Lee, MD, has always been a people-person so to no surprise she concentrated
on people all her life. Melanie first set her sights on a career in
medicine, but later turned her sights toward construction to fulfill her
Born and raised in Los Angeles as a native ‘Angelino’ Melanie is a third- generation American-Born Chinese. Melanie with her grandmother’s influence worked as a child actor in many films and television shows. A few features she starred in include ‘A Majority of One’ with Rosalind Russell and Sir Alec Guinness (Obi-Wan Kenobi), and ‘Flower Drum Song’ with Nancy Kwan. Melanie always managed to discover each studio public relations department to obtain star photos for them to autograph.
Melanie was drawn to medicine as an altruistic field where she could help people. She dreamed of a career in pediatrics. Melanie achieved her dream and received her B.A. degree in psychology and pre-medical at the University of California, Los Angeles with a minor in child psychology. Things changed during her internship rotation in pediatrics, Melanie lost her first chronically ill 12-year-old female patient. She decided the experience was too painful to repeat, so Melanie left medicine to pursue another career.
Melanie turned to construction after her time in medicine. Her first summer job as a teenager involved working at the “Dodge Los Angeles Plan Room.” The Dodge plan room kept all plans of LA County projects. At this job, Melanie’s responsibilities included estimating, checking project specifications for client products, and counting the number of products used on each project. After she left medicine, Melanie worked at Westco Savings Bank in the construction loan department. She worked her way up the ladder and became manager of the department. After the bank, Melanie became a construction loan liaison for various general contractors and developers dealing with banks. She managed every facet of the accounting department and assured successful monthly construction loan payments.
In 1985, Melanie discovered the National Association of Women in Construction (NAWIC) while managing the Construction Loan Dept. at Westco Savings. NAWIC is an organization started in 1953, to support all women in construction. Melanie found NAWIC a place to expand her people skills, leadership capabilities, and her knowledge of construction. She started out in the Greater Santa Monica Chapter #188 then moved to the Los Angeles Chapter #42. Melanie has been elected and served multiple times in chapter officer postions including president, vice president, treasurer, secretary, and director. When she first became chapter president, Melanie formed a powerful alliance with the other Region 12 chapter presidents and their bond is still strong 20 years later. The ‘Chargettes’ as they were nicknamed refused to meet in a ‘retreat’ and attended a ‘Charge’ instead, hence the name of the group. Several ‘Chargettes’ rose to become national presidents in NAWIC, including one regional director and two chapter presidents.
While Melanie served as NAWIC Professional Education Chair, she provided speakers for monthly meetings and arranged job walk tours for various construction projects. These project tours included sites such as the new Los Angeles Airport Air Control Tower, US Bank Library Building, a drywall factory, Los Angeles Metro Rail Red Line subway tunnels, Los Angeles Metro Rail Green Line, and the Glenn Anderson Freeway. Recently Melanie arranged for a tour of the Los Angeles Ritz Carlton Hotel and Residences complex. The view from the 57th roof floor was spectacular! These tours provided once-in-a-lifetime opportunities.
In 1994, Melanie was approached by Habitat for Humanity-Los Angeles (HFH-LA) to help organize the Jimmy Carter Work Project in Watts. Melanie organized 41 NAWIC volunteers and obtained donated materials for a house in Watts. Subsequently, she served for six years as secretary of the HFH-LA board and then two years as chairman of the board. As chairman, Melanie worked to correct systematic problems that plagued the affiliate since inception. On job sites, she volunteered as a crew leader and taught groups of volunteers building tasks for eight years. This amazing experience and valuable building knowledge helped Melanie obtain her California professional general contractor license in 1999. HFH-LA used her license until 2003. Since then Melanie has completed many remodeling projects and worked as a consultant in an international development project. She looks forward to future projects that increase urban density, total square footage and improve the neighborhood without changing the original footprint.
Currently, Melanie is developing a NAWIC annual program with LA Chapter member Veronica Soto, among others and the Los Angeles Unified School District. The annual program will be a system to help increase the number of successful female high school students entering the architecture, engineering, and construction management fields of the construction industry.
As a Chinese female, Melanie has never hesitated in reaching for her goals; she insists that making goals is critical to being successful. ‘Life is like a trip,’ she states, ‘successful trips need good planning with maps and guide books to keep you on the right road. And in life, without setting goals, it is easy to stray off and waste time and money.’ Melanie encourages all of the women she encounters at career fairs and construction trade fairs that they can be just as successful in construction as their male counterparts. Women may be challenged with the physical aspects, but they have trained since their youth that they can successfully multi-task by working out all the detail.