As part of our Coffee Chat series, a Capstone employee will be interviewed each month and featured in our monthly newsletter, The Erudite. For the April issue, the editors of The Erudite sat down with Jonathan Denton.
Jonathan has worked in the operations and asset management of student housing for nearly 18 years, having first started in the off-campus housing market and later transitioned to CDP where he focuses on our privately-owned on-campus housing projects. Jonathan is a history buff, loves fishing and all things Alabama. He enjoys collaborating with various groups within higher ed and the constant fresh perspective that is offered by working with multiple stakeholders and campuses of all shapes and sizes.
Jonathan Denton, Asset Manager
The University of Alabama, Bachelor of Science, Small Business Management, 2000
Where are you from originally? Birmingham, AL
Did you apply to several schools or did you just know you wanted to go to UA? I had a few applications for other schools but honestly both sides of my family have been Alabama fans / supporters since as long as I can remember. Both of my parents, my brother, and several cousins, aunts and uncles all went to UA, so it was a pretty easy choice to go there.
Do you remember what your favorite place was to go to on-campus? As far as a favorite place on campus, I think the UA quad is one of the coolest spots on campus. I always liked the quad during the week because it was a good place to be outside; it was a big open area. One of things that I always liked was that if the weather was decent and you had a cool teacher, they might even have class out on the quad. I always enjoyed it. The quad was that central spot on campus where you could do some people-watching or just hang out and enjoy the outdoors. Now the quad is very popular on football weekends and is a popular tailgating area, but that wasn’t as much the case when I was in school.
Did you live on-campus? No, I never lived in on-campus housing. When I was at UA, they did not have a live-on requirement, even for freshmen. It was (and still is) popular to live in houses that were located near the campus. So, for my freshmen year and throughout college, I lived in houses with friends. Often the houses were close enough that we could walk to campus if we wanted to. When I was a freshman, I had friends that lived in UA’s residence halls and they liked them okay but they were the traditional residence hall style, they did not have apartments on campus for freshman when I was there. I can’t imagine being an 18-year old and jumping right into living off-campus? As a freshman, did you find that you still went to the dining hall a lot? Yeah, so we didn’t have a live-on requirement but you were required to spend a certain amount of money on a meal plan. When I was a freshman, the dining center had just been renovated and it had a bunch of small restaurants that were cafeteria-style, so we were able to eat meals a good bit there. It was a little bit of an experience going from living at mom and dad’s house to living on my own in a house. Luckily, we didn’t have to maintain much of a yard or anything like that. But we did have to learn quickly how to cook, clean and do laundry. It was definitely a learning curve for all of us.
Did you work during college? Yes, I worked during the summers while taking a few classes. I liked being in Tuscaloosa in the summers because it wasn’t very crowded and you could get around pretty easily. A couple of times I worked in offices around campus doing admin type work and one summer I was a bartender at a steakhouse. The bartending job gave me a lot of appreciation for people in the service industry and made me realize that I did not want to go into the restaurant industry. I was only a bartender for one summer, I enjoyed it and I liked the people I worked with, but it’s a lot more demanding than what people realize, especially for those who haven’t worked in that industry. And to this day I am always sure to tip nicely in restaurants!
What was your favorite class in college? My senior year, I took a business class called GBA490. It is one of the last classes that all business majors take. I liked it because we worked in a group and together ran an imaginary company. Our project assignment was a company that manufactured shoes. Each group within the class were in a somewhat of a competition. For the project, we basically had to make all of the business decisions, decide how we were going to run the plant that made the shoes, how we were going to market the product and complete sales. It was an interesting class because it incorporated things that I had learned from a lot of my other business classes. It was a tough class but I learned a lot about real world applications as opposed to just theory. I also think I really appreciated the group dynamic of the class where departments like marketing and production collaborated together. Looking back, I realize that the class was setting me up for a place like Capstone where we often work in groups. Often, for example, on our RFP’s, our marketing department will work with operations / management, finance and development. I think that class really built a foundation for me for team work.
Is there a podcast that you are you listening to right now or book that you are reading? I listen to a lot of podcasts, especially if I have windshield time. When I am driving, I always try to keep up with This American Life which is a program on NPR with different subjects each week that are always interesting. I also listen to a series called Talking Sopranos which is a review of the Sopranos TV show. In Talking Sopranos, a couple of guys from the show interview people and talk through the production of it and walk through the whole series. I was a big fan of the show, so I find it interesting to hear their stories and insights. As far as reading goes, I try to always be reading something and I like a lot of history books. Right now, I am reading The History of the IRA by Tim Pat Coogin, who is an Irishman. It’s a very long and in-depth book but I am learning a ton and am really enjoying it.
How many years have you been at Capstone? This is my second ‘tour’ at Capstone. I first worked for Capstone Properties for 14-15 years and then I returned to CDP and have been here for 3 years – so have been in student housing for about 18 years. So, given that you are approaching 20 years in working in student housing, what do you enjoy most about working on college campuses? Mostly, I enjoy just working with the different people. We work daily with different groups, different colleges and there’s a lot of interactions for any of the projects that we work on. Some of the schools that we work with maybe already have 10,000 beds in their portfolio and it’s sort of an old hat to them, in contrast for others, maybe the project is that campuses’ first housing and we are kind of guiding them through the process a little more. Either way, working with both groups is fun and we get to build new relationships and that to me is the most enjoyable part — interacting with different people who have different ways of doing it or different ideas for housing operations. That personal interaction is what I like the most. It keeps it fresh.
So you’re on the operations side of student housing, so you’re really seeing how each campus runs their housing differently. Yeah, so we’ll see how different groups want to involve different departments within their campus. Some groups may have their maintenance team involved in the P3; some don’t. Some groups want to assign leases and collect rent; where other groups just want us to handle all of that. All of those dynamics make each P3 different. You might look at this business or student housing structure from the outside and think it’s just another P3 – it’s all the same, but they really aren’t.
Since you’ve been in the business for 18 years, is there a favorite campus that you have worked on or near?I’ve seen a lot of campuses and I would say that of the campuses that I have visited, and granted there are a lot that I haven’t, probably the coolest, and when I picture a college town and college campus and college life, the picture that comes to my mind is Miami University of Ohio in Oxford, OH. It is an absolute picture of college in my book. It’s in a small town, totally centered around a University. It’s just a picturesque college campus — it looks like a university campus straight out of a movie.
Where’s the next place on your travel bucket list and why? As soon as we can get through the pandemic and return to normal travel I would like to go out to the Redwoods in California. I’ve never done a coastal drive and I would really like to go out there. I would take a few days and see the Redwoods and that part of California. Beyond that, I would also like to go to France. I’ve always wanted to go to Paris, and as I mentioned, I like to read a lot of history and WWII is in heavy rotation on my historical reads so I’d also go to the coast and see the Normandy area of France as well. To me, any WWII history buff needs to go see that at some point.
If you could choose to do anything for a day, what would it be? I would take a full day and go fishing all day and then I would have a great meal with family and friends. It’s just that simple. I would prefer to actually be catching fish – so maybe I would have a guide take me out to help me find some fish. Quite simply, just put me on a boat and let me catch some fish.
Earth Day is April 22nd, if you could generate power by a means other than coal, water, or wind, what source would you capture? I read about an idea called AirGen and the idea is that you harness the naturally occurring electrical current that can be found in water vapor from the air. You can harness the electrical current and convert it into electricity. I do not know how realistic or economically feasible it is, but I figure if you can get power out of humidity, then the summer in Alabama is a good test subject. It sounds good to me!