UCEM Property Awards 2019: Meet the Academic Excellence Award nominees

We will be welcoming guests to Haberdashers’ Hall in London for the 32nd edition of the UCEM Property Awards tomorrow.

In addition to the main Property Award, which goes to someone who has made an outstanding contribution to the property industry, we will be handing out awards for Academic Excellence and to the Alumni of the Year.

Six recent alumni have been nominated for the Academic Excellence Award, which recognises the academic excellence and quality of our students’ research and dissertation submissions. Whoever wins will become just the fifth recipient of the prize since its inauguration in 2015. Here is more on our nominees, their projects and their thoughts on being shortlisted…

Laura Bell McMillan

2016-2018 – MSc Real Estate

Laura Bell McMillanLaura Bell graduated from UCEM in 2018, gaining a Distinction and winning the Chase & Partners Prize for the best overall performance in her MSc Real Estate programme.

Having previously graduated from the University of Aberdeen in 2012 with an English degree, Laura Bell spent four years working in PR and communications before making the leap into the property industry and signing up to her MSc. After initially working in residential agency, Laura Bell now works for Allied Surveyors Scotland in Aberdeen as a Graduate Surveyor and is due to sit her RICS APC at the end of this month.

Laura Bell’s dissertation entitled ‘The influence of the Millennial Generation on office space in the UK’ explored the growth of flexible working practices and the increasing popularity of alternative, more casual office environments in the UK from the perspectives of both millennial workers and the organisations that employ them.

As a Millennial herself, the project was driven by Laura Bell’s own priorities in terms of workspace and inspired by the incredible HQ office of Moneypenny near her hometown in North Wales where almost 75% of the workforce are Millennials. The study found that the extent of Millennials’ influence on the workplace depends greatly on the culture, management, size and budget of each organization, and that technological advancement, political environment and economic climate also have a role in the development of new working trends. The data collected aims to help employers attract and retain Millennial staff, and clarify the drivers behind these trends so organisations can plan future office space more efficiently. The panel found her research both exemplary and creative, resulting in focused conclusions.

Laura Bell said: “I am thrilled to have been nominated for the 2019 Academic Excellence Award. It was a lovely surprise to find the email in my inbox one morning! I really enjoyed undertaking my research project and was simply inspired by some of the amazing offices I got the chance to look around, including Moneypenny in Wrexham and Timpson House in Manchester, where I was lucky enough to talk to the minds behind these wonderful spaces.

“My research was also greatly helped by the number of respondents who took part in my survey, comprising Millennials across the length and breadth of the UK working in a large variety of sectors. A project is only as good as the research you undertake and the data you collect, so thank you to each and every one of you who helped contribute.”

Reflecting on her time at UCEM, she added: “The primary emotions I had when I finished my Masters with UCEM and finally handed in my project were relief but also a huge sense of achievement. There were times when it was challenging trying to fit in studying alongside full-time work and a social life; however, overall, I really enjoyed the learning and studying, firstly, because I’m a bit of a geek but secondly, because I felt I was working towards something that I really wanted, and that I was finally on the right path, having come to the property industry after a career change.

“For me, the research project was a culmination of two years’ hard work, and is something I am incredibly proud of, though I still find it hard to believe other people think it’s worthy of a nomination for this prize! I definitely look back on my time at UCEM with a smile on my face. It solidified my interest in property and I met some lovely people, despite the fact I was on an online learning course!

Commenting on what it would mean to Laura Bell if she were to win, she responded: “I would be over the moon the win this prize, it would be such an honour! It would be amazing to be recognised and I’m sure it would help me to raise my profile in the industry. It would also give me a bit of confidence ahead of my APC exam in a couple of weeks! Fingers crossed!”

Paul Anderson Vera

2012-2014 – MSc Surveying – Construction

2016-2019 – MBA Construction and Real Estate

Paul Anderson VeraPaul pursued an MBA in Construction and Real Estate with UCEM having previously completed an MSc in Surveying – Construction with us. He works for McDermott International Inc. in Dubai as a Principal Contracts Management Specialist and has undertaken work projects in extreme and challenging environments, such as the deserts of the Middle East and the freezing winters of Kazakhstan.

Whilst on a project posting to Oman, Paul undertook his research project entitled ‘Diversity and Production in the Omani Construction Industry: An investigation into the effects of diversity in a construction crew to its productivity’. Through this project, he identified and used various facets of diversity to guarantee productivity in terms of crew composition. He proved that by finding the optimum crew composition, improvements in project scheduling and cost savings are just some of the benefits a project can enjoy.

The panel determined that his work was a powerful case study that could positively impact construction companies’ current management and working practices, as well as pose questions on policy making for the Omani government. Paul will be sitting his final APC interview for RICS accreditation next month.

On being nominated, Paul reflected: “The nomination came as a surprise to me. I never expected that I would be nominated for such a prestigious award. I even doubted the legitimacy of the first email notification that I received! It was only when I received another follow-up email from UCEM’s Executive Support Team that I knew that it was the real deal. The feeling was just ecstatic. It was very heartwarming to know that the panel found my research worthy of recognition.”

