The strip mall sat mostly abandoned. The brand-name stores had long since shuttered their doors, as had the shoe sellers, card shops, and chain boutiques. The empty parking lot elicited little notice, except that of Dustin Read.

Read — who became head of the Virginia Tech Department of Apparel, Housing, and Resource Management on July 1 — envisioned a second life for the distressed property. Before switching to an academic career, Read had been a commercial real estate investment broker. He knew such properties appealed to a secondary market — discount stores, carryout restaurants, and nail salons.

“I was young in the industry, and I didn’t have any credibility to work on the trophy assets,” said the associate professor. “Those weren’t available to me, so I had to chase the stuff nobody else wanted. I was selling challenging properties all over the southeastern part of the country. But when you drive around all these markets, you think about what determines why some neighborhoods succeed and why some neighborhoods fail, or why some towns struggle so much economically while others grow and thrive. And you think about the policy decisions that created the current environment.”

This was the thought that started Read on a new academic career path. He already had a bachelor’s in business administration from Truman State University in Missouri, a master’s in real estate from the University of Florida, and a Juris Doctor degree from the University of Missouri School of Law. He thought the latter would help him advance in real estate. For five years, he worked in commercial real estate investment sales in Charlotte, North Carolina, first for an affiliate of Cushman and Wakefield and later for a small firm he helped establish.

As he considered his options in the field, he became more intrigued with public policy, and decided to get one more degree — a doctorate in public policy from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte in 2008. 

“I thought a doctorate would be useful for doing higher level real estate consulting,” he said, “but I ended up getting hired by my dissertation adviser, and that’s how I got into academia. He hired me to take his job when the College of Business at UNC Charlotte appointed him dean. It all happened by accident.”

From 2007 to 2014, Read was a clinical professor of finance, served in directorial positions for the Center for Real Estate, and started the university’s graduate program in real estate. 

Then, in 2014, he joined Virginia Tech.

“At that time, real estate was not squarely situated in a single college at Virginia Tech,” he said. “It was interdisciplinary, involving several colleges. At Virginia Tech, I found a natural fit in the property management and real estate programs.”

Read started as an assistant professor of property management in the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences and received tenure as an associate professor in 2018. 

In 2016, he became a faculty affiliate of the Urban Affairs and Planning Program in the School of Public and International Affairs. That same year, he became the William and Mary Alice Park Junior Fellow through the Pamplin College of Business and, in 2019, he was named assistant director of the Program in Real Estate. He continues to hold both those positions. 

He is a National Association of Industrial and Office Properties Research Foundation Distinguished Fellow, a recent inductee into the Institute of Real Estate Management’s Academy of Authors, and a seven-time recipient of honors from the American Real Estate Society for his contributions to real estate theory and practice. His research has appeared in a number of academic journals, and he regularly collaborates with a number of prominent trade organizations. 

Read said becoming head of the Department of Apparel, Housing, and Resource Management feels like a natural progression for his career — and an honor. He follows Julia Beamish, the long-time department head and an award-winning national leader in residential design.

“The department has been well managed,” he said. “We’re fiscally strong. The faculty members are productive. And that’s one of the attractive parts of the job, continuing the outstanding work that Julia has already done and looking for opportunities to continue to grow and improve the department.”

Read said his immediate goals are to help faculty members continue to transition successfully into the new world of learning brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic and to make sure they can move forward with their research agendas.

In addition, he plans to continue bringing the three principal areas in his department together. 

“We’re trying to figure out how to strengthen our points of connectivity,” he said, “so we can build more synergy.”

Although the majors in the department — consumer studies, family and consumer sciences, fashion merchandising and design, residential environments and design, and property management — may not all share a unifying academic theory, he said, they do have one notable commonality.

“Our department, by its very nature, is intensely connected to industry,” he said. “Our students have clear career paths. We have advisory boards that provide insight into the real world and ways in which we need to keep students engaged. And because of those ties, our job placements across the disciplines have always been great — in some cases as high as 100 percent every year.”

Read added that the department is at the forefront of offering experiential learning opportunities.

“Our teaching is by nature hands-on,” he said. “For more than 40 years, our students have been actively shadowing and interacting with industry professionals. That’s one of the great strengths of our department.”

Written by Leslie King