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Women in Refining: Melanie Purvis

“People are watching and listening, though you may not think so.  It is important to keep your sense of humor and have some fun.”

Melanie T. Purvis knows a thing or two about being the only woman in the room. When she started school in the Chemical Engineering program as a freshman at Georgia Tech, there were six men to every one woman. 

Melanie Purvis

“It was a time when women at an engineering school were seen as only looking to get a ‘Mrs.’ degree,” she says. 

That was in 1987 and things were still slow moving for women in technical fields. In fact, Melanie had one particular supervisor in the late 80’s who did not think women should even be in the workforce. 

 “He would tell me I needed to be working in the home, not at the plant,” she says.  He made it his mission to get Melanie fired. That might have stopped her career in the refining industry before it even had a chance to blossom. But fortunately, she was assigned to “two very strong women supervisors who helped me to see my own value at that plant,” she says. 

Over the years, things have certainly improved for women in the refining community, but Melanie still experiences discrimination for her gender every once in a while. A few years ago, she was scheduled to present a lunch-and-learn on valves. Prior to the presentation, she was asked “what do women know about valves?”  She replied “I don’t know. I am just here to make sure the food gets delivered.”  

After giving her presentation, that same person asked her to walk through the plant with him  because he had several issues and wanted her help in finding valve solutions.

Through the years, there have been many other challenges and obstacles for Melanie as a woman in a male-dominated field, but she takes it all in stride. “I just continue to trust God to strengthen me and help me through them,” she says. 

Her advice to women entering the refining field now? “Do not let people’s narrow-mindedness lessen the way you function and do your job.  People are watching and listening though you may not think so.  It is important to keep your sense of humor and have some fun.”

Melanie is currently based in the Charleston area of South Carolina, where she has been working for SchuF USA for more than 18 years and currently serves as the company’s Vice President.  Her time is now spent working with manufacturing sites and EPCs to review process design and operations where critical valves are needed or existing valves have been causing issues.  These can be anything from control to isolation to blinding. 

“Walking the units and speaking with operations and maintenance teams is enjoyable to me,” Melanie says. “It allows me to see things that a P&ID will not tell you. Sometimes I get carried away trying to learn the whole process– guess it’s just the ChE in me.” 

The years she has worked in the plants have sharply honed Melanie’s approach to her job, and she often asks herself the questions: “Is this what I would recommend to myself if I were running this unit?  Will this make operations safer, easier, more productive?”  Above all else, she always strives to be honest and true.  “It helps you sleep better,” she says. 

In 2017, Melanie started JCB Valve Solutions, Inc., a manufacturer’s representative company based in Cypress, TX that is expanding to become an authorized repair center for SchuF valves to allow further support to the sites as well as help to see where further design enhancements can be achieved.

Melanie’s favorite part of her job is that she’s never bored. “I am continually learning new processes, especially as technologies develop,” she says. She has been able to gain knowledge in gasification, liquefaction, delayed coking, petrochemical, power, and now direct air capture and lithium processing. 

Melanie Purvis

As busy as she is with her duties at SchuF and JCB Valve Solutions, Melanie still finds time for the important things in her life. “I enjoy my daily quiet time with God as He renews my spirit,” she says, “and I have a wonderful husband, Frank, with whom I love to spend time traveling, dancing and just relaxing at home with him and our fur babies. I have three sons who make me so very proud (Jesse, Cole and Bailey), and a daughter (Sommer) who blessed us with two beautiful grandchildren (Katlynn and Parker) prior to her passing in 2008.”  She also loves to crochet and has started playing the piano and flute again. 

Not only is Melanie a familiar face in the refining community, but she is also well known and loved at RefComm events. She has been coming to our conference since 2007 (including USA, Canada, Brazil, and Germany). Like us, she is also happy to see the familiar faces that have become our strong-knit community over the years, as well as the faces of a younger generation who represent new friendships and fresh, innovative ideas.

“I have enjoyed seeing more and more diversity in the attendees and sharing of experiences,” she says.  “It has become a family to me.  A family where we need to build up and encourage one another.  You never know where you will be working or what you may be doing.  This is an ever-changing world– be a light in someone’s life every day.”

Connect with Melanie on LinkedIn or come visit her booth at RefComm Galveston 2024! 

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Refining Community