Shannon Hefferan
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Shannon Hefferan on board the Delaware II. (Credit: Shelley Dawicki, NEFSC/NOAA)

Ensign Shannon Hefferan

Pennsylvania Native Finds Home on the Water in Woods Hole

Growing up in the suburbs of Pittsburgh, far from the oceans, Shannon Hefferan had little experience with the ocean except on vacations.  No one in her family lived near the water or knew anything about boats.  She admits that stepping into a career with the NOAA Corps is still a mystery to her family, but one they are proud of.  Many will be on hand June 1 as she begins a new and historic assignment as part of the first all female crew on a NOAA research vessel, the 72-foot Gloria Michelle based at the Woods Hole Laboratory of NOAA’s Northeast Fisheries Science Center.

Hefferan attended Peters Township High School, graduating in 2005, and went on to pursue a bachelor of science degree in meteorology from Pennsylvania State University.  Although she was aware of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) as an organization given her meteorology focus, she had never heard of the NOAA Corps.  One of Hefferan’s classmates suggested she talk with a Penn State alum who was in the NOAA Corp to see if it might be a good fit.  Two months after she graduated from Penn State in December 2009, she was training for the NOAA Commissioned Officer Corps at the US Merchant Marine Academy at Kings Point, N.Y.

Her first assignment or billet after basic training with the NOAA Corps was aboard the 155-foot NOAA Ship Delaware II based at the NEFSC’s Woods Hole Laboratory.  She joined the ship in the summer of 2010, but it was the 72-foot Gloria Michelle that she first stepped foot on in Woods Hole.  “The Delaware II was in the Gulf of Mexico responding to the Deep Water Horizon oil spill at the time I reported to Woods Hole, and while waiting to be flown down to meet the ship the Gloria Michelle put me to good use rustbusting,” she recalls.

Her favorite part of the job, at least at the moment, is ship handling. “It makes our steaming and dreaming watches on the bridge interesting”. While in basic training, Hefferan says she didn’t think the job was for her.  Although she had told everyone she’d just “try it out and see where I go from there”, she felt a bit out of place with no ship handling experience. Now, after two years on the Delaware II as the operations officer, the ship handling aspect or her job isn’t much of a concern “after lots of practice and good teachers” built up her confidence.

As for advice to other students interested in a career in the NOAA Corps, Hefferan says multitasking is the main definition of the job, especially for your first assignment at sea. “Eight hours of your underway time is spent looking out a window and doing ship operations. In a normal shore-side job you’d consider that quits for the day….but not on a NOAA ship. You may have 4 or 5 other collateral duties on the ship that need to be completed before you can go below to your cabin to rest.”

As she reports for duty as the Junior Officer in Charge on the Gloria Michelle June 1, 2012, Hefferan says the Corp has been a good fit for her. “The Gloria Michelle is where I want to be and I’m looking forward to it.”

Editors Note: Hefferan's last day on the R/V Gloria Michelle in Woods Hole was March 24, 2014. She is headed to a new assignment with the Aircraft Operations Center of NOAA’s Office of Marine and Aviation Operations (OMAO) at MacDill Air Force Base near Tampa, Florida, as a flight meteorologist, flying with NOAA’s Hurricane Hunters.

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(File Modified Jun. 17 2016)