Building Relationships

Portrait of USD donor Malin Burnham


After years of neutralizing Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) in Iraq and Afghanistan, Navy Lt. Brian Lehtinen ’22 is looking for a career that’s a little more relaxing. Since he’d acquired some properties during his service, he thought an elective in the principles of real estate made sense for his bachelor’s degree. And when he heard about the USD real estate program’s No. 1 ranking, he realized a major in the subject was the “right choice.”

The personalized attention from faculty members, industry professionals and the Burnham-Moores Center for Real Estate is something he wouldn’t get anywhere else, says Lehtinen. “I’m so fortunate.”

Lehtinen also has benefited from a $5,000 scholarship facilitated through the center. The scholarship was awarded from the San Diego-based Burnham Foundation, named on behalf of legendary real estate icon and San Diego native Malin Burnham (pictured). That Burnham and the foundation saw something in him “is an honor,” says the humble Lehtinen, who did six combat deployments as a Navy explosive ordnance disposal technician.   

Now, through a generous $2.3 million gift from Burnham and his wife, Roberta, the Burnham-Moores Center, within the USD School of Business, will be able to do even more to shape the next generation of outstanding professionals and industry leaders in real estate. The Burnham leadership gift will support the center’s Campaign for 2020 to raise $10 million to create new scholarship endowment funds and to attract and retain the nation’s top faculty.

“The way the Burnham-Moores Center engages with the San Diego real estate community, for the benefit of both the undergraduate and graduate students at the university, made it a very easy decision to make this gift,” said Burnham when the gift was announced. Burnham’s relationship with the center dates back to 2004, when he and John Moores, founder of JMI Realty, made an initial $5 million gift to support the real estate program.

For the past three years, College Factual has ranked the real estate program No. 1 in the U.S.

“We understand that a successful career in real estate is more than textbook knowledge about land use, structures, analysis and finance. It’s also about relationships,” says Stath Karras, executive director of  the Burnham-Moores Center.

Last fall, Lauren Classon ’20 did an internship with a mentor who’s helping to redesign Seaport Village in San Diego. Classon, who also received a scholarship from the Burnham Foundation, says she’s already thinking about how to repay what she’s been given. Whether it’s by providing jobs or mentoring of funds, “I want to give back to the school that’s given me so much.” — Liz Harman

Photo by Eduardo Contreras / San Diego Union-Tribune / Zuma Wire

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