Mines alum uses chemical engineering background as a pipeline to banking
By Ashley Piccone, Special to Mines Magazine
When Melanie Gipe ’81 graduated from Mines, she had no idea that her career would mimic the twists and turns of the pipelines she studied as a chemical engineer, especially as it eventually, and unexpectedly, flowed into banking.
Gipe started out in a traditional engineering role at Gulf Oil, after which she transitioned into more strategic and analytical product management positions at Chevron Chemical. She was involved in introducing company-wide tools that were used for decades and led projects that impacted the entire organization. But when she wanted a job closer to her home and young son, she began consulting as a product manager for all kinds of companies, even those beyond oil and gas. One of those was Wells Fargo, where interesting projects and processes incentivized her to stay.
“I fell into banking,” she said. “I really didn’t plan it. I didn’t wake up one morning and say, ‘I should get into banking.’”
Despite the unanticipated change in career paths, Gipe found that her skills translated well as she became a product manager and helped create now everyday conveniences, such as mobile check deposits, card-free ATM access, new banking accounts and instant cash transfer. Like oil and gas, she found banking to simply be another process flow: as a card is inserted in an ATM, it triggers a stream of data instead of fluid.
“I was learning a bunch of things that I didn’t know and using all of the information and all of the logic and processing skills that I learned from engineering,” she said.
But when she first started in banking, mobile deposit was just a pipedream. Gipe helped bring it to reality by carefully balancing the risk to the bank and the customer experience with a safe but easy-to-use platform.
“Mobile deposit was one of those tricky projects,” she said. “It was all about being able to understand multiple systems, how to work with a large cross functional team and how to think about the problems that we had in a really logical fashion.”
Gipe was also involved in the early design and discussions of Zelle, an app that allows easy money transfer. Originally a service limited to a handful of banks, Gipe helped extend the capabilities of the app to make it ubiquitous.
“A lot of the projects that I did at Wells Fargo were leading-edge capabilities for banking. It’s cool to have been at the forefront of all of that,” she said. “It doesn’t sound earth-shattering now, but we didn’t always think we could just take pictures of checks.”
These challenges drove Gipe to stay in banking, where she enjoyed tackling hard problems by asking questions and listening to every voice at the table. She recently retired from Wells Fargo after 15 years with the company, and she encourages others to explore similar, untraditional paths.
“Your education doesn’t define your career for a lifetime. Engineering taught me to think, and that was fundamental to every role I took on,” said Gipe. “But I love to learn and try new things, and I think that was because of engineering. So, don’t be afraid to explore.”