyed real estate law more than I enjoyed litigation,” says Schumann, who joined Hubbell Realty Company in August as corporate counsel.

She wants young women to be informed about their career choices. So this spring, Schumann led a four-week session for middle-school girls, showing them the opportunities available in commercial real estate.

“The first year went really well,” Schumann says. “I thought the girls were engaged and found it very interesting. We were pleased to hear the young girls’ invitation to come back.”

Why did being a lawyer appeal to you?

One reason that I was attracted to the law is that you learn about many interesting and diverse topics. For me, that has ranged from learning how to convert a co-op to a condominium to analyzing the Federal Communications Commission regulations and from ensuring compliance with the Fair Housing Guidelines to negotiating cloud server contracts. Law is a never ending education.

Describe your career path.

I grew up in a small town in Kentucky. My father, an attorney and farmer, and my mom, a school librarian, were supportive of my choice to major in political science as an avenue for attending law school. While I was fortunate to have their support, I was still unaware of the variety of jobs out there. When I was offered a full scholarship to be part of a political leadership program, I gladly accepted my path at the University of Louisville. Following college, I went to Michigan State University for law school where I was honored to be the class president. Giving the commencement speech is still probably one of my biggest achievements. After graduation, I moved to Chicago and practiced law for almost seven years in private practice. There, I met my husband, a native Iowan, and nearly two years ago I moved to Iowa for his job.

When I moved, I joined the Commercial Real Estate for Women (CREW) Iowa chapter; the same organization I was involved with in Chicago. Borrowing on a program that I volunteered with there, I wanted our CREW Iowa chapter to start a program where we worked with young girls teaching them about careers in commercial real estate.

Describe how you made that happen.

When I tossed the idea of the program to the CREW Iowa chapter, the Board was supportive from the beginning. One of the biggest challenges we faced was creating the structure of the program in a relatively short timeframe. Voicing this concern, I was connected with Community Youth Concepts, an organization started here in Des Moines, who has after-school girl programs. They invited us to incorporate our program into their year-long program. Giving us four weeks—one day per week—we were able to build an interactive and educational program for sixth-, seventh-, and eighth-grade girls at Urbandale Middle School.

The program launched in March with about twenty girls participating, which allowed our twelve volunteers to have a lot of one-on-one time with each girl. The volunteers ranged from commercial real estate brokers, developers, operations and investment analysts, commercial property managers, vice president of a bank, and an engineer.

The first week included career introductions and an interactive “Jeopardy!” game consisting of commercial real estate terms and definitions. The money the girls won was used in Week Two for the development of a 3D model park.

The girls were divided into groups where they chose who would be the attorney, broker, developer, lender, and architect. We presented three parcel choices in the Des Moines metro area that the groups could purchase. Using their newly learned negotiation skills and the money they won each group purchased land for their park.

I thought one of the most educational parts of the program was to teach about budgets, which each group was expected to prepare. It was refreshing to hear the girls constantly checking their budget during development. One of the girls said she could live with a dirt trail when she learned the cost of concrete!

On Week Three, the girls built their model parks using materials donated by RDG Planning & Design. At the end of class, each group collectively presented their parks to the class, discussing their feature selections.

For the last session, we went to Walker Johnston Park, where the City of Urbandale Parks and Recreation director, Jan Herke, gave a presentation. Supportive of educating and developing the skills of young women, she spoke about her career journey, ending with a tour of the park.

How would a program like this have helped you when you were younger?

It would have been invaluable. The girls we taught may not completely understand the real estate world just yet, but I’m proud we were able to give them a glimpse into it. Hopefully, it is an experience they won’t forget.

Will there be future sessions?

We’re planning on forming a committee specifically for this program. There has been discussion of it being an annual program and possibly extending it to high school girls in the area.