Alum feature: Meet Riley Henderson

Riley Henderson Professional Headshot

After several years in the restaurant industry, Riley Henderson began thinking about the next phase of his career. He began digging into industries and opportunities outside the restaurant world and was intrigued by the experiences of friends working in real estate. A connection in his network led him to NAI Elliott, a commercial real estate firm in Portland, where he landed a role in property management.

Riley quickly found a passion for this industry and wanted to dive in deeper through a graduate degree program. It was an easy decision to look to his alma mater, Portland State University, and its Master of Real Estate Development (MRED) program for an interdisciplinary curriculum that brings together finance, economics and law with sustainable urban development and real-world learning. 

“PSU was a natural fit for me,” Riley says. “The MRED program allowed me to continue to work full-time and pursue my degree part-time.” 

Riley also found a wealth of opportunities at The School of Business to continue building his professional network. Among them were The Center for Real Estate, a partnership between The School of Business and The School of Urban Studies and Planning, which serves as a vital link between the campus and the regional real estate community. Riley soon began participating in the Center’s offerings, including development site tours and a number of networking events.

“The Center for Real Estate does a tremendous job connecting students with the industry,” Riley says. “It was so helpful to connect with other professionals and see concepts we learned in class being implemented on job sites.”

Riley found the regional real estate industry to be welcoming and eager to support students. He was able to broaden his network and completed his degree program with valuable, long-term connections.

The School of Business Mentorship Program was another source of support for Riley. Paired with a managing director at a local real estate management and investment services company, he gained a direct line of sight into the brokerage business. 

“The mentorship program pushed my career forward,” says Riley, who has since moved into brokerage at NAI Elliott. His mentor helped him grow his network, allowing Riley to learn more about how to apply concepts from the classroom, including industry ethics, to his daily work.

The reputation of the real estate development industry in the public is mixed. Riley says he appreciates the MRED’s focus on the ethics of urban planning and how faculty encourage students to engage directly on these issues. 

“I learned that it’s critical to bring the community and other stakeholders on board early in the project and maintain transparency,” he says.

There’s an element of risk with every commercial real estate project that leads many developers to stick with traditional, “safe” modes of thinking. Riley is inspired by projects that challenge the status quo and add something new. 

“When a project comes along that really pushes the boundaries, that’s something I want to be a part of,” he says. 

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