University Liaisons Having an Impact
J. Michael Boa
by J. Michael Boa
Linda Bjork goes back to college every year. But the 1987 graduate of the State University of New York (SUNY) at Geneseo doesn't go back to the homecoming game against St. John's Fisher or the School of Performing Arts' production of "Hot 'n' Throbbing." She makes the trek from Princeton, New Jersey to upstate New York to talk to students and professors about a career as an actuary.
Over the years Bjork's work as a CAS University Liaison to SUNY-Geneseo publicizing the actuarial profession has had an impact. "I was the first person to take an actuarial exam at SUNY-Geneseo," explained Bjork. "Now, there are about 10 people a year taking exams, and the school serves as an exam testing center."
When Bjork was a student earning her degree in math, the math department offered minimal direct help for prospective actuaries. However, her annual visits since graduating have raised awareness of the profession to a high level. The math department now offers a course that helps prepare students for the first actuarial exam. In addition to course work, the department supports students interested in the actuarial profession by coordinating internship opportunities, offering a dedicated scholarship, and providing on-site testing.
"It's important to keep in contact with the professors," Bjork said of her success in reaching out to students. "I also have my name and contact information listed with the school's career services department so students can contact me directly about the career."
The work of Bjork and more than 160 other CAS members has the CAS University Liaison Program thriving. The program was launched in 1999 and puts casualty actuaries on campuses to encourage the "best and the brightest" to consider a career as an actuary. University Liaisons work with professors in a position to reach students qualified for an actuarial career, and offer to make presentations, give lectures, review course selections, and conduct informational interviews for students. Liaisons also work with math clubs, academic fraternities, and career centers.
Kathy Olcese has seen great returns on her investment of time as a University Liaison. Olcese has returned to the University of Notre Dame the past two years to participate in a program sponsored by the career center. She utilized the presentation provided to University Liaisons in the CAS Speaker's Kit for a session called "What is an Actuary?" The presentation was designed by the CAS External Communications Committee to introduce the actuarial career to students who know very little about the profession.
Olcese also participated on a panel session put on by a professor at Notre Dame called "What to do with a Notre Dame Math Degree." "I was on the panel with other graduates from Notre Dame who had majored in math," said Olcese. "This session attracted a roomful of students who had not decided on a career focus for their math major. I'd say one measure of success is that for my company's recent recruiting effort at Notre Dame, we had an overflowing schedule for interviews for our actuarial positions."
Jim Rowland had a similar story to tell of his efforts with the University of Kansas. "A handful of students (at least five) have sat for exams as a result of my efforts with the faculty and students to raise awareness of the profession," said Rowland. "Two of those students had successful internships at my company and they plan to continue in the profession."
The impact of University Liaisons is being felt internationally, as well as in the U.S. About 20 schools around the world, including schools in Canada, Great Britain, and Australia, have CAS members serving as liaisons. Daniel Tess, who works for a consulting firm in Sydney, Australia, is serving as a University Liaison to two schools "down under." He was asked by the University of New South Wales to give a lecture to their graduate program in actuarial studies on the topic of "General Insurance (P&C) Loss Reserving."
"The students had only rudimentary background knowledge on squaring triangles, and had no real knowledge or experience in general insurance," explained Tess. The lecture was well received, and afterward Tess got a thank you from the course instructor.
"Your lecture restored my faith in the actuarial profession," wrote the instructor. "[Y]ou were very elegant in the presentation of a difficult subject and showed just the right balance between theoretical issues and commercial considerations. The reaction from the students was excellent."
More success stories like these are needed as the actuarial profession competes against other disciplines for mathematically inclined college graduates. The CAS External Communications Committee is constantly recruiting for additional University Liaisons and welcomes members to volunteer as liaisons to any schools with which they have a desire to work. Additional information on the program is available on the CAS Web Site at www.casact.org/academ/ulprog.htm.