Commenting on studying the MBA with UCEM, he said: “Doing my MBA while assigned to a ‘60-hour per week’ construction project was truly challenging. I had to balance my time for socials, study, and work. There were even times that I had to sacrifice one over the other. For me, it is just a matter of setting priorities and having the discipline to stick the plan.

“Being on a project, however, was never an obstacle for me to succeed with my MBA. It was actually one of the reasons that inspired me to pursue my research on diversity and production. I considered my assignment to the project as the perfect opportunity to collect valuable data that could support my research. As such, the project gave me access to a vast amount of information that significantly contributed to my research project. The biggest challenge for me was doing the statistical analysis of my data. I attempted to use a few different types of statistics software but decided to go with the traditional way of using spreadsheets. I simply had no time to study and learn those software programmes, though, it would be a ‘nice-to-have’ for my study.”

On the prospect of winning, Paul added: “Being nominated is already an honour but winning the award would mean a lot more to me. It would be a very fulfilling achievement for me to win. I never thought of me competing with other students for an award. My goal was just to put my best effort into producing a well-founded and professionally written research project. Hence, winning would mean that all my efforts and hard work in doing this research have paid off.

“Moreover, the award would be a testament that my research has made a valuable contribution to the construction industry and the built environment; This is something that I can truly be proud of! Lastly, winning the award would inspire me more to continue, through my simple ways, the legacy of finding ways to harness the value of diversity in managing construction projects.”

Emma Martinez

2015-2018 – MSc Building Surveying

Emma MartinezEmma decided to switch to a career in surveying from her previous role in operations and project management. She embarked upon a part-time MSc in Building Surveying at UCEM while continuing to work full-time. She completed this qualification in 2018, achieving a Distinction and winning UCEM’s prize for the best overall performance on the MSc Building Surveying programme.

Since completing her qualification, Emma has secured a position as a Building Surveyor at the prestigious real estate consultancy Hollis, where the knowledge obtained during her time at UCEM has proved invaluable. Emma has gained a great deal of experience in her new role across a number of different areas such as dilapidations and project services, whilst progressing through the APC process.

Emma’s exceptionally well-written MSc project ‘To what extent is London’s football heritage being lost in the rush to replace and adapt historical stadia that are no longer considered fit for purpose?’ explored the impact of the loss or change of London’s historic stadia on the city’s economic, social and cultural landscape and considered the adequacy of existing protective measures as well as key drivers of the transformation.

Emma considered the contrasting approaches of Fulham Football Club and West Ham United to their stadia as a basis for her dissertation and consulted fans of both clubs and various experts in her research. The research offers a unique insight into a sometimes-overlooked aspect of cultural heritage.

Emma said: “I feel honoured to have had my research project recognised for this prestigious award.

“Since graduating and joining Hollis as a Building Surveyor, I have realised the value of UCEM’s MSc programme, which allowed me the opportunity to study flexibly and has certainly helped prepare me for the workplace. I also feel a real satisfaction and gratitude to my supervisor, Dr Graeme Whitehall, for his fantastic support when reflecting on my completed research project.

“I would feel delighted and honoured that my hard work has been recognized [were I to win].”

Sami Phoenix

2014-2019 – MBA Construction and Real Estate

Sami PhoenixSami has served in the British Army since 2006 and is currently employed as an Engineering Officer in the Corps of Royal Engineers. He is responsible for delivering theatre-entry expeditionary infrastructure projects and providing technical and design advice to maintain the military estate. He is a Chartered Engineer and has previously been deployed on operations in Afghanistan and Cyprus.

During the past 18 months, Sami has been seconded to Heathrow Airport, where he has led various engineering, construction and asset replacement projects. These endeavours have significantly reduced energy consumption and CO2 emissions across the estate. Sami has recently started an engineering and data analytics consultancy, levering his data science skills to optimise facilities management and improve efficiency of real estate assets.

As part of the MBA in Construction and Real Estate programme, Sami undertook a dissertation project to evaluate how the Ministry of Defence can optimise the provision of service accommodation to Armed Forces personnel and their families. This cogently argued and extremely well-informed examination of the problem of flawed provision was particularly relevant due to the challenges faced by the MoD of increasing housing costs and ongoing changes to the structure of the Army. The social impact of these changes on the morale and wellbeing of service families made this research particularly poignant. The results were shared with the Defence Infrastructure Organisation and have informed their future accommodation strategy.

Sami commented: “It’s great to be nominated for the Academic Excellence Award. I really wasn’t expecting it.”

Looking back at his nominated project, he said: “I found it very interesting to gain wider perspectives on the various topics that were covered from the other students on the course. The online learning portal was continuously refined and developed during my time with UCEM.

