BSE ChE '62, MSE ChE '70
Fred Shippey says he has had a non-traditional career. While this is not uncommon for many chemical engineers today, the typical ChEs of his generation spent all of their working lives at one company. “I had four different careers: At Ford, at the Air Force, with Kodak, and finally as a consultant.”
Fred grew up in Ann Arbor and after high school decided to study chemical engineering at Michigan. He was interested in photography and got a job in the photography department of Follett’s Bookstore on State Street for most of his time as an undergraduate. He also served as a photographer for the Michigan Daily and the Michiganensian yearbook. He had the opportunity to take photos of John F. Kennedy’s visit to the Michigan Union in October 1960, where Kennedy proposed the idea of the Peace Corps. Fred was the only photographer to shoot colored slides that day; all other photographs were black and white. One of his photos from that day is displayed at the JFK Presidential Library and Museum in Boston (photo below).
In addition to his chemical engineering classes, he took advantage of chemical engineering and metallurgical engineering being in the same department and enjoyed taking a class in the foundry in East Engineering, where he got to make molds, and do casting and welding. He says that when he had any questions on his major he went to Brymer Williams. “He was not judgmental so Brymer was the professor to talk when you needed advice.” He attended Brymer’s memorial event in 2003 and was able to thank Brymer’s family for “sharing him with the students.”
After he graduated in 1962, he took a job with Ford in Dearborn and was there when they were developing the Mustang. Those were interesting days to work in auto industry, he says, because they were the last days of the powerful U.S. auto industry. “The Japanese were starting to get into the car business and the US companies weren’t quite sure how to react,” Fred remembers. “Most of them felt it was dangerous to be too innovative. After all, you didn’t want to have another blunder like the Ford Edsel.”
He had considered joining the military when he graduated from college. After two years at Ford, he still was interested and decided to join the U.S. Air Force and was immediately sent to officer’s training school. As a maintenance officer, Fred learned to be a good manager and was happy to use his engineering problem solving skills to analyze problems with aircraft. Initially he was stationed at the Eglin Air Force Base in the Florida panhandle. He was eventually sent to Mactan Island in the Philippines and, for 90 days, to Saigon, Vietnam.
After five years of active duty, he decided to go back to school for a master’s degree. He wanted to come back to Michigan but the Air Force wanted him to go to another school, so he left active duty and headed back to Ann Arbor. He didn’t entirely leave the military, though, and stayed in the Air Force Reserves for another 25 years, retiring as a colonel.
After working with Frank Donahue for his master’s studies, he got a job offer from the Eastman Kodak Company, where he was hired as a photographic engineer. Kodak, like other companies, liked to hire ChEs because of the breadth of their educational background and had their own photographic science training program that Fred and others were sent to for the needed skills.
While at Kodak, Fred worked with the Kodak Research Labs and Time magazine on a prototype digital still camera and he participated as a member of teams developing several early electronic imaging products and programs. He served as the group leader of a software development group working on digital image processing algorithms. He also furnished technical applications support to marketing and customers and assisted marketing with the analysis of competitive products.
He left Kodak in 1993 and became a self-employed consultant and a technical writer. Today he stresses the importance of communications studies for young engineers. “If you want to succeed, you need to have good written and spoken communication skills to convey your message to your fellow workers,” he says. He is glad to hear that technical writing and communications are an important part of many chemical engineering courses today.
Fred remains busy in the photography world as a writer and teacher of electronic imaging technology and applications both in the U.S. and overseas.
Fred and his wife, Susan, have two daughters and both are Michigan grads. Beth lives in the Ann Arbor area and has two sons. Sara lives in the Fairfax, VA area and has a son and a daughter. He regularly returns to his hometown to visit his daughter.
He served on the Michigan Engineering Alumni Board for six years and has also been able to join the Department many times at the annual department luncheon during homecoming weekend. One homecoming week he was even an impromptu replacement for the ChE 230 ethics session when one of speakers was unexpectedly called away. We can always count on Fred to help out when needed!