Seth Thayumanavan, M&T’24 is a fourth-year student from Massachusetts studying chemical engineering and finance.

Last summer, the M&T Intern Fellowship Award allowed him to have hands-on experience at a sustainable construction start-up in New York City. Herewith he reflects on his time in the M&T Program, talks about his internship, and chats about life after college.

Q: Why did you apply for the Intern Fellowship Award?

ST: I had an offer from a sustainable construction start-up in New York City called Assembly OSM. They have a new way of constructing apartment buildings where they build everything off-site in a factory and ship the final product to NYC for assembly. The company was founded by two architects who are partners at one of New York’s major architecture firms and the current CEO is an M&T alumnus. I knew it was a great opportunity and I was really interested in accepting the offer, however I also had another offer from a large bank in Delaware. Financially, the bank position made the most sense, but I really wanted the experience of working for a start-up and the work was more aligned with my career interests, so I applied for the fellowship.

Q: How did you find out about the Assembly OSM position?

ST: The CEO came to campus to visit and meet with students last winter, and some other students met him during that time. They later introduced me to him when I expressed interest in the company. They basically use an off-site manufacturing technique to create building modules, which are then shipped to NYC to be stacked on top of each other to make a complete apartment project. The process allows them to build homes faster and at a lower cost than traditional building practices, and it’s also sustainable. The company’s goal is to have 35% less embodied carbon and be 55-70% more energy efficient than traditional building practices.

Q: What was your role during the internship?

ST: I worked as supply chain manager. Off-site manufacturing for construction has been tried before, and it claimed to be faster and cheaper. However, they ended up taking longer and being more expensive because they were simply doing traditional building practices at an off-site location. Assembly’s goal is to turn construction into a manufacturing process – like how cars and airplanes are built. We manufacture everything separately and bring it together for final assembly. So, our goal was to build an integrated supply chain where we have our suppliers do as much as possible and then we manage the final steps of the process. This way, we can have all these separate processes happen simultaneously, then come together at our facility, and ship to NYC as a final product.

My job was to build out the capabilities/supplier incubation because many suppliers aren’t used to doing the type of manufacturing process we’re trying to create. Basically, we were trying to push the limits of our suppliers and have them do what we need them to do that we could achieve our goals.

Q: What was the value of working at a start-up?

ST: Because I was working for a start-up, there were several challenges that came up along the way, as we were doing many things for the first time, and I had to do whatever I could to make sure the building process stayed on track. I had a lot more responsibility than I expected to have. I was truly an integral part of the company’s operation, even as a summer intern. When I messed up, I really felt it. When I did well, I could really feel it too. It was exciting to know that what I was doing was making a direct impact on the company’s success.

Q: Did you feel you were able to apply what you learned in the classroom to the work you were doing in the field?

ST: One thing that was exciting is that when we learn things in class, it tends to feel abstract. We learn about a lot of different concepts, and we do a lot of case work, but it’s still two or three degrees removed from what is happening in real time. During my internship, I felt like I was applying the concepts I learned in class. For example, striking the balance of manufacturing and scaling for volume, while keeping quality and customization in mind. The first building we developed was eight modules, so we could really customize it based on the way the architects wanted it. I am still actually working for the company this semester, and right now, we’re working on a building that is 133 modules. So, we can’t customize each module as much as we did on the smaller project due to size and scale – so I’m really learning how to strike the right balance.

Q: You’re graduating in just a few months. What have been the highlights of your time at Penn in the M&T Program?

ST: For me, it’s the people. I was able to find an internship that I absolutely loved last summer. People like Gad, Sangeeta, Desirae, Caitlin, and all those who work for the program, are super supportive and have given me great advice. Some of my closest friends are the people I have met in the program. It’s the people and community that have stood out the most.

Q: Do you have a piece of advice for younger M&Ts?

ST: Do a little bit of start-up work – the experience is incredibly valuable. I was doing a lot of mission-critical work and I think that’s hard to come by unless you’re in a start-up environment. You can apply what you learn in that setting anywhere. The other thing I would say is do as many things as you want and that interest you. The great thing about M&T is you don’t have to lock yourself into a box. You can consider a lot of different roads and you have options. This is the time to experiment and figure out what you really want.