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Even when the COVID-19 lockdown dried up internship openings in 2020, one driven SDSU student overcame all obstacles to achieve early career success.


It’s no secret that an internship is one of the best ways for students to get their foot in the door to gain experience for their chosen profession. But students looking for internship opportunities when the COVID-19 pandemic struck the U.S. in March 2020 found themselves with few options since internship postings dried up nearly overnight.

This turned out to be only a minor inconvenience for Jake LaFemina, a finance alumnus of the Fowler College of Business at San Diego State University.

With the nation in lockdown, LaFemina completed spring semester 2020 online and moved home to Florida shortly afterward.


Determination Pays Off

LaFemina, who was pursuing a specialization in real estate at SDSU, arrived home with only one semester left before graduation and in need of a nearly impossible-to-find internship that could serve as his key to career success. So he improvised.

“I knew that I might have a slow start to my career in commercial real estate,” said LaFemina. “But I found my internship after emailing a dozen owners and brokers of local large commercial real estate firms, even if they weren’t actually looking for interns.”

LaFemina immediately reached out to a firm that responded to his email inquiry, SVN Commercial Advisory Group, and he connected with the company’s executive director, Larry Starr. Starr hired LaFemina as a summer intern in the company’s Sarasota office in June 2020 and served as a mentor to him.


Quick Learner

LaFemina proved to be an adept learner. Shortly before graduating from SDSU in December 2020, he was hired as a full-time sales associate, and he was recently promoted for the second time in less than two years. He said he has his SDSU education partially to thank for putting him on the fast-track to success, having closed his first deal two weeks after graduation.

“It’s rare to find agents or brokers with real estate degrees in this industry, but the math and financial underwriting skills I learned at SDSU launched me years ahead of someone without a degree,” said LaFemina.

“While a degree doesn’t guarantee success, my education at SDSU provided me with the ‘book smarts’ I needed to make conversations about numbers, financial statements, and general commercial real estate terminology easy to comprehend and manage.”


Lessons Learned at SDSU Pay Off

LaFemina’s aptitude with numbers has made a lasting impression on Starr, who confirms that LaFemina’s “book smarts” have put him at the head of the pack for industry newcomers. “Jake has the ability to process information and talk to clients and other brokers with the finesse and skill that usually comes with years of experience,” said Starr. “His career progress and industry success has been nothing short of remarkable.”

“I’ve closed two dozen deals in my year and a half as a commercial real estate agent,” said LaFemina. “I owe a lot of my success to a really good support system which includes my family and friends, my mentor, my firm and my SDSU education.”

For today’s SDSU students considering a career in commercial real estate, LaFemina offers some words of advice. “I was lucky to find a mentor to take me under his wing and you should consider finding a successful agent that you enjoy working with to assist and learn from while you are starting out,” he said. “I would also encourage you to keep your eyes and ears open and be eager to learn. Those small, tedious tasks you may encounter at the beginning will translate into successful habits that can serve you well for the rest of your career.


Written by: Suzanne Finch for SDSU