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Marshall and Pankti in the Sasaki Offices in Watertown, MA

Northeastern’s Masters of Design in Sustainable Urban Environments (SUEN) program allows graduate students the opportunity to co-op at some of Boston’s top architecture, urban planning and design firms. Marshall DeGarmo and Pankti Sanganee, both SUEN graduate students, are both currently on co-op at Sasaki. Based in Watertown, they’ve both found their time at Sasaki thus far to be valuable learning experiences. We recently touched base with them to learn more about all of the ways they are gaining valuable skill sets by being actively engaged in real world design, and the professional opportunities they’re gaining from their experiences.

1. From your perspectives, can you tell me a little bit about Sasaki, and the work the company does both in and out of Boston?

Marshall & Pankti: Sasaki is a multidisciplinary Landscape and Urban Planning firm with offices in Watertown and Shanghai. Though the firm may be most well-known among Northeastern students for its exceedingly Instagram-able work at The Lawn on D, it also has projects spanning across traditional architecture, landscape, urban design and planning disciplines, as well as research efforts, based both domestically and abroad. It has won many awards for its national and international projects like the Olympic master plan in Beijing and Chicago River walk.

2. What led you to Northeastern’s Sustainable Urban Environments program?

Marshall: Similar to Sasaki, the holistic, multidisciplinary nature of the program is what initially brought me to Northeastern. Having a nontraditional background in sociology myself, I felt as though the program allowed and continues to allow me flexibility in my postgraduate studies.

Pankti: While pursuing my Masters of Urban Design from University of Michigan I realized I have strong a interest in understanding how resilient landscape infrastructure can consolidate with Urbanization to form sustainable systems. My interaction with Jane Amidon (Associate Dean for Graduate Studies and Research) and professor Dan Adams made it clear that Northeastern’s SUEN program was the right fit for me to narrow down my interest of research.

3. What is it like doing a co-op as a graduate student? You’re both coming in with quite a bit of working experience – how has that impacted your time on co-op thus far?

Marshall: Due to my less-than-traditional background, my co-op has been filled with many “firsts” – luckily, the culture at Sasaki has been more than accepting of my strengths and weaknesses and has allowed me to further develop my design skillset and garner real-world experience that would otherwise have been impossible in a classroom setting.

Pankti: My co-op at Sasaki was the first time I got the opportunity to work as an urban designer and test some of my learnings done at school. The co-op program helped me strengthen my interest and also bring in the clarity of how one can apply the academic skills and learnings from the class room to client meetings and team brainstorming sessions. Sasaki, being an international multi-disciplinary firm, helped me confront a world that is very different from a school environment.

4. What type of work does your co-op position involve day to day? Any highlights so far or projects you’re particularly proud of?

Marshall: My day to day experience, much like my studies, has been exceedingly flexible. On any given day I could be sitting in on calls with clients, participating in design charrettes, assisting with graphics and visualizations, building physical models, or helping with research efforts. As for highlights, some work that I collaborated on was recently shown at an event in Austin – getting to see and hear about positive feedback on something you’ve worked hard on is always a welcome feeling.

Pankti: My day to day tasks vary based on project phasing. Due to my previous work experience, I got the opportunity to dive into one complete project and see it from the concept stage to final client presentation. It started with site analysis to urban frameworks and moving to the final production phase. As the project is based in Vietnam and our client is in Shanghai, it led to work coordination and deadlines based on Shanghai time. The project was a competition in first stage which we won, and then took it ahead to the final production, which shall eventually get built through phasing.

5. What has been the biggest learning experience from your co-op so far?

Marshall: It’s hard to nail down just one (as I mentioned, this co-op has been full of many “firsts”) but I’d have to say the opportunity to work with so many individuals who are as talented as they are in their respective fields has given me much more appreciation for the multidisciplinary nature of both Sasaki itself and the SUEN program at Northeastern.

Pankti: My biggest learning other than skill sets and team work has been time management.

6. How do you think your co-op experience can be applied to your Northeastern Graduate education? After you graduate?

Marshall: I’m looking forward to taking what I’ve learned here both in terms of design mindset and graphics skill set into my final semester, which I hope involves the development of an independent research studio.  As for post-grad, I’m excited to see what opportunities the relationships I’ve formed here will open up both personally and professionally.

Pankti: I think this experience to work in a diverse team and understanding the deliverables and process of execution for any particular project shall go a long way in the future. Now that I am aware of my strengths and weaknesses related to sustainable design, it shall help me select my electives accordingly and plan my academic year to be fully prepared and capable with the right skill sets to go out in the world as a professional when I graduate from Northeastern University.