A champion of inclusion
By Jan Hester
Mel Bechberger has boundless positive energy. From inclusion to science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education to mentoring, Mel casts a wide net in her commitment to helping people.
With the company for seven years, Mel is staff geologist in Lower 48 Exploration Appraisal and currently serves as a working project team lead.
Lower 48 Appraisal Manager Erin Reuber has worked with Mel for five years.
“What I admire most about her is that she puts her proverbial money where her mouth is,” said Erin. “She’s totally authentic. Many people talk about getting involved, but Mel actually does something about it by sharing her time and talent.” Mel has made a conscious decision to elevate the unsung heroes.
Through her involvement with the Women’s Network, she has worked to build a sense of community. The network’s Professional Development Committee sponsors regular “lunch and learns,” as well as a technical brown bag series that meets every other month.
“We help women who may not have much exposure share their capabilities and projects with a broader audience,” said Mel. “The friendly, low-pressure environment is perfect for someone looking for her next career move.”
Another issue close to her heart is getting the next generation interested in math and science, particularly the geosciences.
She also leads STEM activities for the company’s “Bring the Future to Work Day,” an annual educational event for employees’ children hosted by the Parents Network. Because of her involvement, Mel was invited to participate in company-sponsored STEM education nights in Bartlesville, Oklahoma. The November 2017 “Hands On, Minds On Bartlesville Math and Science Night” event attracted more than 700 participants for an evening of educational activities.
“You can see her face light up as she explains these scientific processes,” said Erin.
Mel’s favorite thing about working with children is “that lightbulb moment when a student gets it. When they overcome those challenges, you can see it in their faces. It wasn’t you – they did it. You just steered them in the right direction.”
To bring women together in a casual environment and to help build stronger networks across the company, Mel created “Ladies Who Lunch,” a monthly get-together that is “social, spontaneous, personal and professional.” The group size and makeup varies from month to month, but participants are delighted with the event.
“Every time you meet someone new,” Mel said. “It’s a friendly, fun environment for women to help each other identify opportunities and build a strong, professional network.”
Mel also supports ConocoPhillips’ education initiatives. For the past several years, she has represented the company as geoscience recruiter for the University of Texas at Austin, including mentoring Imperial Barrel Award students and participating in Geoscience Leadership of Women activities. For the past four years, she has taught the geoscience module for ConocoPhillips’ PetroTech Academy. As an invited university lecturer, she thrives on interacting with students and talking about her work with ConocoPhillips.
Mel and Erin are both engaged in launching a culture and inclusion program for the Exploration, Business Development & Other International (EBDOI) group, with President Richard Lunam’s goal of improving team dynamics and ensuring a safe, trustworthy work environment.
“This program is part of the company’s wide-ranging focus on inclusion,” said Mel. “EBDOI President Richard Lunam tasked us to develop a program. We thought ‘culture and inclusion’ more accurately reflected what we hope to accomplish.”
Their efforts include raising awareness of negative patterns and using constructive feedback to address them. Each month a discussion group meets around a chosen topic. The first meeting explored the difference between how introverts and extroverts function in the workplace.
“We watched a TED talk on the topic, then broke into discussion groups to explore ways to tailor meetings to accommodate both personality types,” Mel said. “For example, extroverts tend to prefer thinking on their feet in the moment, while many introverts do better if they know a topic in advance. For those individuals, it might be preferable to distribute a meaningful agenda before a meeting.”
In her leisure time, Mel has a taste for adventure. She and her husband, who’s a computer programmer, share a passion for travel – around the U.S. and all over the globe. An avid skier, she particularly enjoyed a trip to Hokkaido, Japan, where she had an opportunity to ski in powder “so deep it blows up over your face and you wish you were wearing a snorkel.”
What’s in her future travel plans? She’d love to go “to Alaska and maybe back to Norway.”
Kristie McLin, manager, Petroleum Geochemistry & Basing Modeling, reaffirms Mel’s commitment to helping others. “She’s a give-you-the-shirt-off-her-back type and loaned me her car during the Hurricane Harvey aftermath. She and her husband also sat with our kids while we worked on tasks to get back on our feet – after volunteering in the community doing house tear-outs and working to distribute supplies.”