Student Spotlight with Connor Sendel

The senior looks back on his time on campus, discussing what it’s like to pursue a dual degree, how a startup grew out of his team’s senior design project, and his plans after graduation.

Looking back on his time at Penn, Connor Sendel will miss the people the most.

“It’s the little things,” the soon-to-be graduate says. Like getting a text from a classmate at 10 p.m., to come to the shop at Towne and work on the Penn Electric Racing car.

“The friends that you make doing things like that, you are all working together on homework, collaboratively learning,” he says. “And at the same time pushing each other to figure it out and be better.”

Connor Sendel
Connor Sendel, who graduates Monday from the Jerome Fisher Program in Management & Technology, and his senior design team turned their school project into a startup. 

The Denver-native Sendel, part of the Jerome Fisher Program in Management & Technology, will graduate Monday with two bachelor’s degrees: One in mechanical engineering from the School of Engineering and Applied Science, and the other in operations and entrepreneurship from Wharton.

Penn Today caught up with Sendel during his final days on campus, discussing what it’s like to pursue a dual degree, how a startup grew out of his team’s senior design project, his plans after graduation, and more.

FOUR YEARS, TWO DEGREES: When it comes to M&T, it is definitely hard work, but always worth it. “There are so many applications for what you are doing,” Sendel says. “I’ve seen it at Penn and in my internships, that having both of the sides of the coin is definitely a unique skillset. Normally, a lot of the engineers struggle with the business side, and having the technical acumen when you’re on the business side. There’s a ton of applicability, which is really good.”

FUTURE OF COOLING: For his mechanical engineering senior design project, Sendel and his five teammates—Yann Pfitzer, Sam Weintraub, Jake Fine, Spencer Collins, and Ashwin Kishen—came up with an idea for a new, energy-efficient air conditioner. “When you look at the world today, one of the biggest problems facing us is how to cool living spaces,” he says. “Around the world by 2100, because of climate change, there will be over 7 billion people who are exposed to dangerous heat conditions at some point in the year. All those people will need to be cooled off, and air conditioner technology right now hasn’t kept up with the need.”

STARTUP IN SCHOOL: Sendel and his team not only had a great idea for their project, but they had the drive to bring it to life, too. They refined their plan, built three prototypes, and looked for opportunities in the market. Ultimately, startup Aerate was formed, focusing on the market in India first. In the senior design competition, Sendel and his teammates earned the Francis G. Tatnall Prize in Mechanical Engineering and Applied Mechanics, and they also took the top prize in M&T’s Integration Lab.

ELEVATOR PITCH: They also pitched Aerate at Pennvention, a tech innovation competition run through Weiss Tech House, and participated in the Wharton Startup Challenge, where they earned top honors. The goal for the Aerate team, now, is to continue building their product, launch it, and get it into the market within the next couple years.

SUPPORT SYSTEM: What was most inspiring for Sendel was the opportunity to, one day, be pitching Aerate in a smaller scale, departmental competition, and the next, pitching it at competitions like Pennvention. “It was so accessible to start that transition to a business,” he says. “The biggest thing that enabled us to get to this point is really the Penn ecosystem and support for Penn entrepreneurship.”

ELECTRIC SPEEDSTERS: Sendel also spent a majority of his time at Penn deeply involved with Penn Electric Racing, participating in various competitions across the country. Of course, seeing their work perform well was a significant accomplishment, Sendel says, but he’s also honored to see how the club has grown throughout the years. “When I joined freshman year, it was a pretty small club, in the order of 30 to 40 people actively involved,” he says. “That number has grown to 100. It is now a legitimate organization, versus a group of engineers throwing a car together in a basement. It’s really become a lot more sustainable.”

OFF TO THE RACES: After graduation, Sendel is returning to Colorado to work for a consulting firm, mostly focusing on projects that have a technical aspect. Is he ready for the real world? “Definitely,” he says. “I can’t wait.”