Career Path of Melanie Gella, Career Coordinator for Finance and Business Economics at Iowa State
By Karena Bjerke (Career Coach at Career Exploration Services)
Melanie Gella started at Iowa State as an open option student, and shortly after decided to double major in marketing and performing arts. After taking her first marketing class, she realized she did not like it because she wanted something more challenging. She also noticed that she was enjoying her finance classes much more than marketing. She is good at thinking logically and mathematically, so she decided to switch her majors to finance, with international business as a second major.
Gella likes working with numbers, and is also passionate about salsa dancing. During her time at ISU she was able to pursue both of these interests. She is the founder of the Latin Dance Club at Iowa State, Descarga. In addition to this, she has performed throughout central Iowa. Some of her dancing achievements include her time as the lead salsa dancer in the production of Swing! at the Des Moines Playhouse, as well as performing at the Inaugural Ball of a former Iowa Governor. She is also currently teaching dance lessons, and has participated in competitions across the country.
During her time in college, she worked two internships at Principal Financial Group, which is a financial services company located in Des Moines. She spent her time there as an investment analyst where she researched and analyzed commercial real estate properties. These internships lead her to a fulltime job for this company right after graduation.
After working almost two years for this company, she realized it was not the job she had in mind and was not fulfilled by the work she was doing there. A large part of her job was to help the wealthy make more money, which she did not care to do, so she had to rethink what her plans for the future were.
At this time she decided to pursue her passion for music, remembering that she originally came to college with performing arts as one of her majors. Knowing that she wanted to be in the music industry and her love for Latin music, she had hoped to find a Latin music record company that would hire her. However, life in Des Moines at the time did not offer many opportunities for this, but she was able to land a job at a radio station as an accounting executive. Her job was to sell airtime for five different radio stations. She enjoyed this job and learned a lot about music and what goes into making a radio station successful during her time there.
A major aspect of her job was sales, which she did not particularly enjoy. On the other hand, she loved working with the community, especially when she could meet with local businesses and help them market themselves. This helped her realize that the reason she had not completely loved her past two jobs is because she has not been able to help others as much as she had hoped for, and that the pressure for sales did not excite her. This made her realize that non-profit work was where she needed to end up in the near future.
During her time at the radio station, she still had the desire to pursue her music career, so she started applying to many record labels. Since she had a major in international business, she was applying to jobs in other countries as well. After sending hundreds of applications to record labels, she only heard back from one in Liverpool, England. They told her if she was able to come in for an interview, they would likely hire her, so she took out money from her savings and bought an expensive last minute flight to England to chase that dream. She flew out to London, and then had to rent a car to get to Liverpool for the interview. The interview went well and they offered her a job, but they had to wait for the government to give the okay on her work permit, which usually takes about three months. She was ecstatic and put her three months’ notice in at her job for the radio station.
This new job appeared to be the perfect job for her and she was so excited; however, months passed and they had yet to hear back from the UK government on her work permit. Their government was too busy at the time and did not place processing Gella’s work permit high on the list, so unfortunately the company she was going to work for had to pass because they needed someone who could start sooner.
It was 2008 at the time, and Gella had already quit her job, so she was unemployed in the middle of the recession, and no one was hiring. She did not want to have a big gap in between jobs where it could appear that she was doing nothing, so she and her boyfriend decided to take a break from working and go backpacking in Europe for a few months.
When they got back from this trip, the recession was still happening and she was still not able to find a job. However, during this time, Obama had increased the number of AmeriCorps members, so Melanie chose to pursue this. AmeriCorps is a volunteer job that pays just enough to get by. Through AmeriCorps, she worked in Des Moines for Central Iowa Works. This job was to figure out what jobs were in demand and to communicate that to local education institutions, like DMACC. This allowed her to get through the recession and it was a good pathway to get into the nonprofit field.
In addition to working for AmeriCorps, Gella knew someone who was starting his own salsa dancing business. With her background in salsa dancing, as well as finance, she got in contact with him and offered to help him grow his business. He took her up on that offer and they started a non-profit salsa dancing organization together, Salsa Des Moines.
After finishing her year of working for AmeriCorps, she was given an education stipend which she used to fund her MBA (Master of Business Administration) at Iowa State. She was a full time graduate student, so she was able to finish this in two years. Gella notes that she recommends working before starting your master’s degree as it helped her gain experience and have a better understanding of what she wanted out of a career. Also, after working she found out that working in the finance industry is far different than what it was like going to school for it. Upon completion of this, she got married and had intentions of staying home and just working for her non-profit salsa organization for a while.
About a year after graduating with her Master’s, she received an email from someone in the Business Career Services Department at Iowa State, who she worked for when she was getting her MBA, stating that they had a position open and they thought she would be a good candidate.
She was very excited about this job because ISU Career Services is not a for profit institution, she uses a lot of her past experience, and she gets too advise students who are going to school for what she went for.
A typical day for Melanie involves opening up her office, responding to emails, many of which are for advising students. She single handedly advises over 500 finance students, and often meets with students for advising appointments. The relationships that she gets to build with the students are her favorite part of her job. She also teaches BIS ED 203 (Business Careers and Employment Preparation), so she spends time prepping for that class and grading assignments.
Gella loves her job and had intentions of sticking with it until she retired; however, her husband has been offered a new job on the east coast, so she will be moving out there shortly. She hopes to find a similar job because after all this searching, she has finally found a career that ignites her passion.
We asked Gella about her advice for current students at ISU:
She identified the feeling of being overwhelmed by the possibilities, and the process of narrowing the possibilities down to what she is truly passionate about as one of the most difficult things to do while in school.
Gella learned what she is passionate about through trial and error, having different experiences once she had graduated. She advises students to do this while still in college rather than spending years after graduation trying to find what you love.
She suggests students take time in deciding, getting to know themselves and identify their strengths and weaknesses. (If you are interested in getting to know yourself better there is a strengths finder assessment available at the Business Career Center, as well as interest and personality assessments available at the Career Exploration Services Center).
Gella encourages students not to listen to external forces (parents, economy, friends, professors, etc.), who are pressuring them to go in a certain direction that do not feel like what they are hoping for. She encourages students to listen to their heart and find what excites them, because that is what will drive them to be successful and enjoy their lives.