Increasing actuarial science majors at Nebraska affirms program growth but also creates challenges. With direction from her advisory board and a time-honored focus on community, Program Director Sue Vagts guides day-to-day successes one student at a time.
“Our numbers have doubled to more than 400 actuarial science majors since receiving our designation as a Center for Actuarial Science Excellence and entering the Big Ten,” said Vagts, who joined the College of Business in 1999 after working in the insurance industry for eight years. “One of our hallmarks has always been a small tight-knit community with strong connections between faculty and students. My biggest challenge is maintaining that community when we’ve grown so much in a short time.”
Vagts believes the Actuarial Science Advisory Board gives her the necessary foundation on which to build. She noted the hands-on approach the advisory board takes assuring students graduating today have the same advantages of those from 60 years ago.
“Our advisory board started our program in 1957 with a strong sense of community. Holding on to that is just as important now as it’s ever been. They assist in fundraising to help with scholarships, student travel and faculty support. All those things, along with the support of our college to double the size of our faculty, lets us continue our one-on-one faculty advising and frees me up to have an open door policy and meet with any student when they need help,” she said.
Warren Luckner, former program director, believes Vagts abilities to make students feel at home made her the perfect replacement when he retired. He sees students continue to succeed and attain great jobs out of college.
“Serving with Sue for more than a decade, I know she is committed to maintaining the same community involvement we’ve advocated among students, faculty and alumni,” Luckner said. “She continually receives recognition for advising excellence which begins first and foremost with our prospective students.”
Aaron Wang, a junior actuarial science major from Missoula, Montana, credits Vagts with working with him on his initial visit to campus. She painted a vivid picture of what life as an actuary would be like.
“I wasn’t entirely sure what actuaries do but Sue gave me that lasting impression of what to expect,” said Wang. “It left an impact on me to have someone at her level talking to me about the program, and she’s always willing to set time aside to go through your student plan and lay the groundwork for what you’ll be doing. She’s a great mentor and friend to all our students.”
To align with the increasing numbers and growing job market, Vagts works closely with the advisory board to examine curriculum development to align with industry standards. Since much of the increase in students stems from international students, recent strategies looked closer at how to best prepare all students for the job market.
“We started an international subcommittee, which is giving us greater growth for our international students in the U.S. job market, as well as better preparing all our students for growth in the international market,” Vagts said. “We recently looked at doing a study abroad for students in Malaysia because we have so many students from there. We not only went there to meet with schools and businesses, but also connected with our alumni in Malaysia to make connections for our recent graduates.”
The international focus on behalf of the advisory board helped Vagts develop students like Kalana Jayanetti, who came to Nebraska from Sri Lanka and graduated this May with a degree in actuarial science. Jayanetti immediately moved into his first career job as an actuarial assistant at Mutual of Omaha and credited Vagts with orchestrating his path.
“Sue is always welcoming and willing to talk to students,” said Jayanetti. “She’s approachable and gives students the time and opportunities they need. I became a student tutor, which is a big benefit of the program. Not only did it let me connect with classmates but it helped my communication skills and gave me a greater understanding of other perspectives. I also participated in the Actuarial Science Club, which Sue emphasizes to hear professional speakers talk about their careers. All these experiences helped me get an internship at Mutual of Omaha that led to my first job.”
Often the initial contact with actuarial science students at New Student Enrollment, Vagts begins the process even before day one of their semester, giving each student a new home away from home in Lincoln, Nebraska. She allows the foundation built on more than 60 years of community to perpetuate the next generation of actuarial science majors.
“A lot of students tell us they chose Nebraska because we are one of the only schools where they got to meet faculty from their program on their campus visit. Then from their very first actuarial science class our students build close relationships. They take most of the same classes together and study groups form. Our students really get to know each other, and those bonds stay together throughout the rest of their college career and often throughout their lives,” she said.
Continuing to raise the stature of the Actuarial Science program and maintain benefits students receive from one-to-one faculty advising, the advisory board helped implement a new World Class Actuarial Science Fund. Linda Whitmore, ’88, senior vice president and chief actuary, corporate at Ameritas, and advisory board member, believes recent changes, such as the move into Howard L. Hawks Hall, make it the perfect time to capitalize on the program’s strengths.
“It’s great to see the energy they have in this actuarial science community at Nebraska,” said Whitmore. “For six decades the actuarial science industry has been very generous. Now we have an opportunity to insure our future by building on the endowment.”
To donate to the World Class Actuarial Science Fund, visit: https://nufoundation.org/donate?fundId=01142180
To learn more about the Actuarial Science program, visit: https://business.unl.edu/academic-programs/departments/finance/actuarial-science/