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What does it mean to be an actuary?

By Risk and Insurance Department

February 4, 2022

statue of Bucky Badger

Actuarial Science is a complex, demanding, and fascinating field of study and practice. When students are new to actuarial science, they may not know which direction to take, what opportunities exist, nor the fascinating aspects of the field. A new course, Fundamentals of Actuarial Applications, taught for the first time in Spring 2022 by Professor Margie Rosenberg, offers answers to those questions. “We have specialized courses that students take to become an actuary, but we did not yet have a course to introduce them to the field. With the current interest in data science, and available technology allowing the class to be virtual, I thought now was the perfect time to offer this course,” shared Rosenberg.

Taking advantage of current technology, the Fundamentals of Actuarial Applications course is 100% virtual with asynchronous online learning. Rosenberg contemplated having an in-person component to the class, but wanted students from anywhere to be able to participate in the course. “With asynchronous and virtual learning, students at other schools do not have the hurdles of scheduling conflicts or having to attend in person,” explained Rosenberg. Currently, there are three students participating in the course who attend Historically Black Colleges and Universities on the east coast. Wonderfully, the students can receive credit for the course through their home institutions.

As Rosenberg was creating the course, she was strongly led by her belief in “learn what to do by actually doing it.” The course has three sections: 1) introduction of technical material, 2) analysis of two case studies, and 3) exploration of career paths and lessons learned from professionals in the field. Throughout this class, students receive support and guidance from Rosenberg and other course assistants as they collaborate with their classmates.

Students are exposed to the software R and learn some technical material, such as probability, in the first part of the course. They will use these concepts throughout their coursework and career. “I wanted to expose the students earlier to technical material that is a little harder. If they are exposed multiple times to a concept throughout their college career, it gives the students the opportunity to master it,” offered Rosenberg.  

The second part of the course has students participating in two guided case studies that pose a problem common to a practicing actuary. The students practice their newly-learned technical skills to analyze the problem and present their solution to others. Students also answer questions such as what they have learned, what decision they would make given their analysis, and whether their results appear reasonable.

As part of the interviews, Rosenberg asks the actuaries to talk about mentoring. She wants students to be aware that all these successful professionals know how to build relationships and learned how to work with people. Through these relationships, they have received mentoring throughout their career and are eager to mentor those starting in the field.  

We are thrilled that students have this new learning opportunity as they explore career options and begin their own actuarial journeys. This course is guided, stress-free, and provides a hands-on way to learn about the actuarial field. Rosenberg’s ultimate goal is for students to realize the fun in exploring analytics and learning difficult material to enrich their knowledge. They can also discover for themselves what it means to be an actuary and to find the opportunities that can happen for them.