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When Experience Leads to Experiments

by Art U News

By Greta Chiocchetti

As a Nuclear Machinist Mate in the U.S. Navy, it was Erin Geegan’s job to literally work under pressure—in intense, hot, steamy reactor rooms, operating and maintaining steam turbines and gears along with other complicated machinery. 

“I never intended on working on a nuclear plant, and I definitely never thought I would be able to say that I studied nuclear physics,” said Geegan, “but, in boot camp, they teach you everything—bit by bit—and slowly you just start to understand it.” Geegan not only understood her role, but she excelled at it, building a successful six-year career in the Navy. After all, she said, “The way to take on a big task is to break it up into small components.” 

Following the same call to duty that her father had answered when he enlisted in the Navy years before, Geegan sought out the opportunity to give back. Being able to provide for her family and access affordable higher education cemented her path into the service.

Academy of Art University School of Motion Pictures & Television student Erin Geegan. Photo courtesy of Erin Geegan.

“I always wanted to belong to something that was bigger than just me, and it was a way for me to take care of my family, too,” explained Geegan. “My dad served in the Navy as well. It didn’t really dawn on me until I was already in boot camp that maybe I was following in his footsteps.” 

Though she developed plenty of valuable technical skills during her time in the military, like operating and maintaining steam turbines and reduction gears used for nuclear ship propulsion, Geegan’s experience isn’t limited to heavy machinery. 

“Knowing how to research things on your own is a skill that comes in handy,” said Geegan. “They teach you things in the military, but they expect you to be resourceful and figure things out yourself, too. For me, now, that looks like making myself as teachable as possible and having the discipline to show up, do the work, and grow my skills.” 

When her military career reached its end, Geegan decided to indulge her creative side. Things changed for her mentally and physically, she said, when an occupational injury forced her to leave her job at a nitrogen generation plant, and nuclear physics was beginning to take up too much mental space. 

“I’ve always had this creative side to me—I feel like I always had a camera in my hand,” said Geegan. “In church, I was a part of the media team, and we were responsible for taking photos, and I thought to myself that I wanted to share the word of God through video—why not go to school for it?” 

Her journey led her to Academy of Art University’s School of Motion Pictures & Television, where she is studying cinematography with dreams of someday directing a feature film. Geegan is already experimenting with the medium, having launched a YouTube channel where she posts assignments from school and short films as well as vlog-style videos, including a charming video co-starring her son called “Americans Try Japanese Snacks.”     

“Right now, I’m having a lot of fun experimenting and trying to figure out what I want to do and what interests me,” said Geegan. “I don’t know exactly what kinds of films I want to make yet, but I’m learning a lot at school and learning what I like.” 

As a member of the veteran community at the Academy, Geegan says she has been able to get the extra support she’s needed from instructors, along with assistance accessing resources from Student Services Coordinator Chrystal Beamon, who oversees the Academy’s Veterans Resource Center. 

“Our veteran students deserve our gratitude for their willingness to serve our country and help protect our rights and our freedom,” said Beamon. “They deserve whatever they need to be able to complete their studies, and my job is to help connect them with those resources.” 

“Things were definitely different after I got out of the military, and I’m transitioning still,” said Geegan. “A lot of instructors work with me at the Academy, and I really appreciate it. You never know fully what someone is going through, so that means a lot to have their support.”

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