Success is often a matter of timing, of doing exactly the right thing when you’re best able to maximize the result. When triathlete and former Army paratrooper Steve Janowiak decided to pursue a bachelor’s degree in economics at Northwestern University School of Professional Studies, it was his second attempt at college. “After the military, I worked in commercial real estate and spent some time as an engineering student at a big state school, but I was basically going to school because that’s what everyone in my family did. When a job offer in Paris presented, I figured, ‘how often am I going to have an opportunity like this?’ so I jumped on it.”
Janowiak worked in Paris for two years, helping arrange public exhibitions throughout Europe for an association of visual artists. “It was a great experience. Among other things, I got to learn the work styles of several different countries, which is invaluable when your job is to basically get things done.” When Janowiak came back to the States, he returned to commercial real estate. He also decided it was time to return to school.
“To me, not having a bachelors degree meant that I hadn’t finished my education,” says Janowiak. “And I wanted the foundational knowledge base and the understanding of how to problem solve and how to look at things from all different angles that earning a degree would provide. Also, I thought earning my bachelors degree, particularly while working full time, would demonstrate to potential colleagues and employers that I was ambitious and dedicated and serious about advancing myself.”
Janowiak noticed an immediate difference between the School of Professional Studies and the state university he’d previously attended. The coursework was much more rigorous, and it was also much more integrated. “The focus on writing and communication skills especially, both in the prerequisites and in the courses themselves, was one of the most valuable things about the program,” says Janowiak. “The students were different, as well. They had a certain ambition, a certain drive, a certain inner desire to learn that made them constantly go above and beyond what the professors asked of them.”
Janowiak also noticed a difference in himself. “It’s nothing fancier than finding the passion for learning things I didn’t know,” says Janowiak. “Had you asked me to read the The Odyssey when I was 19, well, I might have done it, but not with the level of awareness and intensity I brought to it in my 20s. This was the right time for me to be back in school.”
In almost every class, Janowiak organized study groups to take advantage of the intelligence and energy that surrounded him. “There’s a natural human tendency to become like those around you,” says Janowiak. “That’s what made the study groups so successful. We’d feed off each other’s passion. There was also an accountability factor. No matter what, Saturday was study time. Sometimes we’d sit together and never talk, but we were all there together in case someone had questions. That’s how we supported one another.”
Since graduating in 2000, Janowiak has held a series of increasingly high profile positions in commercial real estate and has conducted over $6.3 billion in real estate transactions. As the former president of the Young Real Estate Professionals, he helped grow membership from 25 to 2,600. He’s currently Director of Acquisitions at Inland American. “Northwestern University School of Professional Studies was exactly what I needed at that point in my life, and I think the success I’ve had since then proves it.”