In early 2004, after three years of renovating high-end homes in Manhattan, David Gevers decided to return to the University of Southern California to get his MBA. It was a logical choice. After all, Gevers had earned a bachelor's degree in architecture from USC in 2000.

On the way back to Los Angeles, Gevers stopped to visit his girlfriend, a law student at the University of Wisconsin — and never left.

“She recommended that I check out the real estate program,” he says. “I did some research, learned about its reputation and what it had to offer, and applied.”

The school stepped up with financial support, and in the fall of 2004 Gevers became one of the first 14 students to be accepted into the University of Wisconsin's new Master's in Real Estate program. The university also has a prestigious undergrad real estate program.

Gevers chose to earn an MBA with a real estate focus so he could better understand the strategic and financial decisions critical to getting a project off the ground, even before architects are brought into the process. Initially, Gevers thought he'd go into development.

“It was what I knew, due to my architecture background,” he says. “But the depth of the real estate program here and the things I've been exposed to over the last two years have opened my eyes to different facets in the industry.”

The plan now is to work in real estate investments first before transitioning into development. Gevers believes his architecture background gives him an edge.

“At the very least, it provides a better understanding of the business of constructing buildings, especially as it relates to inspections and budgets,” Gevers says.

“At best, it will be useful in determining the vision for a project and recognizing some underlying value in an asset that may not be as apparent to someone else.”

Among the highlights of his educational experience at Wisconsin was a two-week trip to China, where students, two professors and four alumni met with developers and investors and toured sites in Shanghai, Beijing and Hong Kong.

“It was amazing to spend all that time with extremely successful people in the industry, to hang out with them and learn from the questions they were asking of other professionals,” says Gevers. “China itself blew me away with how much construction is going on, and how committed local professionals and government officials are to commercial real estate.”

Gevers says he and his fellow students are getting numerous job offers. He's still conducting interviews and mulling over different options, and expects to make a decision in the coming weeks.

“It's pretty broad across the board in terms of demand,” Gevers says. “It's the result of both the program here at the university and the real estate market in general. We're lucky to have the luxury of not feeling pressured to take the first offer that comes along.”

David Gevers

Age: 28

Degree: Master's in Real Estate

College: University of Wisconsin-Madison

Long-term career goal: Manage a real estate investment firm that focuses on creative, value-added opportunities.

Most admired real estate professional: Larry Duggins, president, ARCap REIT Inc.