Day in the Life of a Marine Engineer

Katherine is a Naval Architect and Marine Engineer at Gibbs & Cox. Learn more about her work with naval ships and how you can #BeThatEngineer!
Day In The Life Of A Marine Engineer
Katerine Zalegowski, Marine Engineer
Katerine Zalegowski, Marine Engineer

When I was six-years-old, my parents bought me the Rail Roller Coaster Assembly toy, where you had to adjust the hundreds of roller coaster pieces to keep a marble on a five-foot-tall track as the marble accelerated. It took me weeks to complete this and it’s still in my childhood bedroom. I remember it being difficult, but I also remember the sense of accomplishment that I felt. It was a feeling that I wanted to replicate. That was the spark that got me into engineering.

I didn’t know that I wanted to go into Ocean Engineering at first. Ocean Engineering focuses on the design of structures that operate in water. I knew I always loved the water. I grew up swimming and boating on a lake with my family. When I was in elementary school, I also loved to watch The Little Mermaid. I absolutely loved the ocean. Putting my strengths and interests together, I decided Ocean Engineering was the best fit for me. Taking on a difficult major didn’t intimidate me; it thrilled me. I knew I wanted to do engineering and I also wanted to give back to my country in some manner. I decided that my career focus would be on designing ships for the United States Navy.

I graduated from Virginia Tech in the Spring of 2020 with a degree in Ocean Engineering and a minor in Green Engineering. I was the Communications Chair and the Treasurer for the Society of Naval Architects and Marine Engineers (SNAME). In these positions, I got to network and meet a lot of mentors in the industry. I could reach out to them and ask questions, and they ultimately helped with my job placement. My favorite internship was with the Naval Surface Warfare Center, where I tested different sonar technologies. This internship inspired me to do more Navy work.

I currently work for the largest independent engineering and naval architecture firm in the United States, Gibbs & Cox, as a Naval Architect. I incorporate mechanical, electrical, and marine engineering to the shipbuilding design process. My favorite part about working there is the diversity and complexity of work from all stages of ship design — from concept and detail design to production and life-cycle support. The satisfaction of seeing my hard work make a difference is invaluable, and it’s why I do what I do. Finding solutions to naval architecture problems gives me the same satisfaction that I had when I was completing that toy as a six-year-old. Working at Gibbs & Cox and being an engineer gave me the perfect opportunity to expand my abilities and work towards naval architecture solutions. Day In The Life Of A Marine Engineer

My first piece of advice for girls interested in engineering is to not let anyone intimidate you. If you want to do something, you can. Having that mindset is worth your weight in gold. Know your worth and don’t ever be afraid to show it.

My second piece of advice is never to be afraid to take on a challenge. When you take on a challenge, sometimes you will fail, and that’s OK. The growth that you have from failing makes you stronger further down the line. You won’t make the same mistake twice. The mental strength that it gives you will make you a better engineer.

My last piece of advice is that it’s not always the smartest person in the room who makes the greatest impact, but the one who has the knowledge and the emotional intelligence to connect people and ideas. Knowing how to convey information in a respectful manner allows you to connect with people. That is something that you can practice even in high school. It takes time and practice, but you can never be too young to start practicing.

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