An honors graduate of the University of Southern California, Michelle Shadpour choose the plumbing industry because she saw an opportunity to make a difference.
“Buildings consume more than 35 percent of the energy in the U.S.,” she says. “Providing energy efficient and sustainable plumbing solutions is an integral factor in reversing this trend. I feel that the work I’m doing has a direct impact on achieving the goal of a net-zero energy future as well as contributes to the occupational health, comfort, and safety of the community I serve.”
After graduating with a Bachelor of Science degree in mechanical engineering, Michelle began working at SC Engineers in San Diego, where she is currently a project manager. She has developed a diverse portfolio of complex plumbing projects in just two years’ time.
“I design HVAC and plumbing systems for a variety of facility types including state-of-the-art laboratories; net-zero energy buildings; and what I like to refer to as ‘hospitals of the future,’” she says.
Though only 24-years-old, her experience includes providing innovative phasing solutions to allow a 600,000-square-foot government facility to remain operational while replacing the entire domestic hot water system to reduce legionella growth.
“Though we hardly ever stop to think about it,” she says, “plumbing plays a critical role in our society. From delivering gas in hospitals to providing safe, sustainable drinking water and sanitation systems, plumbing helps protect the health of people around the world.
Michelle says she always knew she wanted to pursue a career in plumbing engineering. “Growing up, my father, a mechanical engineer, would come home from work and tell me all about his day. He made engineering in the built environment sound like an adventure. Fortunately for me, it really is the adventure he made it out to be.”
In addition to her role at SC Engineers, Michelle is an active member in the professional community. She serves as the committee chair on ASHRAE’s Technical Committee 1.4 and is also part of the ASHRAE Young Engineers group. She uses this platform to promote millennial growth in the plumbing industry. As a result of all her efforts, ASHRAE nominated her as the “New Face of Engineering” which she was awarded in 2017.
She's also actively engaged in philanthropic activities, organizing events to benefit the Make-A-Wish Foundation and the City of Hope. “Her commitment to providing advanced plumbing solutions; enthusiasm to inspire others to pursue a career in plumbing engineering; and her servant heart in supporting the communities that she serves makes her a rising star within the industry,” says Stefanie Johnson, LEED AP, project executive at SC Engineers.
There is no doubt the world is moving toward a more efficient and sustainable environment. Michelle believes that while there are many benefits to this trend, in some cases these designs may conflict with an engineer’s responsibility of protecting occupant well-being. “I am driven by the challenge of meeting efficiency goals without sacrificing performance requirements or the proper standard of care,” she says.
She points to design elements such as storing, circulating, and serving hot water at certain temperatures as examples. “The trend that I have observed is that experienced plumbing engineers lean toward solutions that have a proven record of satisfaction; however, to reach new levels of efficiency, we must think outside of the box. As a young engineer, I am tackling this issue head-on by analyzing and applying innovative solutions that meet both performance requirements and efficiency goals.”
Michelle sees plumbing as an instrumental system in our society and believes each day will present a new, exciting and challenging problem that needs to be solved.
Michelle’s father started in the plumbing industry in high school as a contractor and worked his way up through the industry to become an engineer.
“He is my role model,” she says.
In college, Michelle had the wrong idea about what makes a great engineer. “The first person to turn in their exam,” she recalls, “was always regarded as one of the smartest in the class. Over the past two years, I’ve learned that it’s not how fast you solve the problem, but how much time you take to effectively you do so. The best engineers are those who think about the project holistically.”
She’s taken the lessons she’s learned thus far, and in the summer of 2017, presented to more than 150 professional engineers on the topic of young engineers utilizing new strategies and technologies in their designs. “Millennials are often characterized as being technically savvy and environmentally driven,” she says. “However, my research suggested that roughly 25 percent of young engineers would not specify or approve new products or design strategies.” The purpose of her presentation was to start the conversation on what factors contribute to this decision and how workplace environments can encourage more confidence in new technologies and strategies. “This was a moment in my professional life that stands out to me; the second I finished the presentation the audience became participants in the conversation.”
Michelle will likely have many more great conversations as her career takes shape. In the meanwhile, she enjoys the talks she has with her nine-year-old twin cousins who tell her they want to be engineers when they grow up!