Three Roots Staff Spotlight: Dr. Melissa (Missy) Muendel

Photo of Grady and Missy at Missy's retirement paty

Dr. Melissa (Missy) Muendel has been a trailblazer her entire life.

She is an anthropologist, archaeologist and historian who recently retired from Three Roots Capital as its Director of Research and Reporting. With over 36 years of experience in research and development in the social sciences and humanities, she has made a lasting impact on her community and loved ones.

“I want people to think I did a good job, was a good coworker, was a faithful employee and knew how to have fun,” said Missy.

Growing up in New Jersey, she always wanted to become an archeologist or an anthropologist. After receiving her Master of Arts degree in Near Eastern Archaeology, she spent several years on archaeological research projects. Since the late 1970s, she has participated in 16 research and archaeological projects in the eastern United States, the Middle East and Germany.

“My parents had an extensive library when I was growing up, so I used to read all kinds of historical books about mummies, the Pharaohs and Egypt. I was fascinated by archeology and anthropology from an early age,” said Missy. “I still love being overseas – digging and participating in excavations. I love learning about how people used to live.”

In the late 1980s, she moved to Tennessee to pursue her doctorate in anthropology at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, where she studied under Dr. William Bass, widely viewed as the foremost expert in forensic anthropology.

Before she began her studies, she took a research position at the Greater Knoxville Chamber of Commerce, where she launched and managed a research department for 11 years – while simultaneously completing her Ph.D.

In 1999, Tom Rogers, current president and CEO of UT Research Park, asked her to join Technology 2020, where he was CEO at the time.  Missy became involved in all of Technology 2020’s initiatives related to access to capital.  She remained there until she helped obtain CDFI certification for what would eventually become Three Roots Capital in 2016.

“Helping people is the best way to happiness and prosperity,” reflected Muendel. “I hope my work helped improve the lives of others.”

Over the last two decades, Missy wrote more than 84 grant and certification applications. Her work and insight supported the formation of Meritus Ventures, Southern Appalachian Fund, TennesSeed Fund, Southeast Community Capital (now Pathway Lending), and Three Roots Capital, as well as the receipt of New Markets Tax Credits, multiple CDFI certifications, and millions of grant dollars.

“It would not be an overstatement to say Missy has participated in projects and programs that have created and are continuing to create half a billion dollars of economic impact in Tennessee and the Appalachian region,” said Grady Vanderhoofven, president, founder and CEO of Three Roots.

In retirement, Missy is looking forward to traveling, continuing to teach at the National Forensic Academy and participating in archeological digs around the world. She already has several trips lined up over the next few months.

Freshly enjoying retirement life, she doesn’t miss working quite yet, but she does miss being alongside her coworkers – most of whom she has known and been close to for many years, including Grady. Missy and Grady first became friends over drinks at a conference at the Omni Grove Park Inn in the early 2000s.

“He was always someone I could be completely honest with,” said Missy. “I’m very proud of Grady and the rest of the team. They’ve done remarkable things the past seven years.”

When they met, Grady immediately knew Missy was uncommon and special. The office will not be the same without her, and she is welcome to stop by for a visit any time.

“The words I would use to describe Missy are teammate, loyal, tenacious, impactful and fun,” said Grady. “No matter the situation, I’ve always been able to rely on her to say, ‘We can do this.’ I wish her all the best in her next adventure.”