The University of Nebraska–Lincoln’s first opportunity to host the international Actuarial Research Conference (ARC) nearly came to an end before it began due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In the face of safety issues and limited world travel, a team of College of Business faculty, staff and students retooled the conference into a virtual format which concluded with more than 600 in attendance hailing it a resounding success.
“When we first decided we could not host the conference in person, we were very disappointed,” said Sue Vagts, director of the Actuarial Science Program located in the College of Business. “The conference has been around 55 years, and prior to this year, we had never hosted it. We were excited because we finally had a new building at Howard L. Hawks Hall perfect for hosting conferences like this one.”
Nebraska actuarial science and risk management insurance faculty discussed their options in April, but with no experience attending a virtual conference let alone planning one, they had no roadmap to chart their course. Ultimately, because of how valuable the ARC conference is to both academia and working professionals, they decided to give it their best shot by moving the event online.
“We discovered by using our university Zoom licenses and purchasing additional Zoom webinars, we could host the conference. We decided to leverage the strengths of our alumni and friends in developing the content with our scientific committee, and utilize our college’s internal marketing, IT and event planning teams to manage the logistics,” Vagts said.
The conference turned into a full three-day event with more than 200 presenters, including three keynote speakers, 26 special invited session with experts presenting on current topics of interest, 33 parallel sessions with research paper presentations and 10 poster sessions by graduate students relating their research projects.
“By using our in-house team plus our incredible group of student workers, our conference reached 600 participants in more than 30 countries. Thanks to our sponsors and in-house team, the cost was minimal including students receiving admission at no cost,” she said. "At Nebraska, we are known for offering a great education that's a best value and to be able to offer this beneficial experience at a lower cost enabled greater access."
Dr. Colin Ramsay, Edwin J. Faulkner College Professor of Actuarial Science, credited conference planners with not only making the event affordable, but also focusing on diversity to strengthen presentations and audience appeal.
“The core elements were depth and breadth of sessions that were offered and the variety of non-traditional speakers at ARC 2020,” said Ramsay. “The diversity of speakers was breathtaking, which attracted a more diverse, motivated and interesting group of attendees. We ended up with more than three times the number of participants than the previous in-person ARC conference.”
Ramsay helped with an additional component to the conference, as his daughter presented a unique entertainment interlude with a violin performance from her home in New York City.
“As a dad, I was especially happy my daughter, Ezinma, who trained on violin at Nebraska, played one of her compositions during ARC 2020’s Fun & Games session. She was a big hit,” he said.
Dr. Shengchao Zhuang, assistant professor of actuarial science, emphasized the help student staff provided to help everything run smoothly through Zoom.
“We were lucky to have 15 incredible student workers familiar with Zoom technology,” said Zhuang. “We did Zoom tests for about 200 presenters and moderators before the conference, so that all could have the chance to test their internet connections and experience the real Zoom webinar environment ahead of time. In the end, few presenters had technical issues.”
Vagts hopes the next time Nebraska hosts the ARC conference much of it can be face-to-face at Hawks Hall. In the meantime, she remains proud of how her team rallied in the face of adversity to make the 2020 conference a success.
“During this pandemic, when many companies and individuals are faced with economic uncertainty or hardship, this was a great service our program could provide. We received so many notes of thanks and praise from participants near and far,” she said.
Dr. Edward Furman leads the actuarial science program at York University in Toronto, where he is also founding director of the Risk and Insurance Studies Centre. His comments reflected the overall enthusiasm for the how the conference translated online to give participants a feel of genuine engagement.
“I am very truly stunned by how exceptional the team at Nebraska performed on this Actuarial Research Conference,” said Furman. “I was quite hesitant having a virtual conference, but they proved an outstanding conference experience does not have to be physical. I cannot even imagine how much they devoted to make it such a smooth and astounding success! Bravo and thank you.”
To learn more about the Nebraska Actuarial Science Program, visit: https://business.unl.edu/actuarialscience.
Other quotes from conference attendees included:
Margie A. Rosenberg, professor, University of Wisconsin-Madison
“I just wanted to say how much I enjoyed this year’s ARC. I attended several conferences this summer and ARC was the best. The content was the most well-rounded of any ARC I have attended in the past. Everything considered, it was terrific, and I thought your student helpers were terrific. Very professional."
