Orange Legacy: Cole Family Innovation Fund Intends to Transform Real Estate Major

Jason Cole

Real Estate & Finance

  • Alumni

There are only a handful of schools that have a true real estate program, so why shouldn’t the Whitman School be one of them? A true real estate program has been something missing at the level of prestige Syracuse University and the Whitman School have. Making this happen will be a real differentiator.

Initially, Jason Cole ’09 had little interest in attending his parents’ alma mater, Syracuse University, but he agreed to visit the campus anyway. His parents, Jeffrey Cole ’80, a graduate of the School of Management, and Phyllis (Ryzoff) Cole ’80 (A&S) had met there, and a slew of aunts, uncles and cousins followed. It only took a short visit to campus for Jason to understand why.

“On the drive home, I said, ‘I think I’ll apply to Syracuse early decision,’” explains Jason. “It was all my father could do not to drive off the road.”

Like his father, Jason attended the Whitman School to major in accounting, while tacking on a second major in finance. He came to love the University as much as the rest of his family did, and today he is the force behind the establishment of the Cole Family Innovation Fund, a $125,000 five-year pledge to “energize the real estate program” through increasing the emphasis on student learning, related courses and other activities, such as symposiums, site visits and connections with other alumni working in the real estate field.

In the 1980s, Jeffrey Cole had taken his accounting degree and gone to work for what is now EY after graduating from Syracuse. But, four years later, he made a career change.

“My biggest client at EY was one of the largest real estate trusts at the time,” says Jeffrey, “and I was fascinated by the business model, so I thought I’d try the real estate business. While I stayed in real estate, I don’t think my success would have been possible without the background in accounting I received at the School of Management.” (Jeffrey and Phyllis Cole have long been supporters of the School, establishing the Cole Accounting Research Center in 2004, on the third floor of the Whitman School).

By the time Jason reached Whitman, “real estate was part of my DNA,” he says, but, at the time, Whitman only offered one course in the subject. Still, Jason loved Syracuse University, making many friends, including roommates who had parents who were alumni. Upon graduating, Jason took the foundations he learned in accounting and finance and went on to earn a master’s degree in real estate at NYU. Soon after, he joined his father at Cole Realty Group in New Jersey, where today Jason is the president.

“It was a natural progression for the Cole family, as my father was a CPA, and I was a CPA who then moved into real estate,” says Jeffrey. “Jason followed, and he has made the Cole Group Realty a true family business, which we hope will extend for many more generations.”

The Coles’ combination of real estate expertise and love of Syracuse University led them to direct a gift for programmatic growth of the existing real estate major. Today three full-time professors and several adjunct instructors teach an expanding set of courses to approximately 100 students in the major. Jason hopes this gift will help turn the current program into a “full-fledged real estate program that will become one of the top in the country and draw students from all over to the Whitman School.”

“There are only a handful of schools that have a true real estate program, so why shouldn’t the Whitman School be one of them?” Jason says. “Look at what the entrepreneurship program has done to put Whitman on the map. It’s top-notch and elevated the entire footprint of the School. A true real estate program has been something missing at the level of prestige Syracuse University and the Whitman School have. Making this happen will be a real differentiator.”

“As a family, we believe in the real estate industry, and we also believe that this fund will be a great opportunity for young people to enter the field,” adds Jeffrey, who was impressed with the caliber of students he met while speaking to a Whitman class recently. “It’s one of the biggest industries in the U.S., and someone majoring in real estate today has so many opportunities to take it in a lot of directions.”

The Cole Family Innovation Fund will support the activities of the real estate program, such as the development of new courses and student- and industry-focused activities and experiences. Whitman is already looking to add a new real estate faculty member who will work closely with Milena Petrova, associate professor in the Department of Finance at Whitman. Petrova has been the driving force in growing the department from one course into a major, and now Jason hopes to work with her to see real estate “take on a life of its own.”

“It’s going to happen,” says Jason of his family’s commitment. “No excuses. This gift will get it done.”

Jason Cole posing on campus with his parents
Jason Cole and his parents during his time at Syracuse University


The Cole Family’s Legacy at Syracuse University

The extended Cole family has been a part of Syracuse University since 1976 when Jeffrey Cole ’80 (WSM) and Phyllis Ryzoff ’80 (A&S) enrolled at the University, meeting their senior year and eventually marrying. Three of Jason Cole’s aunts — Bonnie (Ryzoff) Bernstein ’82 (WSM/FALK); Randi (Ryzoff) Regenstein ’85 (WSM/FALK); and Stacy (Ryzoff) Edenbaum ’92 (FALK), who married Mitchell Edenbaum ’91 (A&S) — also attended, along with their stepsister, Jennifer (Marcus) Acquaviva ’99 (EDU), who married Anthony Acquaviva ’98 (A&S). After Jason graduated in 2009, he was followed by two cousins, Zachary Regenstein ’19 and Jared Regenstein ’23.


By Caroline K. Reff

Tagged As:

  • Alumni