Coming into the University of Nebraska–Lincoln, Grant Schirmer, ’19, searched for a meaningful career to utilize his mathematical abilities. Pursuit of a worthwhile major in a dynamic environment landed him at the College of Business where he uncovered his career destination through the help of a close friend.
“I was trying to decide between music education and something math related. I figured I was good at math, so I thought I could give actuarial science a shot,” explained the Lincoln, Nebraska, native. “However, I stuck with actuarial science because after my first actuarial science class we read this article about someone whose house burned down and how insurance was able to help them recover from that. That provided a new meaning to the major for me.”
Schirmer entered college ready to start something after earning himself a spot in the Nebraska Business Honors Academy and joined a cohort of other high-ability students to undergo core business courses together. Through the program, he not only made countless friends and mentors but also met his now fiancee, Kylee Yakel, ’19.
“We had an 8 a.m. economics class with Dr. (Sam) Allgood and we both showed up early and were sitting outside of the classroom,” said Yakel, a Lincoln native who also majored in actuarial science. “We started talking there, and then later in December of that year we started dating.”
Determined to gain experience in the insurance field, Schirmer began searching for internships. Although he did not find one, he remained driven and turned his focus to preparing for and taking the preliminary exams, a common foundation on becoming an actuary.
These exams recommend roughly 100 hours of studying per hour of exam, which last up to four hours. But with his fiancé on the same track as him, Schirmer knew he had someone he could rely on to help him see his goals through and vice versa.
“For whatever reason, the stars didn't align on finding an internship, which was disappointing at the time. But I just maintained focus on passing an exam to make me competitive for other internships and careers,” said Schirmer. “Having a significant other that understood I needed to study was really helpful. I took a lot of our finance classes first and she took a lot of the statistics and actuarial science classes before I did. So we were able to say, ‘that professor is really good or I really liked this class,’ or even shared textbooks.”
Schirmer did not go long without an internship and soon he began working at Assurity Life Insurance in Lincoln. He credited not only his fiance for the support she provided, but also Sue Vagts, director of the actuarial science program, for her open door policy.
“Having the title of director sounds like someone not accessible to those not familiar with the program, but I can’t count the number of times I've walked into Sue's office with questions and she was always able to help,” he said. “She really likes to see us succeed and she knows everybody in the department because she teaches the first class and the capstone course for actuarial science majors.”
Vagts noted it is not by happenstance she is the first and last professor actuarial science students see during their major courses.
“As a professor of practice, I have industry experience and do a lot of professional development for the students. Whether they have questions about what they are going to do in their career or internship, we want them to be comfortable coming to talk to us. So we like having them at the beginning so that we can meet them and they get to know us and see us as friendly faces,” explained Vagts. “Grant was never shy or quiet, but he was a little more reserved in the intro class but became very engaged in the capstone class.”
With his wedding approaching, Schirmer sought out Vagts’ assistance on how to maneuver job offers and time management. Vagts related to his stress, as she found herself in the same position when she went to school.
“My biggest advice for graduating seniors is to relax and enjoy what you're doing. Try to find some downtime, and don't stress out completely. It is a super exciting time in your life. But it also can be extremely stressful if you don't handle yourself. Find some balance and make sure you take time to enjoy all the changes, even though they are all happening at once. I told Grant to be open and honest with the employer, because they are people too, so they will understand,” she said.
Taking Vagts advice, Schirmer accepted a job from Ameritas Life Insurance in Lincoln as an actuarial assistant. Yakel will not be far, with a position lined up in Omaha, Nebraska, as an actuarial assistant for Mutual of Omaha. The two plan to marry this summer.
To learn more about the actuarial science program, visit: https://business.unl.edu/actuarialscience