“I must admit, there were times when I found it challenging to maintain a balance between my academic studies and the concurrent demands of work and family life. Nevertheless, I really enjoyed undertaking the research for my dissertation project. The fact I was able to combine it with my work interests meant my findings were also of practical use within my organisation.”

He added: “It would be wonderful to win the award and gain recognition for all the hard work and long hours of research and study.”

Beverley Reid

2015-2019 – MSc Real Estate

Beverley ReidBeverley began her MSc in Real Estate whilst working as a Non-Domestic Rating Appeals caseworker within the Valuation Office Agency. With an undergraduate BA (Hons) in English and Legal Studies, Beverley enjoyed applying herself to the legal argument and case law involved in representing the Valuation Office Agency at Valuation Tribunal and decided to develop her interest in the industry further.

After successfully applying for the Valuation Office Agency’s internal development programme she was fortunate enough to have her studies funded by her employer. Having worked for a number of years as Lead Valuer on Birmingham City Centre retail rating valuations affected by city centre redevelopment/regeneration works, with a focus on tram works, Beverley developed an interest in the changing dynamics of the retail sector and influencing factors.

Engagement with stakeholders from public bodies to independent business owners gave her a real insight into the sensitivities and hardships faced by retailers and she chose to explore this subject matter further for her dissertation. The research focused on the industry theory that urbanising outlet villages in close proximity to declining town centres/high streets can rejuvenate those areas; focusing on a new designer outlet village currently under construction at Cannock.

The work was well scoped, insight-laden and considered, offering valuable and original insight. Since graduating from UCEM with a Distinction, Beverley is now a Graduate Surveyor on the VOA’s APC programme with a view to becoming RICS-accredited and enjoying a long-term career in rating valuation.

Beverley said: “To be nominated for this award is a huge honour. To have my work recognised in this way is something that I never thought that I would or could achieve when I began my Masters qualification.

“To say I read the letter informing me of my shortlisting more than once is an understatement! What a compliment, out of all the academic submissions made to UCEM, to be one of six shortlisted for the Academic Excellence Award. It feels a bit surreal, I’ll admit.”

On her time studying with UCEM, she added: “I look back on my time studying with UCEM with great pride. I am proud to be part of the UCEM family and to have gained my Masters there that will take me forward in my future career.

“When I talk to firms and qualified chartered surveyors about my Masters, UCEM is certainly held in high regard as an institution. UCEM’s online learning approach meant that I could study at my own pace and fit studying in at times to suit me which helped immensely with trying to achieve a work/life/study balance. Working full-time and completing a Masters qualification too was challenging at times I’ll admit.

“My nominated research project was one of the highlights of my qualification. I am passionate about the retail sector and the challenges faced out there on our high streets so to be able to write about this for my project was very enjoyable.

“I think my topic has great scope for further research on testing industry theory that urbanising outlet villages enhances nearby town centre retail. I’ll admit that the thought of doing a 10,000-word project filled me with a little dread at the start but once my research started I could have easily written 20,000 words on the project. Who knows, one day this might be my PHD topic!!!”

She added: “Winning really would be the icing on the cake. Like I say to be shortlisted for this award is a huge honour in itself so to win would just be incredible. I’d like to wish the best of luck to the other candidates shortlisted.”

Sharon Reilly

2015-2019 – MBA Construction and Real Estate

Sharon Reilly

Sharon graduated with a Distinction from UCEM’s MBA in Construction and Real Estate in 2018 after a challenging but rewarding few years of study. Sharon joined her family property business, McGarrell Reilly Group, in Dublin in 2009 after graduating with a BA in Business and Economics from Trinity College, Dublin. She is currently Head of Development Land, which involves looking after a portfolio of land assets and managing planning processes for both residential and commercial projects.

Sharon’s research project entitled ‘With rising rents, rising house prices and high homelessness figures, what is the extent and nature of housing supply and affordability issues in the Greater Dublin Area?’ was inspired by her experience working in the volatile housing market in Dublin. The project sought to assess the current housing crisis of rising prices and low housing, supply and whether government policies were appropriate and proportionate to address the issue.

The panel considered her work accomplished and rigorous, based on substantial research and critically evaluated. Her conclusions determined that current government policies fall short of finding real solutions to an escalating problem.

Sharon said: “It really is an honour to be nominated for this award. I was very surprised but delighted to be contacted to by UCEM in this regard. It’s a real privilege to be able to undertake a this type of study and it was great to be supported professionally and personally.

“My time studying with UCEM was a challenging balancing act between work, study, sports and seeing family and friends! I learned a lot from the subjects we studied but also from the process of getting through assignments and exams, and from the module leaders and other students along the way. In the end, it was very rewarding to achieve the qualification.

“Winning the award would mean a lot me. It would also be fantastic for all those who contributed to the research and those who helped and supported me. It’s great to be nominated and I’m excited to go to the event tomorrow in any case.”

Congratulations to all our nominees, and best of luck for tomorrow! Follow our social media channels on FacebookLinkedInInstagram and Twitter for more as we build up to and cover the UCEM Property Awards 2019.