April 2014

Preparing Future Actuaries: The Second Annual CAE Student Summit

By Rick Gorvett

As part of the Society of Actuaries (SOA) Center of Actuarial Excellence (CAE) program, the second annual Student Summit was held last summer, on Aug. 15 and 16, 2013. This 1.5-day event, held at the Renaissance Hotel in Chicago, was attended by 48 students from all 24 of the CAE institutions in the United States, Canada, and Hong Kong.

As part of the CAE program, which recognizes many outstanding actuarial science programs in universities throughout much of the world, the SOA has sponsored an annual CAE Faculty Conference since 2011. These two-day events, to which two faculty from each CAE school are invited, represent an opportunity for networking, gaining familiarity with each other’s programs, and discussing mutual issues and concerns. They have also provided an opportunity for actuarial science faculty to better understand the SOA and its available resources, and for SOA staff to gain insight into the needs of university programs.

Due in part to the success of these faculty events, in summer 2012 the SOA began hosting a similar event for students of CAE programs. The intended benefits of the annual CAE Student Summit for attending students include developing meaningful engagement between students and the SOA, providing networking opportunities and access to industry and SOA leaders, and encouraging feedback from students to the SOA. Each CAE school is invited to send two students to the summit each year.

Participation in the 2013 summit actually started with pre-summit buzz emails, which included volunteered pictures and information about various attendees. When the summit itself began on Aug. 15, the students already had some familiarity with each other, and with intended summit activities. That first day of the summit began with an introduction to the SOA and its initiatives, presented by several members and staff of the SOA. The students received an overview of the SOA, as well as descriptions of numerous aspects and initiatives of the SOA. Included, for example, were discussions of recent and upcoming changes in the education structure, as well as the important role of sections within the SOA.

SOA President Tonya Manning delivered the keynote presentation titled “Reflections: There’s a difference between understanding risk and taking one!” In particular, she discussed the possibility of taking risks in one’s career which are outside of one’s comfort zone. This was followed by a panel on the future of the actuarial profession, which included four FSAs, as well as President Manning and SOA President-Elect Mark Freedman. The panel discussion centered on career advice, the importance of volunteering, and where the profession is headed over the next ten years. The first day of the summit then ended with networking time, and dinner at Fulton’s on the River.

On the second day, two breakout sessions allowed the students to interact more closely with one another. The first session involved a case study. Students were broken up into eight groups, with four groups assigned to each of a life contingencies case, and a pension case. Separate rooms were assigned for the groups, where they analyzed the case study materials and prepared slides for ten-minute summary presentations. The second breakout session provided an opportunity for the students to share information about their respective university actuarial science programs and clubs. Each university pair of students gave a five-minute presentation describing what they thought to be their program’s or club’s best practice.

Overall, the summit—at least in the minds of the two students who attended from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign—was a strong success. "I thought that going to the CAE Student Summit was a very valuable experience, said Sarah Manual. "It was inspiring to hear from successful actuaries such as Tonya Manning and the panel participants, and I really appreciated the opportunity to meet and collaborate with so many other actuarial students from across the globe. I wish I could attend again next year!"

Another Illinois attendee, Chris Zajeski, said, “I found the CAE Student Summit to be an enriching experience, where I could not only socialize but also collaborate on case studies with other actuarial science students around the globe; it was cool to see when you put different people in the same group that each person comes up with a different way to tackle the same problem.”

Events like the CAE Student Summit can help foster a sense of community amongst the next generation of actuaries. It can also provide inspiration by giving them a glimpse of what awaits them in the important and captivating world of actuarial science.

Rick Gorvett, ASA, CERA, FCAS, PhD, is director of the actuarial science program, and State Farm Companies foundation scholar in actuarial science at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He can be reached at gorvett@illinois.edu.