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IU Northwest News

Actuarial science program earns acclaim


Michelle Guan’s associateship status yields $5,000 grant to provide student support

Tuesday Dec 01, 2015


An actuary is a professional who applies mathematics and statistical methods to assess risk. They most often work in the finance and insurance industries, determining risk-to-reward scenarios to help companies make financial decisions.

Successful actuaries obtain a series of certifications as they pass a sequence of difficult exams, thus making themselves increasingly more qualified, and marketable. Associateship and fellowship are two levels of actuary qualification.

IU Northwest Assistant Professor of Mathematics and Actuarial Science Michelle (Yuanying) Guan recently obtained her associateship status from the Society of Actuaries (ASA). In doing so, she also secured a $5,000 grant to help develop the University’s actuarial program. The grant will provide financial support for the promotion and development of education and research programs in actuarial science, including actuarial exam reimbursements and undergraduate research opportunities for students.

Earning an associateship is not an easy process. Guan said she pursued the designation for about 10 years. She will continue to work towards the next level of fellowship, which will earn another grant for the University.

Guan said there are approximately 100 universities in the U.S. with certified actuarial science programs but not all of them have certified actuaries on their faculties. Even the best developed schools have only a handful of faculty members with this designation.

Guan said that IU Northwest’s Actuarial Science program is one of only a few programs in Northwest Indiana and Chicago area that offer courses for all preliminary actuarial exams and Validation by Educational Experience credits.

The eventual goal of developing the IU Northwest actuarial program is to make it become SOA Center of Actuarial Excellence (CAE) in the future. This will be accomplished, Guan says, as more faculty members earn this prestigious designation.

Together with colleague Alex (Xiaofeng) Wang, who is also pursuing an associateship, Guan said she is looking forward to elevating IU Northwest’s actuarial science program to a new level. In addition, Wang brings previous industry experience to the program, having worked as an actuary in the life insurance industry before joining IU Northwest.

Wang and Guan recently launched the Actuarial Student Club, which provides students with opportunities designed to further develop their skills, such as presentations by industry professionals, resume and interview workshops and networking opportunities.

Students learn directly from industry experts

The real measure of an academic program’s success lies with the experience of the students.

Elizabeth Pierce, 22, of Hobart, is interested in working as an actuary in the property and casualty industry. She is benefitting from one-on-one access to Guan’s mentorship. In fact, the pair is currently immersed in a research project, analyzing how the latest healthcare reform measures affect consumer behavior. The choices customers make about insurance, for instance, can help draw conclusions about whether the pricing is appropriate. The goal is to have Pierce’s name on a published work on this topic, something which will make her increasingly marketable in the workplace once she graduates.

In a field where exams are the measure of one’s proficiency, giving students all the tools possible to succeed is of the utmost importance. Passing at least one or two of the certification exams is the industry’s competitive standard for an entry-level job, Guan says.

Jake Jakubowicz, 19, of Schererville, though still a freshman, is confident that the program will adequately prepare him to pass the required certification exams upon graduation. The personal attention that professors of smaller classes are able to provide, translates into students who gain a competitive edge.

The job outlook for this profession, which typically only requires a bachelor’s degree, is favorable. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported the median pay of an actuary as $93,680 in 2012 and projects the profession to grow 26 percent between 2012 and 2022.

With Internet and new technologies, actuaries are needed to develop, price and evaluate a variety of new insurance products and calculate costs of new risks.

IU Northwest’s program is expected to grow in tandem with the industry itself as students learn of the opportunities available to them in Actuarial Science. Subsequently, Guan says the expectations on students will inevitably rise to ensure graduates are competitive in an industry where professionals will increasingly be in demand in the coming years.

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