Mystery Major Leads to Robust Careers
UCM's Actuarial Science Program Flourishes through Scholarship
Actuarial science majors face not only the challenging upper-level math and statistics coursework, but they also must pass multiple credentialing exams on their way to becoming an actuary. These exams are infamous for defeating even the brightest students; however, for Osborne, the challenge of the exams was actually appealing.
"The one thing they all talked about were the exams, that these are really hard exams and all this tedious work goes into them and that they are so hard to pass. Being a straight-A student, I thought, 'I can do that.' I like a challenge, so I wanted to know how hard it really was and if I could do it. And it was really hard," she noted.
Osborne failed her first practice exam. It was a wake-up call. She credits program coordinator, Jean Tao, for providing the support and encouragement she needed to keep going even when things got tough.
"Dr. Tao always gave people confidence and kept you going because it can be pretty deflating when you have a group of mostly 'A' students and you all go take a test and fail it," Osborne said. "You're not used to failing something. She was really good support for us."
Tao, who took over the program in 1992 after Craven retired, said that the program at UCM has adapted over the years to keep up with industry trends.
"Certifications are different from when I took them," Tao said. "Traditionally they focused only on the insurance industry, but now they've expanded to different subjects like finance and derivatives. So the knowledge requirement is getting much broader, and that includes a lot of economics and finance as well as some computer skills and investments."
Tao notes that faculty members in the actuarial science program, and throughout the department, work hard to ensure that their students get the tools and support they need to be successful. Faculty offices and the students' main study lab are on the same floor of the W.C. Morris Building. Updating this lab is the department's top fundraising priority. The room is untouched from the 1980s with heavy wooden tables, one whiteboard and poor lighting. Remodeling this room is one of the ways the department hopes to make this hard subject easier for students to approach, facilitating teamwork and access to faculty.
Yet another way the faculty ensures student engagement is by making sure the curriculum stays current and relevant.
"All four programs in our department are dedicated to updating our curriculum," Tao said. "We write a lot of proposals every year to see that our courses are aligned with the Society of Actuary's courses. The same happens in computer science, math and math education. Besides teaching, writing curriculum proposals is the second largest job to us."
Students seem to appreciate these efforts, which are paying dividends in increased enrollment and higher graduation rates.
"The teachers, especially in our program because it's small, have a lot of availability for one-on-one," White explained. "They're always very helpful if you go in and talk to them. That's one of the things that brought me here. I wasn't sure if I was ready for a really big school, and I think that coming here you are more than just a name on a roster list. They really get to know you."
Both Osborne and White encourage high school students who may be considering a STEM major but are afraid it will be too difficult.
"Don't be intimidated by that," said Osborne. "I think a lot of high school students hear about jobs and they don't have the confidence to think, 'I can do that,' because they don't see the clear path from where they are today to where that job is."
"I would encourage them, especially if they have been a strong math student, to not shy away from it because they think it is difficult," said White. "I like the problem-solving aspect. Put a problem in front of me and I'm able to accomplish it. I just like that feeling you get from that. I would definitely say, don't shy away from the hard work, at least check it out because it can be very enjoyable."