The Kids Are Alright: University Outreach Discoveries

by Gena Long, SOA Manager of Stakeholder Relations

GenaLong I’d been working in the Education department at the SOA for over 12 years when my boss suggested we take our show on the road, so to speak. By that he meant actually going out and physically talking—and I mean face-to-face communication—with some of our actuarial candidates.

Now you must understand that as a staff member in the Education area I am used to hearing from candidates who have been … shall we say slightly disappointed with their performance rather than pleased. I mean really, why would you call or e-mail the SOA if you passed? You’d be on your way to a bar or other place of celebration with your co-passers. You would most certainly not be calling to pat the SOA on the back for writing such an outstanding exam! We get this. So, this road show idea did not initially sound like it would be the kind of opportunity where we would be welcomed with open arms. But the more we talked about it, this new way of creating a dialogue with our candidates, while a little daunting, was exciting at the same time. So, our little touring company to hit the road—and we kept our fingers crossed that we would break a leg (figuratively, of course).

Well, with the warm welcome we’ve received across the United States and Canada, we think that’s just what we’ve done! And it’s been great! I’ve participated in several University Outreach visits over the last two years—I’ve had my eyes opened, and I think we’ve opened a few eyes in the process.

The visits go something like this …

1. One or two working actuaries, along with two SOA staff members, visit a university’s actuarial science department. (We’ve also hit a few schools without actuarial science programs like University of Chicago and MIT. While our audiences were relatively smaller at those venues, the students that attended were very interested in the opportunities an actuarial career has to offer.)

2. We meet with faculty and advisors to share info on work opportunities for the profession and, as needed, the pathway to our designations. I’ve been pleasantly surprised at the interest and engagement expressed in these meetings. They really seem to value the time we spent chatting with them and also listening to the challenges their programs face. (Beyond sharing information, this is another goal of the program—to be alert to areas we can improve upon at the SOA and look for ways we can help support the schools.)

3. Then the best part! The presentation to the students. At the actuarial schools we typically get a great turnout! Never mind that we serve pizza or some other enticement, the students do come to learn. They hang on every word our practicing actuaries have to say about what happens in the “real world” of work and students always want to know more about the exams. How they are created, how they are graded, why it takes so long to grade them … 🙂

4. After the student presentation we always hang around for Q&A as long as possible. It’s great to have this one-on-one interaction with the students. They are much freer at that point to ask the questions they didn’t want everyone to hear. What I have learned over pizza and cookies is that these focused students are sharp and articulate. Their thoughtful questions run the gamut from career opportunities to the education pathway to the differences between the ASA, FSA and CERA credentials. One minute we’re talking about the profession and business and 10 minutes later we’re chatting about social media tools, pop-culture, politics and the latest mobile technology.

So …

What have we given away?

Tons of information on what it means to be a practicing actuary and the benefits of the profession, as well as a map on how to navigate the Education system to get there. Oh, and 1,267 flash drives emblazoned with the “Actuaries. Risk is Opportunity” logo.

What have we gained?

Well, I think we’ve gained common ground. We’re more informed about faculty and advisors’ opinions, experiences and challenges. I have a much better understanding of the student’s point of view—the fears, the stresses and the amazing dedication of these candidates. And I hope they’ve had a chance to see that the SOA’s not an adversary; we’re an organization that is there to serve them, not only now, but throughout their actuarial careers.

What’s next?

We’re continuing our outreach this year with plans to visit schools (with and without actuarial science programs) on both coasts—and in the heart of the United States. We’ve ordered more student giveaways, our bags are packed, and we’re excited to meet a new group of talented students and their dedicated faculty and advisors.

You can check out our road show touring schedule and learn more about University Outreach at http://www.riskisopportunity.net/.

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3 responses to "The Kids Are Alright: University Outreach Discoveries"

  • Mary Pat Campbell says:

    Something you may want to consider in doing outreach is to go to some specifically non-actuarial programs with people who may be open to the profession.

    In the past, I’ve talked about the profession with teenagers gifted in math at Canada/USA Mathcamp — there are lots of programs like that which might be interested in knowing about non-academic careers as what they usually hear about from their teachers are academic careers and may not know how else they can use their abilities.

  • Gena Long says:

    Thanks for the suggestion. You’ll be pleased to know that the university outreach program purposely targets a mix of actuarial science and non-actuarial science schools. We’ve already completed several visits to schools without formally recognized actuarial science ‘degreed’ programs (University of Chicago, MIT, UC Santa Barbara to name a few) and we plan to continue this type of mixed outreach. In addition, the undergraduate and graduate students we’ve met at the non-actuarial science schools come from a variety of majors including finance, economics, math, accounting and engineering. We also advertise the session to those majors at the actuarial schools when appropriate.
    The Mathcamp idea is a good one. I’ve passed along your comment to our communications team for consideration.

  • Mary Pat Campbell says:

    I used to work at Mathcamp and some other programs for mathematically gifted teens, and at the very least can get you connections at Mathcamp, if not the Johns Hopkins CTY program or Duke’s TIP program.

    There are also the math & science high schools [I went the North Carolina School of Science and Math] that would also be good places to send info/do presentations.

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