Two years ago, Jo Hastings secured financing and bought a three-unit apartment building on the Hudson River north of Manhattan. The tired Dobbs Ferry property cost $400,000, but the deal held a much higher symbolic value for Hastings.

“I see this property as my first step toward building an empire,” says Hastings, 35, a Californian by birth who now works in Manhattan.

Hastings will earn her Master's in Real Estate Finance from New York University's Real Estate Institute on May 8. Founded more than 30 years ago, the NYU Real Estate Institute alumni list reads like a who's who in New York City real estate.

“You can always get an education and take classes, but [in most schools] you can't go and rub elbows with many of these top industry names,” she says.

Despite the advantage, Hastings has found time to do more than just schmooze with industry heavyweights over the past two years. She is co-chair of the Women's Real Estate Network — a core group of 15 women studying at the institute — and she arranges networking events for the group.

Unlike those who pursue an advanced degree on a full-time basis, Hastings has kept her day job while attending classes at night. She has little free time, especially because her day job often requires more than a 9-to-5 commitment. “I do well under pressure and a little bit of chaos,” she says.

Hastings, who worked as a research analyst for Grubb & Ellis during the mid-1990s, is following a well defined career path. In between night school classes at the NYU Real Estate Institute, she's spent the past two years working as an associate at Manhattan-based real estate finance firm Blackheath Financial.

One of her many responsibilities at Blackheath is to analyze balance sheet and revenue data for the firm's global head of real estate.

Hastings says that the sheer size of the commercial real estate industry appealed to her for a specific reason. “This is a big enough field so that you can find your niche and be successful there,” says Hastings. She also observed a growing number of women joining what remains a male-dominated business. Something was missing, however, so in 2003 Hastings headed back to the classroom to gain more technical skills.

“Jo is extremely entrepreneurial and ambitious,” says Jeff Carus, vice president of real estate finance at Manhattan-based Column Guaranteed, a Fannie Mae DUS lender and Credit Suisse subsidiary.

He met Hastings three years ago when both were attending the NYU Real Estate Institute. Carus was impressed by the persistence and determination Hastings showed in acquiring her Dobbs Ferry rental property two years ago.

“The business world has taught me how to read situations and people, which is very helpful everywhere,” says Hastings. “And the classroom setting has given me the technical skills I was looking for, in addition to a fantastic network in New York City and beyond.”

Jo Hastings

Age: 35

Degree: Master's in Real Estate Finance

College: NYU Real Estate Institute

Long-term career goal: Buy and hold portfolio of commercial real estate.

Most admired real estate professional: Pamela Hannigan, economics professor, NYU Real Estate Institute.