Centre graduate shares financial expertise

Published 9:01 am Friday, January 26, 2024


Before Derek Nafziger bought his first investment property or began working as investment advisor for the College, he was a student soaking up the expertise of faculty and guest lecturers during CentreTerm.

Seeing how the lessons he was learning in class applied in the real world made an impression on him.

Email newsletter signup

Now, Nafziger ’19 is in front of one of those CentreTerm courses, sharing his hard-won, real-world expertise with Centre students in his Real Estate Finance and Investment class.

“I’m more or less dumping all of the information I’ve picked up aggressively pursuing real estate over the past several years into a class format,” he said. “I have also roped in guest speakers to help cover topics I might have less experience in and to inspire students.

“The students have blown me away. I’ve been impressed by how quickly they’ve come to understand real estate investing. They’ve all taken it and run with it.”

For Jacob Sanders, class of ’25, the course has grounded some of the concepts he’s learned as an economics and finance major with Nafziger real-world applications.

“I think this class has been unique — to see how all the jargon really does have huge impacts on everyday decisions we make, like the homes we live in,” the Louisville, Kentucky, native said. “We’ve looked at all different types of real estate, types of loans and mortgages. It’s been really great.”

Nafziger began his own real estate investment career as a Centre student himself. While vacationing in Red River Gorge, he met the builder of the cabin he was staying in and learned the rental property was for sale. He called upon his experiences working summers in construction and a childhood watching his late father — a farmer-turned-agriculture lender — do business.

Derek Nafziger wears a Centre College sweatshirt as she stands at a black chalkboard teaching students about real estate insurance.

“I had my boss come look at the property with me, and I ran some sort of napkin math based on what I could learn from the internet and thought it was an attractive deal,” he said. “That led to me managing other properties and eventually buying and flipping land.”

Nafziger recruited family members to become investors, and Red River Roost Cabin Rentals was born. It has grown since with multiple rental properties in eastern Kentucky.

After graduation, he dove deeply into another form of investments, managing the portfolio of Bank of Magnolia’s self-insurance arm. He joined Centre in 2021 to help the team that oversees the College’s endowment.

So did all that experience make his first foray into teaching an easy one?

“I was certainly nervous,” Nafziger laughed. “But, because I had graduated so recently, I felt like I had a really good handle as to what it’s like to be a student at Centre College and maybe things I wish I could have learned about.”

With that in mind, Nafziger gives students very practical lessons in how decisions as a real estate investor are made. He has also called upon his network of contacts, including renowned treehouse builder Jango Kroner of Canopy Crew, to share their expertise as well.

“My Centre education was unbelievably good. I highly recommend a liberal arts education like the one I experienced at Centre to everyone,” Nafziger said. “It was always helpful (to me) to try to apply the lessons taught in the classroom to the outside world. Ultimately, that is what I aspire to do in some capacity with this course.”

The fact that he started his real estate investment journey as a student also inspired Nafziger’s approach to teaching in the classroom. His goal is to arm his students with the skill and knowledge to make financially sound decisions at a similarly young age.

“I don’t want students to just think of a loan as borrowing money from a bank or other type of lender. I want them to be able to put themselves in the shoes of an owner of a bank, understand why the lending process is what it is or why the bank is loaning money to you to begin with,” he said. “I’ve tried to make it as hands-on as possible while connecting the lessons to broader academic topics.”

Teaching class, managing rental properties and tending to his duties as a staff member have made for a hectic month, but Nafziger is happy he took Associate Professor of Economics and Business Patten Mahler up on her offer to teach.

“I really do feel honored to teach a class at Centre,” he said. “Centre is extremely lucky to have the faculty that they do. Being on the other side of a classroom gives you a newfound respect for how much work goes into each course.”