Zakiyya Reyes knows most people don’t get as excited as she does when it comes to insurance. That’s what makes her job all the more fun.
The 2023 University of Arizona Global Campus (UAGC) graduate wants people to understand that insurance is not just a “policy” that you purchase – often at the risk of penalty – and forget about until you need it. In her eyes, the insurance industry really is about connecting people and ensuring everyone gets a fair shake.
“It’s very important to me to be working in spaces that create equity,” says Zakiyya, who earned her Bachelor of Arts in Psychology. “There are so many groups that don’t get that chance and don’t have a voice or seat at the table. It’s important to me that the world I live in and the world my children live in have that opportunity.”
Zakiyya’s passion is evident in her voice, as she speaks to UAGC just a few weeks after crossing the stage at the University’s commencement ceremony to accept her Bachelor of Arts In Psychology. When she spoke with UAGC about her life experience, it was during a brief break in her daily workflow at Munich Re, the global insurance conglomerate where she’s worked since 2016.
As the company’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Coordinator, Zakiyya oversees all activities related to corporate social responsibility, including volunteer efforts. She is not just the main contact for employee engagement – actively encouraging and facilitating their participation in various employee resource groups – but she also embraces a public-facing role, changing perceptions about insurance and giving a face to what can sometimes be an impersonal or “anonymous” industry.
“Insurance is something that will always be here,” she acknowledges. “It’s part of my job to show employees how they can give back as an individual or as a team. I am creating awareness and creating specific opportunities for people to participate.”
Insuring Future Generations
Though she has lived in Morrisville, Pennsylvania, for the last seven years, Zakiyya lived most of her life “right over the bridge” in New Jersey, and that’s where she was heading after this interview.
“I am participating in a career fair for Junior Achievement for Atlantic Community College,” she explains. “To me, it’s a great way to get information to students and gives our employees a concrete way to give back.”
Representing Munich Re at career fairs is one of Zakiyya’s favorite parts of the job. Engaging with students provides her with a platform to share her passion and delve into the significance of insurance and the role it plays in people’s lives.
She explains it’s not the same as “selling” insurance, but rather, she is educating people and breaking down complex concepts using real-life examples. Not only does Zakiyya get the chance to expand their comprehension of the industry’s inner workings, but she also relishes the opportunity to discuss career opportunities at her company and what those jobs look like.
“I have always been interested in people, learning about their lives, their journeys, and what makes them tick,” she says. “I want to be someone who can help people, and this position allows me to help people.”
Unlocking Her Passion
Zakiyya first realized she wanted to “do something with people” when she took a psychology course in high school. She thought she was going to be an attorney, but after stopping college and entering the workforce, her career path led her to insurance and Munich Re.
“Being someone who loves learning and growing, that was very attractive to me,” she says.
Getting accepted and choosing the BA in psychology program became a pivotal moment in Zakiyya’s life, unlocking the door to the next chapter of her professional journey.
“When I first started at UAGC, I was a claims operations analyst, and had been in that role for about four years,” she says. “Signing up for school and getting approval from my manager showed that I’m passionate about growth and development. I think I was successful in displaying that.”
It couldn’t have come at a better time, as her department was undergoing a reorganization and her newly acquired skills gave her an opportunity to step into management.
“My psychology classes really helped me become the best manager I could be and helped me understand the type of leader I wanted to be,” she says. “Classes like organizational development helped me become a better leader. My lifespan development class helped me understand the needs of people throughout their lives, and learning all of that has really helped me.”
Making the transition to her company’s human resources team, and taking the reins of DEI policy and programs, has further given Zakiyya a chance to pursue her passion, while giving her the confidence of a leader. Serving on the company’s DEI council, she’s now able to play a role in determining yearlong strategy on what the employees need internally and how she wants the company to be perceived externally.
Insuring Her Family’s Future
Though organizing employee volunteer opportunities and career fair appearances keeps her busy, Zakiyya is committed to ensuring her middle school-aged son and daughter lead fulfilling lives. The family has dealt with its share of challenges in recent years, as she went through a separation and divorce shortly after she returned to school, and she and her children were all diagnosed with COVID-19 in 2021.
“Through each of these trials, UAGC supported me and allowed me to take breaks when I needed to and helped me to stay the course with classes,” Zakiyya recalls.
One big lesson learned from her college experience, she adds, is the importance of time management. To Zakiyya, it’s much more than getting assignments turned in before their deadlines. It’s about making sure she is “able to dedicate my time where it’s needed.”
That translates to activities like dedicated family movie nights.
“My son likes all things Marvel and DC, my daughter and I love thriller and horror movies,” she says, noting each member of the family gets a turn to pick a movie. These are the moments in time she says can’t be replaced, so having the full attention of her kids is critical.
“No cell phones, no tablets,” she says, laughing, adding it’s a rule she applies whether it’s family movie night or during one-on-one time.
Zakiyya is also actively involved in her church, serving on the worship team and singing in the choir – something she’s loved since discovering her voice in her early teens.
Moving to Pennsylvania those years back was part of Zakiyya’s plan for her children’s future. She liked the school system, and her mother and younger brother also live nearby. The latter shares her love of learning, and recently finished his master’s degree in psychology.
That same achievement – a graduate degree – is next on Zakiyya’s list of life goals.
“I want to earn my master’s degree in family counseling, become a licensed therapist, and offer my services free of charge at shelters for women and children,” she says. “I think there’s a really big need for therapy and not enough therapists to meet those needs.
“Therapy is something I can do on the side, because it will be pro bono. I will still be in the insurance industry and that’s how I’ll support myself and my children, but I want to complete my graduate degree so people feel seen and heard and are able to reach the goals they have for themselves.”
Successful completion of a UAGC psychology degree by itself does not lead to licensure or certification in any state, regardless of concentration or specialization. Further, UAGC does not guarantee that any professional organization will accept a graduate's application to sit for any exam for the purpose of professional certification. Students seeking licensure or certification in a particular profession are strongly encouraged to carefully research the requirements prior to enrollment. Requirements may vary by state. Further, a criminal record may prevent an applicant from obtaining licensure, certification, or employment in this field of study. Certain degree programs may not be available in all states.