Simon Lecture connects actuarial science students, faculty and industry professionals

  • Oct 31, 2018
  • actuarial science, Ron H. and Mary E. Simon Actuarial Science Lecture, event
  • Homepage News, Alumni, Faculty & Staff, Research, Students, Actuarial Science, Mathematics, Statistics & Probability
Image of Ron and Mary Simon talking with a Simon Lecture student attendee
Ron and Mary Simon visit with Jessica Nutter (left), a fifth-year actuarial science major, who attended the afternoon session of the event and also came to network and hear the evening lecture.  Photo credit: Harley J. Seeley

The sixth Ronald H. and Mary E. Simon Actuarial Science Lecture was held Oct. 25 at the Kellogg Hotel and Conference Center, Michigan State University.

Nearly 100 individuals—including students, faculty, alumni, and industry leaders—attended the evening lecture by keynote speaker Steve Kolk, president of Kolkulations, LLC, a risk analysis consulting firm. 

“The magic in effectively sharing this information is that you need to keep the story in the numbers, because numbers forget things,” said Kolk, who is considered one of the nation’s foremost actuarial experts in climate change. “As soon as you write them down, they don’t tell you where they’ve been or where they’re going unless you take time to make them count or measure things. Mathematicians have a gift to make numbers tell stories, understanding them and seeing them like a musician understands and reads notes—and storytelling works best when a mathematician quantifies things he or she loves.”

The intent of the Simon Lecture is to strengthen MSU’s Actuarial Science Program by connecting students, faculty, alumni and leaders in actuarial science for an evening of scholarship and community.

The day’s events included an afternoon of academic lectures and student presentations, as well as an evening reception, dinner and keynote address.

Image of Cathy Nagy
Cathy Nagy

“It’s important for students to attend an event like this so they can meet industry professionals,” said Cathy Nagy, a member of MSU’s Actuarial Science Advisory Board and senior consulting actuary at CBIZ Benefits and Insurance Services, Inc., in Livonia, Mich. “Hearing the speakers and learning about new topics helps them figure out what they want to do with their actuarial science degrees.” Nagy received her master’s degree in probability and statistics from MSU in 1990.

Jessica Nutter, a fifth-year actuarial science major, attended the afternoon session and also came to network and hear the evening lecture.

“I’m interested in what Kolk will have to say tonight,” Nutter said. “I’m hoping to gain more professional experience as a student, and I’m looking to grow—especially in the area of communications.”

Image of Marilla Marks
Marilla Marks

Marilla Marks, a third-year actuarial science major, attended the lecture to take advantage of  networking opportunities.

“I haven’t done enough networking in the actuarial science community. This seemed like a good  opportunity for me to meet more people,” said Marks, who was one of the student presenters earlier in the day.

Image of Gozhan Wang
Gaozhan Wang

Also in attendance was Gaozhan Wang, a Chinese exchange student Jilin University, who is at MSU this semester to participate in the math department’s exchange program—Discovering America. The program pairs a Chinese student with an American student to work on a research project. Wang presented his research at the afternoon session along with team member Marks.

Image of Mark Wenger
Mark Wenger

“The interaction here is just fantastic,” said Mark Wenger, assistant vice president and chief property and casualty actuary at Auto-Owners Insurance Company. “This is a great opportunity for students because they get to learn more about some of the topics that are important in the industry, and it’s a great opportunity for employers to see some of the  best and brightest students that Michigan State has. The education and the training that MSU students receive is superb.”

“We come to continue education and to listen to the speaker,” said Elmo Harris, a data engineer in the actuarial and data science department at the Accident Fund. “We’re also here to network with the rest of the industry, and to spot young, upcoming talent. We’re always on the lookout for individuals to fill internships, as well as entry-level and senior-level positions.

Image of Elmo Harris
Elmo Harris

“If we find good talent, we want to make sure that we can bring it in to our house. It’s people who drive our business,” Harris added.

“I really look upon this event as an opportunity for me to stay connected with the students, and with the Actuarial Science Program at MSU,” said Ron Simon who, along with his wife, Mary, founded the Ronald H. and Mary E. Simon Endowment for Actuarial Science  in 2011, in recognition of the value of education gained at MSU. The inaugural Simon Lecture was delivered in spring 2012.

“The objective is to bring in people with diverse backgrounds. Speakers like this create an opportunity for students—as well as others who attend—to get exposure to how actuarial science can be used, beyond just the rate making and the reserving that normally occurs in a commercial insurance operation. We really reach out beyond that,” Simon continued.

“It’s good for students to see more than just how you crank numbers; this shows them how their knowledge can be applied in different settings. At Auto-Owners, we’re hiring a lot of MSU students—not only in actuarial science, but in data services and many other disciplines.”

Simon earned his degree in mathematics from MSU in 1967. His career spanned 44 years at Auto-Owners, where he held the position of CEO until his retirement.

In addition to the Simons, sponsors of the daylong event were Auto-Owners Insurance Company, AF Group and the Actuarial Foundation.


Banner image: (Left to right) Keith Promislow, mathematics department chair; Frederi Viens, statistics and probability department chair and interim director of the Actuarial Science Program; Mary Simon; Ron Simon; Steve Kolk, keynote speaker; and Phil Duxbury, College of Natural Science dean, pose for a group photo following the 2018 Ron H. and Mary E. Simon Lecture.Photo credit: Harley J. Seeley