Warren Luckner, former director, Nebraska Actuarial Science Program
“Congratulations on an outstanding actuarial research conference! It is truly amazing how well this virtual conference was organized and the several sessions I attended were very good. The scope, depth and timeliness of the topics covered in the conference couldn’t have been better. The student workers were well-prepared and very professional in the way they performed their duties.”
Kenneth Zhou, assistant professor, Arizona State University
“I just want to express my appreciation to you for organizing the ARC conference. This year, many actuarial conferences have been canceled or postponed due to COVID-19. As a junior researcher, I therefore find it very hard to connect and stay in touch with other researchers. Thank you for hosting ARC remotely and giving me the opportunity to connect and collaborate with others.”
Petar Jevtic, assistant professor, Arizona State University
“I would like to sincerely thank you for allowing me to be a part of the wonderful conference you have organized. I think you did magnificent job, and now all those preparatory emails make sense. It's been an honor to be part of this event. Thank you again.”
Samuel Gyamerah, Ph.D. student, Pan African University
“I do appreciate the opportunity given to me to partake in this virtual conference. It was really impactful and I have gained so much knowledge.”
Qazvini Marjan, assistant professor, Heriot-Watt University
“Thank you for organizing ARC virtual conference. It was a great experience.”
Jiacheng Cai, Ph.D., assistant professor, Salisbury University
“Thank you so much for the wonderful conference! It was a great experience.”
Samal Abdikerimova, Ph.D. student, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
“Thank you for organizing an excellent conference!”
Letetia Mary Addison, project officer, The University of the West Indies
“Congratulations on a well organized virtual conference, in spite of the current global situation.”
Xuan Li, associate professor, University of Minnesota Duluth
“Thank you for organizing the conference. I was impressed by many sessions, particularly, those with COVID-19 issues, and did enjoy the conference very much.”
Yanbin Xu, Ph.D. student, Nangyang Technological University
“Thank you very much for arranging this great conference in such a difficult period.”
Yang Liu, Ph.D. student, University of Waterloo/Tsinghua University
“Thank you very much for organizing this wonderful conference.”
Don Hong, professor, Middle Tennessee State University
“Appreciate the organizers and co-workers for the excellent job done!”
Dr. Hany Saleh, Department of Statistics and Insurance, Mansoura University
“Sue Vagts, I appreciate your efforts as Chair of the ARC2020, and the efforts of the conference team in all its scientific, organizing and operations committees, the IT team and the distinguished student volunteers. Congratulations and thanks for all the wonderful activities that were conducted through this conference.”
Skoubani Mohammed-Amine, actuarial intern, AXA Assurance Maroc
“I would like to thank the organizing committee for the great work.”
Mahalakshmi Kandhan, actuarial associate, Ameritas®
“So much learning in three days. Thanks to the team for all wonderful sessions. I had a hard time choosing the concurrent sessions. All the topics were very interesting.”
Alexandre Carbonneau, Ph.D. student, Concordia University
“Thanks a lot all the ARC organizing team for this amazing conference!”
Amanda Xue Bai, University of Nebraska-Lincoln
“Thank you so much for hosting this conference! I have enjoyed and learned a lot from this conference!”
Nao Mimoto, associate professor, University of Akron
“I just wanted to say that I truly enjoyed my first virtual conference! It was very well organized and professionally run. I see that virtual format has many benefits in-person conference does not offer. Hopefully when we return to in-person format in the future, the conference still broadcasts the talks so that more people can attend.”
Donna Morrison, Ph.D. student, University of Nebraska-Lincoln/University of Guyana
“Congratulations on a successful conference!”
Didier Serre Ruah, actuary, Analysis Group
“Thank you for the wonderful organizing of this event!”
Fabio Viviano, Ph.D. student, University of Udine
“Thanks for the great organized experience!”
Som Raj Sharma, Actuarial Society of Nepal
“I am privileged to be part of the 2020 Actuarial Research Virtual Conference (ARC 2020). Thank you so much for the wonderful opportunity. Thank you for the organizer and I really appreciate the initiative of 'Virtual ARC 2020'. This program has definitely benefited students at large, globally.”