April 2013

Student Projects

By Ron Gehardtsbauer

In my Life Contingencies I class, I have students call their parents and "sell" them insurance (WL, Endowment, or Term). They discuss whether and how much insurance is needed, calculate their premium amounts based on their age and gender, discuss the pros and cons of each, come up with a payment frequency and years for paying premiums, and then write up a couple pages on the process and what their parents bought and why.

Students have told me it makes the class come alive, and finally gave them an understanding of the purpose of insurance—some students have actuaries for parents, so they have a tough audience. Parents have written me saying they felt their kids had finally come of age, when they gave their parents the advice. When done, we discuss in class what it means to be a fiduciary in this process. I don't want the students giving bad advice to their parents, so I ask them to clear up any misunderstandings they may have caused. Some of them tell their parents the most unusual things, which we catch in their write-ups!

Some of them find writing about a topic they understand to be much easier than writing essays in English class. I also find that some of them need a lot of help in writing.

In my Financial Math class, I have students project their salaries to retirement, determine how much to save each year so that they can maintain their standard of living in retirement, set their asset allocation, decide whether to buy a life annuity or withdraw the money themselves each year, and then write a couple pages on their financial plans. We use different past histories of returns to see the how much it impacts their retirement incomes.

I used to just ask students to read the material covered in the upcoming class, but many didn’t do it, so now I require them to write a synopsis on it, and give me a scan of it before class. I thought they wouldn’t like that requirement, but they found they understand class much better now, so it’s been easy to implement. I guess that confirms that we should grade what we want to happen (mentioned at an ARC once or twice).

Since I like to teach using Socratic methods, one category that I grade is participation in class discussions, and I keep track of their participations. Some students hate it, and it's a bit of work for me, but it's worthwhile as it makes students engage in class, come prepared, and learn what it takes to get and keep a job.

Our actuarial students in the B-school here must take a Business Administration class where they do case competitions with the other five majors in the Business School. The group of five forms the C-Suite, and the actuarial student of course always gets the brainy jobs. The actuarial professors are judges along with professors from the other majors.

Groups of four from our Life and Health Insurance classes analyze some of the Large Insurance companies and make presentations using PPTs to the professors.

Ron Gebhardtsbauer, FSA, MAAA is faculty-in-charge of the actuarial science program, clinical associate professor of risk management at Pennsylvania State University.