Anne Shellum’s path to Washington University in St. Louis wasn’t the most direct route, but as she nears completion of her bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering, she concedes it was a fascinating journey.
“As soon as something strikes my interest, I dive into it and move full-force into that direction. That’s what’s taken me each step of my life so far,” Shellum said.
Born and raised in Rochester, Minnesota, Shellum, 26, and her younger brother grew up in a family where science was emphasized. Her mother works in IT at the Mayo Clinic, and her father owns a solar energy installation company. In 2008, Shellum applied to Washington University’s School of Engineering & Applied Science and was accepted. However, she got an opportunity that was too good to pass up.
“I grew up figure skating, and that took up a lot of my time. And when I graduated high school, I wasn’t quite ready to be done with it. So I applied for Disney On Ice and got in. I played Ariel, from The Little Mermaid,” she said.
While Shellum traveled across the country and around the world, Washington University deferred her acceptance. What was first anticipated to take one year stretched into three as she signed on for additional production runs. WashU welcomed her to St. Louis once she was ready to hang up her skates and start her studies.
“I’ve worked with people who have really taken the time to help me on my career path. They really listened to what I had to say and encouraged me to think outside of the box. It’s so easy to interact with faculty here; it’s a really open environment and I enjoyed that. This is a really cool place to be an engineer,” Shellum said.
Shellum quickly delved into her courses and extracurricular life. She missed figure skating, so she joined Carnivale, a campus dance club. She took part in Engineers Without Borders, helping design a refrigerator that could keep vaccines cool without electricity. She tutored young women in math and physics. And she got the travel bug again.
“I spent my whole sophomore year abroad in Spain. We didn’t have an engineering program in Spain but everyone was willing to help me put a curriculum together and figure out how to make it happen. WashU is a pretty incredible place. When they recognize that a student is excited about what they’re doing, they’re going to support it.”
Shellum accepted a job at a global engineering/architecture firm as a building design engineer and will leave for Seattle after December graduation. But there’s another unconventional twist: the woman who once portrayed a mermaid will soon be living on the sea, if not under it.
“I’m planning on living on a sailboat there. I’ve learned to sail—my grandpa taught me and I was a sailing counselor—but I’ve never lived on a boat. I imagine that will be different, too.”