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Rina Bhagwati

January 27, 2022

As an undergraduate studying architecture in India, Rina Bhagwati ’98GSAPP wrote her thesis on integrity in the work of Frank Lloyd Wright. After taking part in an exchange program to the United States, she was inspired to continue her education there, and she set her sights on Columbia GSAPP.

“The idea of studying on the East Coast fascinated me — being able to tour Wright’s buildings and being part of the world of architecture in New York City,” she says.

Rina initially enrolled in the Urban Design Program at GSAPP, but then things took an interesting turn.

“We were required to take a couple of classes in real estate development,” Rina says. “Those helped me understand the holistic view of design — not only the creative side, but also the practical and business side. How do you research market trends? How do you build financial models to assess economic feasibility and attractiveness of the projects? How can you understand the design in context of location, location, location?”

Rina was hooked. And when she brought up the idea of switching to the Real Estate Development Program, the School was nothing but supportive.

Entering a male-dominated field

This switch put Rina in a new context. The Real Estate Development Program and the industry in general were largely populated by men. What’s more, many of her fellow students were already well established in their careers in real estate.

Rina was undeterred. She stuck with the program because she loved what she was learning and could see herself as a budding real estate entrepreneur and investor. Looking back, she credits Columbia for teaching her the fundamentals, for helping her establish her network, and for the credibility that came with the degree. It gave her the confidence in the male-dominated industry to pursue her passion.

“When you have a different skin tone, people judge you by it. They judge you when they have a choice between male and female,” Rina says. “That was the world then, but having a degree from Columbia gave me instant cachet.”

Rina began her career as a financial analyst at Jones Lang LaSalle Incorporated (JLL). She is now Executive Vice President & Managing Director at C.M. Capital Corporation, a multi-class investment management firm in Palo Alto, CA, where she leads the real estate asset management and acquisition team.

“From my very first paycheck I knew I wanted to give back to GSAPP,” she recalls. “Even if it was a small amount, I needed to do it for my own gratification. Since then, I never looked back.”

Making fundamental change

In 2021, Rina and her husband, Vishal, established the Rina and Vishal Bhagwati Scholarship with the goal of helping students from underrepresented groups start their careers in real estate development. Funded through a gift to the endowment, the scholarship will provide support to students in perpetuity.

“Our goal is to make fundamental change and to have a real, long-term impact,” says Vishal. “An endowed scholarship creates that pipeline and that legacy. It gives students the break they’re looking for at just the right time.” This giving is also aligned with Rina and Vishal’s core philosophy, best described by Winston Churchills’ famous quote, “We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.”

The couple’s gift comes at the right time for GSAPP as well. Dean Amale Andraos and Patrice Derrington, director of the Real Estate Development Program, were the first women to hold either role — a signal of increasing representation in the industry.

Adding to a family legacy

There is yet another layer to the Bhagwatis’ story, a family connection to Columbia that runs deep. Vishal’s uncle and aunt, renowned Columbia economists Jagdish Bhagwati and Padma Desai, have been teaching at and contributing to Columbia for decades. Rina and Vishal see their own gift as a way to build on their family’s legacy of support for the University they love.

Beyond her financial generosity, Rina also serves as a mentor for GSAPP’s Tuesday Talks program. She sees it as another way to do for today’s students what Columbia did for her.

“I give a lot of credit to GSAPP for providing the platform to merge my passions and to understand the fundamentals of both architecture and real estate development,” says Rina. “Very few schools provide this kind of opportunity.”

“Along with the backdrop of New York City and the networking capability, Columbia brought it all together for me. By providing underrepresented students with the opportunity to have the same exceptional education I had, we also set an example for our two kids, Arav and Riva, through a long-lasting legacy.”