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An Interview with Sharon McCabe

Posted By Maria-Elena Svigos, Wednesday, May 22, 2019


This May, long-time UW Faculty Associate, Sharon McCabe, will be retiring from the Real Estate Program after 20 impactful years. As she wraps up her last semester on campus, WREAA Social Media Intern, Maria-Elena Svigos, spent some time with Sharon to learn about her journey through the program over the last two decades. They talked about Sharon’s time as a student on campus, her transition in and out of the professional world, and her experiences as an educator of thousands of undergraduate and graduate students.

The Back Story on Sharon
In 1975, Sharon came to the University of Wisconsin-Madison to begin her undergrad degree in Social Work.  After a year and a half, she realized that social work was not her passion and took a break from school.  In the next decade, Sharon’s motivation, adaptiveness and curiosity became apparent as she looked for new opportunities in the Madison area.  She sampled a wide range of occupations, beginning with a stretch as a semi-truck driver.  She then moved on to purchase and manage a local restaurant.  For a time, she even worked selling houses. 

After a ten-year break from school, Sharon decided it was time to complete her degree and at the age of 28, she came back to the University of Wisconsin. After taking the course “Introduction to the City,” which is still around today, she realized that her passion was for urban planning and real estate. She was eager to join one of the best Real Estate Programs in the nation and officially completed her undergraduate degree in real estate in 1989. She went straight through to the MS program after graduation and completed her Masters in 1992. While completing her undergraduate degree, Sharon held a work-study position with Madison’s Mayor’s Office.  During her graduate degree, Sharon started working for Real Estate Dynamics, Inc., an appraisal and consulting company started by UW alumni and faculty. She then moved to the City of Madison assessor’s office and spent eight years valuing all the commercial property in downtown Madison.  While at the City Assessor’s office, Sharon was asked to teach a graduate level appraisal class during the summer of 1998 for the Real Estate Department.

After teaching this class, Sharon was asked to teach undergraduate classes.  She eventually quit her job as City Assessor and committed to teaching full time.  Sharon was also very involved with the Wisconsin Real Estate Alumni Association over the years, serving as a Regional Director and At Large Board Member.  She continues to be one of WREAA’s most active advocates. Sharon has impacted countless students who have gone through the Wisconsin program, especially during her nearly 16 years as the Real Estate Club advisor, where she attended almost every club trip and biweekly meeting. Over the last 20 years, she taught graduate-level and undergraduate-level Real Estate Valuation courses in addition to the  Real Estate Process course. Sharon also helped to plan international trips for graduate students and led one trip to Expo REAL for a special group of undergrads. 

Here are some interesting insights and reflections that Sharon shared:

What was your favorite class to teach?

All of them, for different reasons! I like teaching Valuation just because it’s practical. I loved teaching 306 (Real Estate Process) because you get to introduce new students to the world of real estate and share your favorite stories.

What are some of the most memorable events or meetings that you have been a part of while teaching at the UW?
Real Estate Club trips! I will always remember going up 40 floors in the skip hoist to the top of a new development in Seattle that boasted the best views of the city. I love seeing historic buildings come back to life with new construction. In 2012, we visited the Liberty Hotel in Boston, which was a renovated historic jail. Also, we went to Union Station in Denver and saw the history come alive with its beautiful renovations.  I really enjoyed the large-scale and mixed-use projects like the Atlanta Braves Stadium, which is developing retail and office around it, as well as the Cowboys Practice Stadium. It was awesome to visit the Google Campus, the Amazon Campus, and Silicon Valley.  One of my favorites was the tour of Wrigley Field. I got to try on the Cubs World Series ring and meet the owner of the Cubs, Tim Ricketts!  Lastly, I like taking tours locally. I enjoyed touring the Hub under construction and remember the most incredible views from the rooftop.  We also toured Grand Central during construction and stood on that rooftop as well.

What is the biggest change that you have seen in the program over the years?
Because of changes within the industry, we now have a more financial-heavy program. This is necessary to keep up with the times and changing commercial real estate trends. Also, it’s great that there are many more undergrads studying real estate now than in prior years. We currently have over 400 undergraduate students in the major where it used to be a quarter of that size!  Another change is that we have WREAA’s online directory, which is a great tool to keep these students engaged with the network.

What has stayed the same?

There is still a passion for the industry. There is more competition around the country now, but we are still regarded as having one of the best Real Estate programs, Alumni Associations and Real Estate Clubs in the nation. The underpinnings of the program have continued; we will always have strong faculty members, lecturers, and guest speakers coming onto campus.

What are your retirement plans?
I’m not sure exactly what I’m going to do because I haven’t had the time to think about it! This job has been my life blood and all encompassing.  Even when I have time off, I’m never off. Retiring is giving me a chance to step back from that. I have had a narrow focus over the last twenty years. Now I will have no more tunnel vision. I can go on a walk and see what’s out there in the world and decide what I want to do.

How will you stay involved within the program?
I will definitely come back and guest lecture, attend Real Estate Club meetings and Graaskamp conferences, and of course attend Alumni Association conferences (someone will have to run speed networking!).

Why should students join the WREAA? Why is this organization so important?
Take advantage of all of this! (Points to the WREAA Directory, aka “the Book”). I encourage students to check out the WREAA alumni directory and reach out to our great alums.  Ask them for 15 minutes of their time to learn about what they do.  While alumni are busy, they always try to find time to help our students.  It is a great way to make connections and learn more about the real estate industry. Why wouldn’t students do this?!

If you could pass on one piece of advice to all students, what would it be?

Get to know your professors!

Also, take advantage of the Wisconsin Real Estate Alumni Association and the Real Estate Club. Show up, take advantage of every guest speaker, every trip, and every opportunity. Do not forsake outside learning because it is just as valuable as what you will learn inside the classroom.

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