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December 4, 2019

Hutchinson Digs Data Stories in Actuarial Science Capstone Course

Lincoln Financial Group Professionals Mentor Students
Hutchinson Digs Data Stories in Actuarial Science Capstone Course
Robert Hutchinson (second from left) and mentor Michael Peterson (foreground) discuss final details for team presentations.
Robert Hutchinson believed he needed to find the right answer to earn the best grade. Working with mentors from Lincoln Financial Group (LFG) in his Actuarial Applications in Practice (ACTS 475) capstone class, he learned that in actuarial science, there can be more than one right answer to the same problem.

“We worked with Lincoln Financial Group this semester to evaluate data and identify areas of business that were either underperforming or performing really well to where they should sell more in those areas,” said Hutchinson, a senior actuarial science major from Omaha, Nebraska. “It helped me experience firsthand how there isn’t one right answer when making a recommendation. It’s like not having a safety net to fall back on because your job is to keep digging for more possibilities. You might find nothing or you might find a lot.”

The class divided into small teams, each working with a different pair of mentors from LFG’s office in Omaha. Ultimately, it gave managers at LFG a chance to hear a greater range of possibilities for business strategies than if all teams were trying to reach the same answer.

Hutchinson boards the bus with classmates headed for their final presentations in Omaha at Lincoln Financial Group.
Hutchinson boards the bus with classmates headed for their final presentations in Omaha at Lincoln Financial Group.
“Our team had conclusions other groups didn’t consider. Some groups looked at it from the point of view of evaluating sales regions in geographical areas like the East or West coasts. We looked at the data from the perspective of industries like fishing or real estate. We tried to show how LFG could target a particular industry to increase sales,” he said.

Michael Peterson, actuarial analyst at LFG, worked with Hutchinson’s team weekly during the semester. He experienced the many ways students grow throughout the fall in advance of their final presentations, which took place at LFG late in the year.

“What’s unique about actuarial science practice is there’s never going to be a perfectly correct answer,” said Peterson, who co-mentored his team with Matthew Rohman, ’19, actuarial analyst. “You’re going to notice trends and unique instances, and then explain what you uncovered. It was fun to see a big shift between the presentations and see students pick up a greater understanding of actuarial science business as we progressed.”

Peterson told students to focus on the story they are trying to tell. He saw Hutchinson play a key role in making the data come to life during their team presentation.

“Some of the students were mind-blowingly good at machine learning and data analysis. Robert excelled at being able to pull those students together and remind everyone they still needed to be able to tell a story about the data. He was able to help incorporate it into a final conclusion. He bridged the gap between the data analysis and practical application,” said Peterson.

Andy Nelson, ’16, associate actuary at LFG, also participated in the final presentations. He shared how the students made a great impression on his company.

“The students presented to some high-level managers in our organization,” Nelson said. “Everyone from our company were very impressed with their findings. What’s great is that a lot of what they provided is actual actionable insights, and it’s likely we will take those findings and implement some of them into business strategies going forward.”

Getting together with teammates regularly helped Hutchinson fully understand the data and communicate the story to LFG management. He believes he now has a better idea of what to expect when he starts his first professional job at Milliman in Omaha after graduating this semester.

“This project threw you into the fire where you have to explore and let your curiosity guide you. Our mentors knew we were all very new to the process, so they were forthcoming with information, and when we met with them in person, they would draw graphs to make it easier to understand key points. It helped create that drive to want to go do more research so you can come back the next day and be better than you were the day before,” Hutchinson said.

Sue Vagts, director of the Actuarial Science program and Ameritas Faculty Fellow, helped initiate the project with Heather Clemens, assistant director and assistant professor of practice.

“This semester was the first time we’ve partnered in this way with LFG,” said Vagts. “Our advisory board helped us come up with this idea to give our students more internship-like experiences. LFG collaborated with us by bringing in a significant case study to solve a real-world problem. It gives our students an opportunity to address the problem in their own way and better prepare them for their initial jobs in actuarial science.”

To learn more about the university’s Actuarial Science program, visit: https://business.unl.edu/actuarialscience.