From switchboard operator to COO, Kathy Ellis credits Westminster for setting her on a path to success
by Audrey Maynard (’03)
Katherine (Kathy) Ellis’s (’88) career path was anything but straight or planned. Growing up in Vermont, Kathy had no plans for attending college, opting instead to marry young and pursue the “ski-bum” life out west. In the fall of 1981, Kathy arrived in Salt Lake City looking for work, and a young business manager at Westminster named Steve Morgan hired her to operate the college’s switchboard—a position that changed the entire trajectory of her life.
Kathy quickly grew to love the campus environment at Westminster, and she attributes overhearing a less-than-flattering exchange among a group of students as her reason for enrolling in her first college course. “I remember sitting in Bamberger Hall right across from the Registrar’s Office, and I overheard some students complaining about having to get passing grades,” she says. “I thought, ‘Your parents are probably paying for you to come here. The least you could do is get a passing grade!’ I knew that if they could do it, so could I.”
At first, she enrolled in classes that interested her, and she developed a particular passion for psychology. Mark Jones’s abnormal psychology class opened Kathy’s eyes to the day-to-day work that would be required of her as a psychologist or social worker. While she loved studying psychology, she realized that she did not want to practice it.
Enter accounting professor Alan Rogers. In her role as campus operator, Kathy made photocopies and placed all long-distance calls for faculty. Through those interactions, she developed close relationships with many professors, including Alan, who encouraged her to stay enrolled and earn a degree. Alan urged Kathy to give his introductory accounting course a try, which she reluctantly did. “Accounting didn’t sound too exciting to me, but I really liked Alan,” she laughs.
What Kathy learned from those first few accounting classes was that she would never be a passionate accountant, but that she could satisfy her personal objectives of supporting her family, serving others, and engaging in challenging and important work. She also learned about how far she could go with the support of faculty, like Alan, who helped her realize her potential.
“Alan is so gifted, and he cares so much about the success of his students, not just academically, but as people,” Kathy says. “That is the thing about a lot of the professors at Westminster: It’s about more than the classes, more than learning the information they need to convey. It’s about the personal growth of their students, and that is what is really different about Westminster.”
Kathy graduated summa cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in accounting in 1988. After graduation, she worked for Coopers & Lybrand, Smith’s Food & Drug, and Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Utah and earned her CPA. She later earned an MBA from the University of Oregon, and she currently serves as the chief operating officer of CareOregon, a nonprofit healthcare organization serving 250,000 low-income residents of Oregon.
To honor her transformative time at Westminster, Kathy created a scholarship last year to support female students—particularly single mothers—enrolled in the Bill and Vieve Gore School of Business. “Lots of women, just like me, are destined to go to college,” she says. “Nobody is walking them toward college, but somehow they get there. Those are the people I want to help.”
Kathy encourages all alumni whose lives were changed at Westminster to support scholarships for students. “I would not be the person I am if it hadn’t been for Westminster,” she says. “I know not everybody has this unique connection that I have, but alumni still had an experience there that changed the trajectory of who they are. It’s about ensuring that others have that same opportunity.”
To learn more about how you can support Westminster students through scholarships, contact the Office of Advancement at 801.832.2730.
About the Westminster Review
The Westminster Review is Westminster University’s bi-annual alumni magazine that is distributed to alumni and community members. Each issue aims to keep alumni updated on campus current events and highlights the accomplishments of current students, professors, and Westminster alum.