Shireen Shipman is a mechanical engineer who spends her free time practicing underwater photography! She is SCUBA certified and has been diving over 200 times in 3 countries!
Shireen worked on her the California Maritime Academy’s training ship throughout her degree and on two cruises, stopping in ports in South America and the South Pacific! She also did a summer internship on Alaska Marine Highway, the ferry system connecting all islands along the coast.
After graduating from the California Maritime Academy with her USCG 3rd Assistant Engineer’s license, she worked on the Propulsion and Power Generation equipment for the Virginia Class Submarines, the Ford Aircraft Carriers, and the prototype and proposal for the new Columbia Class Submarines. She was the lead manufacturing engineer for the production of the steam turbine generators for each of these ships!
Shireen moved into ship repair for US Navy vessels, which she describes as one of the most difficult times in her career. She shortly left the industry after not being welcomed as a degreed woman. Although it was a great learning experience, it left Shireen struggling with depression, anxiety, and PTSD.
Many women in STEM can relate to being ostracized, not given the recognition they deserve, and struggling to thrive in a hostile work environment. Fortunately, Shireen now works for a company in the maritime industry. Rather than just middle-aged white men, Shireen says she is able to work with a diverse group in age, ethnicity, and gender.
Shireen works in the engineering department for new ship construction, managing the integration of functional design. She also trouble shoots and diagnoses engineering issues in the shipyard during the initial start up of equipment and systems.
How did you get interested in STEM?
My dad pushed me to be an engineer to avoid grad school. I was not really sure what engineering entailed, I wanted to be a surgeon, but I applied for engineering programs anyways. I began as a Chemical Engineer because it has the closest curriculum to a pre-med path. Somewhere along the way, I realized that UC Berkeley was not a good fit for me, and needed to make some changes to my educational goals. My grades were no longer perfect, and I felt that becoming a medical doctor was out of reach.
Who inspires you in STEM?
The women who came before me, and the girls who will become future women in the field. There have never been very many women in my field, but paving the way for a more diverse future is motivating.
How did you decide to become a marine engineer?
When I was leaving Berkeley I found myself very jealous of my boyfriend at the time. He was attending the California Maritime Academy and had just come back from a training ship cruise to South America. I love traveling, and figured I could do anything that he was doing.
I transferred to Cal Maritime and studied Mechanical Engineering. Part of my education was spent accruing sea time towards my US Coast Guard’s Third Assistance Engineer’s License. This allows me to be an engineering officer aboard any US Flagged commercial vessel. On top of the mechanical engineering curriculum, I had a significant amount of hands on training. I stood watch, sailed, repaired, and performed maintenance on our training ship. I did a summer internship on Alaska Marine Highway’s ferries, fixing everything from the bow thruster, controllable pitch propellers, the oily water separator, to the sound powered phones on one vessel.
What does the average day in your field look like for you?
My days vary quite a bit. During the delivery stages of ship construction, I help troubleshoot and diagnose problems with starting up systems. I work with our regulatory bodies and customers to solve perceived or real issues. During times when ships are in earlier stages of construction, I manage the change processes for the design, and use my fancy MBA on new project proposals.
What’s your favorite part about SCUBA diving?
My favorite part of SCUBA diving is the uninterrupted life that finds you. Distractions seem to disappear underwater, and you are forced to be present as you see large and small sharks, playful seals and sea lions, curious cephalopods, and seek out tiny nudibranchs.
How did you get started with underwater photography?
I took up underwater photography as a way to share my experiences with friends and family. My dad was an avid diver when he was younger, so it was great to be able to show him the animals on each dive. Photography has now become a new creative challenge to use as a way to learn and grow.
What’s been your favorite or most exciting experience in STEM?
For my job, it has been sailing on ships. The inside passage of Alaska is gorgeous, superpods of dolphins in Mexico are amazing, and thunderstorms at night in the middle of the ocean are beautiful to watch.
For SCUBA diving, it has been contributing to community science. I have taken pictures of a nudibranch 100 miles out of range, and submitted pictures of a newly identified individual of the critically endangered giant black sea bass.
What are some of your favorite marine creatures to photograph? Is there anything you’ve been hoping to see on a dive?
Sea lion pups are my favorites to photograph. They’re extremely inquisitive and nibble on everything similar to a puppy on land. They dance around you, play tug of war with kelp, blow bubbles at you, and sometimes strike a pose.
I would love to see a whale underwater. I’ve been close to a grey whale, but the visibility was too poor for me to see it underwater.
What’s the best advice you’ve received in STEM?
If you talk to a boy alone for more than five minutes, he’ll think he’s special. Funny advice, but has explained many of my male counterparts beliefs and has allowed me to be upfront with my boundaries.
What’s something about your field that you wish more people knew about?
Your job does not define you. Your job is one facet of your life, and it is okay to give it up if it no longer serves you. Leaving a hostile work environment does not reflect poorly on you. You are not responsible for changing it.
Follow Shireen on instagram for more underwater photography! You might even get a look at her knitting and hiking adventures, usually accompanied by her two dogs and husband!