collage graphic with pink squares and image of Steve Hemmann MRE '24 presenting and working

“You’ll be looking at industrial buildings in a design class, and then the next day in a finance class you’ll have a guest lecturer who built an entire investment trust focused on industrial properties. He’ll make an offhand comment—something about the square footage of the building. And you realize: I know exactly what he’s talking about because of what I heard in this other class. The cross-pollination of subject materials means that the depth of learning is incredible.”

Steve Hemmann MRE ’24


Steve Hemmann has never steered away from a challenge, and this ethos has served as his North Star during his time in the armed forces, in his development practice, and at the GSD.

As he neared the end of high school, Steve asked himself: “What’s the hardest thing I can do?” Despite not coming from a military family, Steve enrolled at West Point and found he enjoyed the rigor and challenge of his education and training. While earning his degree in international relations, Steve received the prestigious East-West Fellowship and traveled across China during his summers before taking on US Army Ranger School and additional training as an Infantry Soldier.

Later, as a Special Forces commander deployed to Afghanistan, Steve made it his priority to meet with locals and village elders in order to understand their most pressing needs. Over the course of those conversations, he learned that the town had wanted to build a cell phone tower for over 15 years. Steve started seeing his team’s work in the military through the lens of urban development, and he made it his priority to construct the tower to benefit the community.

“Regardless of how our combat patrols went, I realized that if we brought a cell phone tower to the valley, we would change the landscape more than anyone else before us or anyone who would come after us. That’s where the community development aspect starts to take shape: what does it take for a community in an urban environment to start moving in the right direction?”

Working with his teammates across military and governmental systems all the way up to the Ministry of the Interior, Steve saw the cell tower—one of his proudest accomplishments in uniform—completed before he returned from Afghanistan.

His next assignment was with the Army Staff at the Pentagon; it was there that Steve started considering the next phase of his career. After twelve years of active military service, mostly abroad, Steve wondered what legacy he could leave closer to his hometown of St. Louis, Missouri.

“Why am I going halfway around the world in order to help people, when there are people in my own hometown who need help? I was ready to think about my own home, and I knew I wanted to contributeto be part of the solution in whatever way I could.”

Steve moved back to Missouri and purchased a foreclosure about one mile from where he grew up. At first, he thought of the project as a creative outlet to ease his transition out of uniform, but as the work continued, Steve recognized the potential impact of restoring even one abandoned home in a neighborhood. He called his brother and proposed going into business together, buying more foreclosures and restoring them. They pooled their resources to buy and rehabilitate properties; some homes they then sold, and others became part of a growing rental portfolio in St. Louis. While many of the skills Steve had developed in the military were transferable—project management, operations, working with labor—he knew that he had much more to learn.

“I began to see why housing is so critical to community building and the stabilization of a neighborhood. I wondered: how do large-scale development projects work? How might we source these deals? If I wanted to take my small, fledgling development firm and scale it in order to have an impact in my own hometown, I was going to need more education. And so that’s when, serendipitously, I learned the GSD was launching their new Master in Real Estate [MRE] program.”

A former boss at the Pentagon first suggested Harvard as a possible next step for Steve. After initially looking into the Harvard Business School, Steve was more drawn to the pedagogical framework of the MRE degree. He applied to the GSD. Not only was he accepted, but he was also offered a financial aid package that allowed him to confidently step away from his work and fully immerse himself in the rigorous one-year program.

“In my case, the financial aid that I received was absolutely critical. My brother and I were rehabbing houses and we had a small construction crew working for us, so I felt a sense of responsibility to the people I was working alongside. There was an opportunity cost as part of the calculation, and I’m incredibly appreciative that I was not put in a position to have to turn my financial life upside down.”

Steve has spent the past year pushing himself academically, understanding the role of a developer from the vantage point of the entire ecosystem and not only from the bottom up. His education at the GSD has provided him with insights as both a developer and a designer, learning how to approach deals not just financially, but systemically.

“Having a Master in Real Estate program specifically housed in a design school sets up practitioners and developers to bring good design to their projects. Believe in the deal and back the deal, but also make something that has a soul, something that is going to be long-lasting. It’s not just looking at the financial bottom line. It’s a triple bottom line: how is your work impacting the community? How is your work impacting the environment? Yes, it needs to pencil out financially, but that’s not the only thing to look at.”

Among his many accomplishments at the GSD, Steve serves as the co-president of the Real Estate Club, was co-chair of the Harvard Real Estate Symposium, and was recently awarded the Unsung Hero Award by the GSD Alumni Council for his contributions to the GSD community. His commitment to the GSD network is one he hopes to extend through the rest of his career; he wants to give back to the school and support future MRE graduates.

“There should absolutely come a day and a time when we are able to pay this back to the GSD and to future MRE cohorts that are coming through the program. But even now we can build that alumni network so that the relationships, opportunities, and connections are that much more robust and powerful.”

After graduating this summer, Steve plans to work at an established development firm for a few years to gain additional experience before returning to his practice in St. Louis and continuing to make an impact in his home state. Among the many challenges that Steve has pursued in his lifetime, he asserts that few have been as demanding as attending the GSD—and none have better prepared him for the rest of his career.

“There is zero chance that I would have learned all this on my own. It would take me three lifetimes in order to piece all this together. I’m grateful for all I’ve learned.”