Curriculum enhancements refine land development degree program

Geoffrey Booth

Geoffrey Booth

Recent enhancements to the Texas A&M’s Master of Land and Property Development degree have made it one of the most competitive programs of its kind in the world according to two leading real estate scholars who reviewed the curriculum.

The program, formerly known as the Master of Science in Land Development, fine-tuned by administrators with guidance from real estate experts and university reviews, focuses on the creation of real estate asset value through conceptualization, design, delivery and management. The degree is offered by the College of Architecture's Department of Landscape Architecture and Urban Planning.

In response to an evaluation led by Michael Anikeeff, chairman of the Edward St. John Real Estate Program at Johns Hopkins University, and Margaret McFarland, director of the Colvin Institute of Real Estate Development at the University of Maryland, administrators expanded the program offerings to include dual interdisciplinary degree offerings, redeveloped the curriculum to incorporate an explicitly defined range of core knowledge and competencies, and integrated coursework to better sync with graduate certificate programs offered through the college's five research centers.

In a subsequent university-level review, administrators determined which dual degrees to offer and specifics about which core competencies students should be taught.

“We also consulted with the program’s Development Industry Advisory Committee and other industry leaders to find out what they expected from our graduates,” said MLPD coordinator Geoffrey Booth, who holds the Youngblood Endowed Professorship in Land Development. “Once you’ve had students’ core competencies determined, anyone that employs an MLPD graduate can be confident that a student can do this range of skills,” he said.

Additionally, Booth went through each course to identify student learning outcomes and the rubrics used to demonstrate that students have achieved those outcomes.

“And then we’re putting all those artifacts, those evidential pieces of work, in a portfolio for that student to use to get internships and employment positions,” said Booth. “So there’s a logical progression as you work down from the program level, to the subject level, to the evidential assessment pieces and then evidentiary material.”

MLPD program requirements were also guided by a review performed by Deborah Fowler, associate director at Texas A&M’s Center for Teaching Excellence.

“She helped with setting up our learning outcomes, mapping out our curriculum, finding where overlaps and gaps are in the curriculum, setting the rubrics to make sure we’re meeting the learning outcomes, and getting the evidentiary material to form the portfolios,” said Booth.

Students who enrolled in the Master of Science and Land Development program can still graduate with an MSLD degree or with the revamped MLPD requirements.

During the summer 2011 semester, Chicago’s Millennium Park, praised as a showcase of art and urban design, served as an opportunity for the program to deliver on its new direction and two major Texas A&M education initiatives, “Education First” and “Aggies Commit,” said Booth.

Two students, Serena Conti and Ryan Mikulenka, traveled to Chicago to collaborate with real estate graduate students at DePaul University to measure the park’s impact on its surrounding area using a matrix included in a book by Dennis Jerke ’78, a former Master of Landscape Architecture student.

The group collected data and conducted interviews with a range of subjects including landowners, users of property around the park and users of the park itself to measure how the 24.5 acre space that includes a Frank Gehry-designed bandshell and four other major artistic highlights has impacted land prices.

Their research findings and a video about the study were posted online after their return and used for material in MLPD classes.

“This interdisciplinary study also represents the application of Education First, a holistic vision of academic excellence at Texas A&M,” said Booth.

Education First is a strategic plan headed by Karan Watson, the university’s provost and executive vice president for academic affairs, that includes the integration of teaching, research and service.

“The project obviously delivered a return to Texas citizens by looking at a ‘best practice’ example we can learn from,” he said. “We can apply those lessons here in the classroom and in the solutions we come up with for projects in Texas.”

Booth added that the use of the matrix in Jerke’s book, “Urban Design and the Bottom Line: Optimizing the Return on Perception,” is a significant example of the lifelong learning component of “Aggies Commit,” a program involving the university’s core values and student outcomes outlined in Texas A&M’s Academic Master Plan.

“Aggies Commit underscores the purpose and value of lifelong learning and how Aggies can give back by writing books based on their knowledge,” he said. “It creates a foundation for new research and knowledge development, not to mention a robust platform for learning and service.”

Students have also used the matrix Jerke developed to evaluate numerous other projects in Texas, such as Market Street in The Woodlands, the Dallas Design District and the Lampasas County Courthouse. Videos and student reports from these and additional projects are available on the university’s Real Estate Development Association website.

All proceeds from the sale of Jerke’s book are channeled back to the college to enrich and fund academic endeavors, another example of “Aggies Commit,” said Booth.

posted February 1, 2013