August 3, 2011

Actuarial Science Internships Let Students Learn Outside the Classroom

The UNL actuarial science program has been designated as a Center of Excellence by the Society of Actuaries. The recognition is bestowed based upon a variety of criteria including preparing students in the pre-professional aspects of actuarial science. Emphasizing and participating in student internships is a key component in readying students for their careers. Kelsey Bridges and Ryan Root are just two of the current actuarial science majors involved in summer internships which are helping to better prepare them for their future careers.

Bridges, a senior from Crete, will begin her final semester at UNL this fall. She is currently experiencing firsthand what being an actuary is all about working at Zurich North America in Omaha.

Kelsey Bridges

Kelsey Bridges

“I’m getting all the experience of working for an insurance company,” Bridges said, “and I’m also focusing on what I’ll specifically be doing related to being an actuary. I got pushed right into a couple projects where I had no idea what I was really doing. I was looking up data and cross referencing it to make sure that the data we had in our databases was correct with what we had on our website.”

Root, who will also be starting his senior year in the fall, is from near Beatrice. His summer internship at the Mutual of Omaha has given him a similar initiation.

“Coming in I didn’t really know what to expect because there are many different things you can do with an actuarial science degree,” Root said. “The internship helps show you what you will be doing in a day to day setting. The first part of the summer I worked alongside the fulltime actuaries doing a lot of Excel work -- calculating reserves for different policies. They also gave me some independent projects and said, ‘Here are the goals and here are the tools you will need along the way,’ and then kind of let me figure stuff out on my own. It’s been a big learning curve.”

Both Bridges and Root have excelled in mathematics in the past. Their ability to utilize their math skills in a career path that emphasizes math has been helpful. Nevertheless, graduating from a prestigious actuarial science program does not happen automatically.

“If you are going to go into actuarial science don’t have any doubts about it and don’t give up because it is going to be hard,” Bridges said. “You have to be persistent.”

Ultimately, actuarial science students have to pass a series of professional exams in order to become a licensed actuary. The tests are different depending upon which actuary society the student chooses to pursue. Bridges has completed some early tests but knows things are not going to get easier during the coming year.

“I’ve taken the first two exams.  The first four exams count the same so you can go into either society before you have to decide which path you are going to choose.” 

Interning at Zurich has given Bridges a chance to broaden her career horizons.

“I haven’t decided yet which society I want to go with so this internship has been nice because in school we learn a lot about things that apply to the society of actuaries in life and health, and this is a property and casualty company, so I’m getting to have that experience of learning what this side of things is about.”

Root also stressed that opportunities for students to weigh which society they would like to join are also presented in classes and in actuarial science club meetings.

Ryan Root

Ryan Root

“Within our classes we’ve had different actuaries from a variety of fields come in and answer questions for us,” Root said. “I went to a couple actuarial science club meetings where they had some of the All State Insurance representatives come and talk about the property and casualty side of the business so I was exposed to some of that.”
Another side of the internships that Root is finding helpful is working in teams.

“At school you do get a good experience working in teams but it’s a little different in the internship. Here at Mutual of Omaha I’m working under someone with more experience. I’ve been learning to balance asking the right questions when I’m stuck versus trying to be independent and figuring some stuff out on my own.”

Root is working with 26 other summer interns at Mutual of Omaha. Four of the interns are in actuarial science including one other UNL student, Paul Sogbodjor. Mutual of Omaha also provides housing for any of the interns that do not have family in the Omaha area.

The entire experience of participating in an internship is something Root urges other students to pursue.

“Definitely seek out internships.  It’s just a huge help to experience what it’s really like because you can only learn so much from the text book. To be able to see the daily life of the career and to be able to network with so many fulltime people has been great. Even the job interview helps prepare you for the real world. Internships are a huge help for that.”

Networking at Zurich has also been a big part of Bridges’ learning experience. She is able to participate in weekly meeting conference calls where interns from throughout the country make team presentations which try to simulate real life projects.

“We do things on the phone calls that help prepare us for a presentation we’re going to have to make at the end in August,” Bridges said. “We also have training for actuarial where we dial in and there’s anywhere from two to four people each week talking about different actuarial topics. That’s more stuff that I’m learning that I wouldn’t have gotten from school alone.”

Bridges and Root are just two of the more than 35 actuarial science students from UNL participating in internships this summer. Although they all have a lot of work to do before finishing up their degrees and completing their actuarial exams, those that choose to participate in internships have given themselves not only an initiation into actuarial science but a better opportunity to make an informed decision about the specific career path they will eventually choose.