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Katy Koontz

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'81 Anthropology, Journalism | Editor in Chief, Unity Magazine | Knoxville, TN
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Katy Koontz

Liberal Arts Major: Anthropology

Other Major: Journalism

Hometown: Plymouth Meeting, Pennsylvania

Current Location: Knoxville, Tennessee

What enrichment activities did you participate in as a student?

I was a features writer for the Daily Collegian and was also a stringer for The New York Times during my senior year. I was the first undergraduate editor for the Liberal Arts Review, which was at that time a newsletter sent to college alumni. The summer after my freshman year, I participated in a summer dig through the Department of Anthropology and was one of a handful of students who did additional research the following year on pottery designs for a professional journal article. The summer after my sophomore year I was an intern at Philadelphia Magazine, and the summer after my junior year I was an intern for McGraw Hill's Architectural Record magazine (the internship was part of a nationally competitive program run by the American Society of Magazine Editors in New York City).

What was your first job after graduating from Penn State?

My first job was as a secretary for a large trade magazine in Boston, Massachusetts, which I soon left to be a public relations assistant for Simmons College, also in Boston. One year after graduation, I moved to New York City to be a researcher for the Playboy Guide to Fashion and the Playboy Guide to Electronic Entertainment, two special interest magazines published by Playboy that were based in New York. That was the start of my magazine journalism career.

What were your favorite classes?

My favorite writing class was ENGL 415 Article Writing. You could take it twice and write about different things, which I did. The teacher was Robert Gannon, a professional freelance writer who'd written for Readers' Digest, Popular Science, and many other consumer magazines. Since I wanted to be a magazine journalist, learning from someone who was doing exactly what I wanted to do was invaluable. In addition to earning a journalism degree, I also earned a degree in anthropology. My favorite anthropology class was ANTH 045, a cultural anthropology course about the Yanomamo taught by Napoleon Chagnon, who was quite well-known worldwide for his work with this indigenous tribe in South America.

How did your liberal arts education and skills prepare you for life after graduation?

I received great training in writing and editing and in making critical judgments about reporting, which is very important in my journalism career. My two magazine internships were also invaluable in learning the ropes of that segment of the print media industry and in making contacts for jobs later on. My cultural anthropology courses helped me learn how to analyze and appreciate foreign cultures, which was later helpful in my freelance work as a travel writer. In addition, almost all my courses prepared me for being a lifelong learner.

What networking advice would you share with current students?

Internships are essential: My first magazine job was as a direct result of having been an intern for the editor when he was at a different magazine. Keep up with your colleagues: Many of the contacts I made while on staff at various consumer magazines led to freelance assignments once those contacts moved on to other publications. Always be open to new opportunities that you may not have previously considered: After being a magazine journalist for several decades, I jumped at the chance to do freelance book editing for a New York Times bestselling author who I had once interviewed for a magazine article. This led to other book editing jobs not only for that author, but also for several other bestselling authors over the past fifteen years. Be willing to take risks: I was offered the chance to edit a small-circulation national magazine in Kansas City, Missouri, and almost turned it down because I didn't want to move or give up the freedom I enjoyed as a successful freelancer. The colleague who recommended me for the job talked me into trying it as a contractor working remotely. The job turned out to be incredibly fulfilling. In the last seven years, we've tripled the magazine's circulation and won a handful of professional media awards, and I have written question-and-answer cover stories on all sorts of truly fascinating people. This job gives me a steady income, while still allowing me the freedom to do other writing and book editing projects.

What role have mentors played in your career progression?

I would not be where I am today without the generous help and guidance of many people who came before me and gave me a chance.

Flashback to Katy as an Undergrad:

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