By Lauren Comander
FIU Business student Sofia Toro was earning a competitive salary as a luxury auto sales manager, but the job did not leave her enough time for her undergraduate studies. As she was contemplating leaving school or transferring, she found herself scouting an FIU scholarship website in search of financial aid.
Her hopes rose when she spotted several real estate scholarships funded by FIU alumnus Glenn Rufrano (MS '74). Toro, whose interest in real estate financing piqued as she learned about financing cars, applied for and received one of the scholarships. It changed her life, allowing her to attend FIU without the burden of a demanding job.
Yet Toro didn't stop at her bachelor's degree. She secured a second Rufrano scholarship that allowed her to enroll in the Master of Science in International Real Estate (MSIRE) program at FIU Business. She was paired with a real estate investor and developer who served as her mentor. Toro is now a real estate agent, a job she enjoys, but after graduation, she plans to work as a real estate investment and development analyst.
"I've studied so much and want to take my career further," said Toro, 26. "With the experiences that Glenn Rufrano offered, I can now take my career to a whole other level."
This is precisely the impact Rufrano, a New York-based real estate industry leader and CEO of VEREIT, imagined when he conceived the scholarships, which now include the ICSC Rufrano Family Scholarship and Conference Fund, the ICSC Rufrano Family Real Estate Scholarship and the ICSC Foundation Rufrano Family First Gen Scholarship. The scholarships are administered through the ICSC Foundation, which supports the marketplace/retail real estate industry. Rufrano is vice chair of the ICSC board of trustees. Recipients receive access to ICSC's online resources and to experiential opportunities like mentoring and conferences.
"The experiential opportunities sometimes have as much value as the monetary reward," ICSC Foundation president Lauri Novick said. "Glenn is an icon in the industry, and he's very focused on helping first-generation and underrepresented students enter the industry."
When Rufrano began his career 50 years ago, there were no formal real estate education programs and that always struck him as unfortunate. Years later, he saw an ad for FIU's master's in real estate program, one of only a handful in the country, and applied.
"I attribute part of my rise in the industry to my education," said Rufrano, who recalled that his classes were held in an airplane hangar. "Education was so important to making this a respected business. Contributing back to education in real estate is important."
"I TRY TO HELP STUDENTS UNDERSTAND THEIR TALENT SO THEY CAN BE PUT INTO THE RIGHT SPOT AND MAXIMIZE THEIR VALUE."
Rufrano personally mentors many of the students. "I am open to having conversations with them – I enjoy that!" he said. "There are multiple areas within a real estate company, and I try to help students understand their talent so they can be put into the right spot and maximize their value."
"FIU students are hungry. They want to learn and get ahead in society," he added. "They want to learn how to make money in a productive way to raise their families."
The scholarship's emphasis on mentoring is a facet Toro calls "life-changing. "Having the opportunity to speak with Rufrano himself was especially motivating. "He came from FIU and is now CEO of VEREIT," she said. "That says a lot for our school and what we can accomplish."
Also benefitting from Rufrano's financial and professional support is Claudio Monier (MSIRE '21), an immigrant from Argentina and the first in his family to earn a master's degree. "I work for an architectural group doing as-built measurement surveys, but the work isn't constant and this extra help really relieved my mind so I could focus on my studies," said Monier, 49, a husband and father of a teenager. "I had mentoring from someone very connected with real estate and construction, and this scholarship helped me open more doors in my future."