Alumni Spotlight: November 2023
Gonzaga prides itself on creating servant leaders, but Zag Alum Melissa Koontz (’12) says when you’re worried about finding a job, everything else takes a back seat.
“When you graduate and you're entering the workforce, you kind of have one goal in mind and that goal is success,” Koontz said.
Koontz put her head down and worked hard to take that next step in her HR and finance career, but at the end of the day kept feeling like she hadn’t “made it.” She felt as though it would never be enough to call herself “successful.”
“And then you start working with people,” Koontz said. “And you start to understand all of the different dynamics of how they got to where they are -- and it’s actually the connecting with people that is the important part of feeling whole and feeling like you have gotten to where you need to be.”
Koontz is currently the Vice President of Employee Benefits at HUB, a company that literally acts as a hub for insurance options; but before she became the VP, Koontz started her undergraduate journey at Gonzaga back in 2008—completely unsure of what to study or what she wanted to do after graduation.
“So much of career development is dependent on so few individuals,” Koontz said. “And you don't realize what an impact they're making at that time until you fast-forward 10 years later, and you can attribute almost your entire career to just a few select conversations that you had with those people.”
Koontz, who ended up double majoring in accounting and human resources, attributes much of her success to two Gonzaga professors: Dr. Molly Pepper and Dr. Rebecca Bull Schaefer, who is now the Director of the MBA program. Melissa is in touch with both to this day and considers them to be trusted mentors in her continued development. Koontz says these types of connections are one of the most special parts of being a student at Gonzaga.
Network, network, network.
Another special part of the Gonzaga experience? Figuring out who you are.
“Gonzaga has this unique ability to create you as an entire human being,” Koontz said. “And so even though I knew early on I was going to be majoring in business, I was exposed to different opportunities—things that I liked and things that I didn't like. And now being in the working world, I can understand people's passions, how things fit together in a business environment and just in the world.”
Koontz says you don’t have to go far in order to go far.
“When I graduated Gonzaga, there was this feeling that I’d have to leave the city and go to all of these major places like Seattle and Portland and L.A. in order to find a great career—and it's just not true,” Koontz said. “There is a ton of opportunity in Spokane, and it's just a matter of getting out there to look for it and getting networked with the right people.”
Koontz said that networking starts when you’re still in college.
“One of the most influential parts of Gonzaga was connecting with the Alumni Association, getting networked early while I was still a senior and looking for a job,” Koontz said. “That’s the best way to find a position: get out there, get to know people and use your connections.”
Am I a person for others yet?
Koontz is no stranger to volunteer work. She has served in a number of volunteer roles including Inland Northwest Society of Human Resource Management (INSHRM), Leadership Spokane Alumni Class of 2016, Greater Spokane Incorporated Public Policy Committee, State of Reform Advisory Board, and the Gonzaga Human Resources Advisory Board.
“When I started volunteering for these boards, it was completely self-serving,” Koontz said. “I was like, ‘I'm going to get connected to this and that.’”
After all, the job market is competitive, networking is essential, and the most valuable asset we have is our time. But reflecting on it now, Koontz says that when she was showing up to check a box for her career, there was a hole somewhere inside her that just never quite closed.
“And then you meet with someone who's coming up in the world,” Koontz said. “And you give them a piece of advice that actually makes a difference, and it's like, ‘Oh, that was the best thing that happened to me today.’”
Now, with a passion for building Spokane’s community, Koontz continues to volunteer—but with a new view of her role. She’s showing up to help others succeed.
In addition to her work for INSHRM and Gonzaga, Koontz is the Co-Organizer of Spokane’s first DisruptHR event series and has volunteered for various high school and college-level organizations as a mentor, judge, advisor, and interviewer. Most recently, Koontz became a member of the Board of Trustees for the Vanessa Behan Crisis Nursery, an organization providing assistance to parents in crisis, to create safe situations for their children.
Working in Human Resources in Spokane
Noting that insurance is not the “sexiest” industry, Koontz says what she loves most about her job is partnering with companies in the Spokane community and seeing how they operate. She works with Numerica Credit Union, Yoke’s Fresh Market, Horizon Credit Union, Ziggy's home improvement, Fred's Appliance and Treasury4, to name a few.
“We focus on real medical claims for different employees within the organization,” Koontz said. “We are trying to help them through really challenging times in their journey when they may have some health issues, but also trying to contain those costs on the back end.”
She says it requires all the empathy of her human resources training, with the economic mind of her finance degree: both earned during her time at Gonzaga.
Don’t be an island.
Koontz has two daughters, Maddie and Ellie, and is welcoming a new baby Zag in January with her husband Troy. Ultimately, she wants to keep taking on leadership challenges and eventually write a book.
In the meantime, she offers some free advice:
“Get involved in the community early,” Koontz said. “Because it teaches you so much about not only how the pieces of a community fit together, but also about social responsibility, and your role in it.”
Koontz says lifting up others will help you to feel more whole, more connected, and less focused on your own trajectory.
In that sense, being “a person for others” is also a way of healing yourself, and finding meaning beyond that next promotion.