When Olukemi “Kemi” (Olubodun) Akinyemi, ’04, moved from Nigeria at age 15, she found a new home in Lincoln, Nebraska. After enrolling at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln, she also found a community of friends she considers family.
“Lincoln is always in my heart. I consider Lincoln my home away from home because of the amazing people I met while in college,” said Akinyemi, now a senior managing actuary for CNO Financial Group in Chicago.
Born in Washington D.C., Akinyemi primarily grew up in Nigeria with her mother, brother, grandmother and other extended family. When her parents separated, her grandmother stepped in to help the family.
“Both of my parents are deaf. When they separated, my brother and I moved to Nigeria when I was two-and-a-half years old. My grandmother felt that my mom had too much going on as a single deaf mother, and she requested that we relocate to Nigeria so she could help raise my brother and I,” she said.
Akinyemi graduated high school at age 14 with plans to attend college in the U.S. Two days before her flight, her grandmother asked her to delay her plans until her father was able to come to Nigeria to travel with her. She took basic computer courses while she waited.
“It took an entire year for me to relocate back to the U.S. My dad was in Lincoln at the time which made the city my default home,” Akinyemi said.
Akinyemi took a math and English course at Southeast Community College in the summer while she waited to begin college in the fall of 2000. She started at the university in August and immersed herself in student life, which included serving as a math teaching assistant and participating in the Actuarial Science Club, the African Students Association and Christian fellowships such as Xtreme Devotion and Tabernacle Grace for All Nations. She also enjoyed participating in various multicultural events like Malaysian Night.
During her last three years in college, she lived in Selleck Hall where she made friends from all over the world – from the tiniest rural farming communities in Nebraska to nations thousands of miles away.
“It was basically the United Nations in a building and I loved it there. There were so many opportunities to meet different people just by deliberately meeting friends of friends and varying who I ate meals with and walked to class with. They became my community and family away from home,” she said.
With initial plans to put her math abilities to use majoring in engineering, she changed directions after her roommate found a flyer for the Actuarial Science Club and suggested that she look into the program. The club and the community within the Actuarial Science Program at the College of Business helped her decide to major in actuarial science and math.
“Colin Ramsay and some students were at the Actuarial Science Club meeting. I enjoyed the company of the people, and the people made me fall in love with the major and the possibilities in the career,” said Akinyemi. “I became an active member of the club and later became vice president.”
That seemingly trivial meeting was when she realized actuarial science would play a major role in her future. Using her life experiences, she rose to the challenge in the field.
“Students at that meeting said there are a lot of exams for actuarial science, and I said exams do not bother me,” she said. “I attribute this to the resilience and the attitude of enjoying where you are on the way to where you are going.”
The faculty within the program helped Akinyemi feel right at home, becoming a second family to her. The support provided by them helped her persist through her professional actuarial exams.
“Sue Vagts, director of the Actuarial Science Program, Ameritas Actuarial Faculty Fellow, David P. Hayes Chair of Actuarial Science and associate professor of practice in actuarial science, was my ‘mom’ and Warren Luckner (former director of the program), Colin Ramsay, Edwin J. Faulkner College Professor of Actuarial Science, and Mostafa Mashayekhi, associate professor of actuarial science, were my other actuarial family,” Akinyemi said. “They were my community and knowing that you have support helps you keep pressing. If I failed an actuarial exam, I was encouraged to keep going. Between my faith and attitude, my vast support system including my family and close friends, and the actuarial professors, if I didn’t pass a test, I got right back up.”
Vagts appreciated the time catching up with her former student. She spoke highly of Akinyemi’s spirit and determination.
“Kemi is one of my most memorable students. She came to my office frequently to ask questions and discuss her future, and she listened carefully to all of her mentors on campus and thoughtfully applied their advice. She worked hard in class, got involved outside of class, and immersed herself in college life – all while maintaining such a positive attitude,” Vagts said.
The university became a central part of Akinyemi’s life, as her brother, Adewale “Wale” Olubodun, joined her to major in electrical engineering, and she met her husband, Akintayo “Tayo” Akinyemi, who majored in computer engineering and currently works as a senior analytics reporter and analyst at Health Care Services Corporation. Together, the Akinyemi’s have five children ranging in ages from 11 to 1.
Recently, she returned to campus as a distinguished alum as part of Multicultural Homecoming, organized by the Chancellor’s Commission on the Status of People of Color. She spoke to students in the College of Business and hopes to be an example to students on what they can achieve regardless of obstacles.
“I have yet to work with another female black actuary in the same company but having a mindset that embraces wisdom regardless of the source has helped me thrive in my career.” She added, “I encourage you all to do the same. Be open to learning from your classmates and other fellow students in your major, who may be your future co-workers, managers and networks. Change up your seating preference in class from time to time. Leverage and engage your professors and mentors and be open to counsel.”
Just like her experience in Selleck, she believes that as we learn to engage others, we will realize that we have so much more in common than we think.
“We all have different backgrounds and should focus on taking time to celebrate everyone’s uniqueness. We have a whole lot more similarities than you think if you take the time to find them,” she said. “I was not raised here, but that does not matter. My background helps me bring a fresh and unique perspective. I always have my listening ears for your perspectives and counsel, and when you are done, I will share mine. Having this teachable mindset and being willing to teach others, has helped me thrive in my college days and beyond.”
To learn more about the Actuarial Science Program, visit: https://business.unl.edu/actuarialscience.