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Alumni and students applaud Simon Actuarial Science Lecture

Stephen Mildenhall, Global CEO of Analytics for Aon, was the keynote speaker at the fourth Ronald H. and Mary E. Simon Actuarial Science Lecture on Nov. 13 at the Kellogg Hotel & Conference Center in East Lansing, Mich.

The Simon Actuarial Science Lectureaims to strengthen Michigan State University’s Actuarial Science Program by connecting students, faculty, alumni and industry leaders in actuarial science for an evening of scholarship and community.

“This lecture is a perfect opportunity for students to connect with people in the industry, and it’s great for the program because it gives the program exposure,” said Kevin Clinton, director of MSU’s Actuarial Science Program.

More than 100 people attended the lecture, which was hosted by the MSU College of Natural Science and the Actuarial Science Program. The daylong event included an afternoon academic lecture by Mildenhall and actuarial science student presentations, and an evening reception, dinner and keynote address by Mildenhall.

“It was great to see students actually doing practical work,” said Mildenhall regarding the student presentations, which are part of the Math 491B class, where teams of students work on real-world industry problems. “Their interaction with industry is good.”

Mildenhall’s address focused on the theory and practice of risk management, which is at the core of insurance company operations. His talk explained the successes as well as practical shortcomings of the popular risk management methods, and suggested some new ways of looking at risk.

“In my presentations, I try to show students that they are learning theory directly relevant to pressing questions in industry and that there are new answers to these questions,” Mildenhall said. “I also hope that my talk highlighted possible new avenues of practical research for faculty.”

Actuarial science senior Nathan Yuille and his team made a presentation at the afternoon session.

“Our Math 491B team is working on an actuarial project for Accident Fund. We are sorting through data looking for cost drivers of workers compensation. At the end of the project we will be given a hypothetical claim and the team will have to estimate how much it will cost Accident Fund,” said Yuille, an MSU accounting alum (B.A., 2006; M.S., 2008) who was inspired by last year’s student presentations to come back to MSU and get a degree in actuarial science.

Shannon Xiaqian Lao, who is a sophomore in actuarial science, knew from a young age what she wanted to do for a career.

“When I was 12, I read a novel where the main character’s job was as an actuarial scientist,” explained Lao who is from Shanghai. “After finishing the novel, I went online and searched for what kind of job that was and decided that was what I wanted to do.”

Numerous industry representatives and alumni also attended the evening lecture.

“Actuarial science is a fantastic career because you have the opportunity to take something mathematical and apply it to a real-world situation,” explained Michael Ringuette (B.A., statistics, ’87) with Towers Watson in Detroit, Mich., and a member of the MSU Actuarial Science Advisory Board. “My advice to students, in addition to their actuarial studies, is to get a general knowledge of the business world and how to communicate effectively, because actuarial science is really about taking complex mathematical topics and helping people who don’t work in this area understand how to make decisions from the information provided.”

Jason Culp with Farm Bureau Insurance in Lansing, Mich., has used his background in actuarial science to transition into data analytics in a new data department.

His advice to students: “The more you can work on data manipulation and handling skills the better. Today actuaries in entry-level roles deal with hands-on data, so the more experience, the more attractive students are to potential employers.”

Another important point that Chris Drew with Accident Fund in Lansing, Mich., stressed is passing the actuarial exams as quickly as possible. To become an actuary, one must pass a series of four examinations. Employees can work on them after being hired.

“However, if you can pass at least one exam by the time you are looking for jobs, that shows employers you are trying to get through the process,” Drew said.

Ron Simon received his B.S. in mathematics from MSU in 1967. He worked for Auto-Owners Insurance for 44 years and was CEO of the company until his retirement. Simon and his wife, Mary, recognized the value of education gained at MSU, which led to their decision to invest in the Actuarial Science program with a philanthropic gift to endow the lecture. Their gift will allow for funds to support the program in perpetuity through the endowment.

“MSU’s Actuarial Science Program is doing very well,” Simon said. “The guest speakers at these lectures are really here to inspire the students to see opportunities other than the pure mathematics of the program because there are so many places where actuarial science can be used.”

MSU’s Actuarial Science Program was established as an undergraduate major in 2012. Because of its interdisciplinary nature, the program is housed in and supported by both the Department of Mathematics and the Department of Statistics and Probability in the College of Natural Science.