$10 Million Gift Establishes Wilbur C. Henderson Real Estate Institute at Drexel

Gerri LeBow Hall

With a $10 million gift from the Wilbur C. and Betty Lea Henderson Foundation, Drexel University is establishing the Wilbur C. Henderson Real Estate Institute in the Bennett S. LeBow College of Business. The commitment will support Drexel’s ongoing efforts to leverage real estate development as a vehicle for civic engagement and train current and future real estate professionals to navigate the evolving industry through the lens of sustainability, equity and inclusion. The gift honors the legacy of Wilbur C. Henderson, Jr., a 1947 alumnus, former Drexel trustee, World War II veteran, community leader and influential real estate developer in the Greater Philadelphia region.


“We are deeply grateful to the Wilbur C. and Betty Lea Henderson Foundation for this generous and transformational gift. It will not only ensure that Drexel will prepare the next generation of civically minded real estate practitioners and leaders who promote cultural, economic and environmental health in their communities, but also will increase our University’s capacity and thought leadership to advance equitable development in our cities,” said Drexel President John Fry. 


The Institute will serve as a hub of research, teaching and outreach that connects industry leaders with Drexel's distinguished faculty and talented students — bringing together theory and practice to establish a modern vision for the industry centered on community, resilience and equity.


“In honor of Mr. Henderson’s civic accomplishments, the Wilbur C. and Betty Lea Henderson Foundation continues to support initiatives dedicated to the communities he worked in, including its continuous support of Drexel’s innovative and industry-leading real estate education,” said Steve Buxton, executive director of the Henderson Foundation.


Guided by the LeBow College and drawing on the expertise of faculty in the College of Engineering, the College of Arts and Sciences, Antoinette Westphal College of Media Arts & Design, the Charles D. Close School of Entrepreneurship and the Dornsife Center for Neighborhood Partnerships, the Lindy Institute for Urban Innovation, and other collaborators across campus, the Henderson Real Estate Institute will take a comprehensive approach to addressing the pressing issues facing the modern, urban real estate sector, including the impact of hybrid work, supply chain disruptions, regulatory uncertainty, climate change, energy, affordable housing, among others.

The Institute will develop thought leadership on issues at the intersection of real estate and economic development, equity, urbanism, technological disruption and sustainability.


“Drexel is proud of the role it has played in recent years as a leader in business education and community engagement in Philadelphia,” said Vibhas Madan, PhD, dean and R. John Chapel, Jr. Dean’s Chair professor in LeBow College of Business. “Our advocacy, partnership-building and stewardship has created a pathway for support to reach our West Philadelphia community, which has already resulted in improved funding for schools and small businesses. With this generous support from The Henderson Foundation, Drexel will be able to develop mindful leaders with a strong sense of societal commitment in real estate and related fields.”


The Institute will support the student experience of undergraduate majors in Real Estate Management and Development — a program that has grown steadily since it was launched at the LeBow College in 2017 with previous support from the Wilbur C. and Betty Lea Henderson Foundation. It will also prioritize the development of new and impactful programming for students, leveraging academic assets from across the university with a focus on interdisciplinary pedagogy.


“By leveraging our network of faculty and corporate partners, the Wilbur C. Henderson Real Estate Institute will prepare students to address a wide array of challenges – from the ramifications of climate change on the design of homes, workplaces and cities, to the way automation, big data and remote commerce revolutionize how real estate is bought, sold, managed and used,” Madan said.


The Henderson Foundation’s gift will create a variety of new experiential learning opportunities for students across campus, including the establishment of a fund for students to engage directly in the analysis and management of property investment and development, including co-investing with the University and its partners, and a seed fund to jumpstart projects in the real estate field. In addition, the Institute will host case competitions, panel discussions and networking events, and provide resources for students to obtain professional certifications and career counseling.


To honor Henderson’s legacy of community engagement and in support of Drexel’s mission to create purpose-driven global citizens through experiential learning, the Institute will also foster student participation in community enhancement projects in West Philadelphia, in coordination with Drexel partners, including the Lindy Institute for Urban Innovation and the Dornsife Center for Neighborhood Partnerships.


Drexel will launch a national search to recruit a director for the Institute, in anticipation of its formal opening in 2024.