"...Online Newsletter from the Pittsburg State University College of Arts and Sciences"

A program designed for success

Ananda Jayawardhana Ananda Jayawardhana, aka "Dr. Jay"



Actuaries are people that use mathematical and statistical models to design successful financial plans.  The Actuarial Sciences emphasis in the department of mathematics is itself designed for success. Starting small, growing slowly, and staying with it, is part of that design.

"PSU's actuarial program was started with the humble beginning of offering an extra course to a few students," says Dr. Ananda Jayawardhana, Professor of Mathematics who is known to his students affectionately as Dr. Jay.  He should know because he is the one who started it, developing one course and using existing courses from college of Arts and Sciences and College of Business. Two years later this humble beginning was turned into its own emphasis in the mathematics major.

The number of actuaries in the country is quite small because they have to pass a battery of exams initially in order to become actuaries and then there are even more exams if they to work their way up through the hierarchy.

"Our objective," says Jayawardhana, "is to teach our students well enough so they can pass the first two exams before graduation." 

Professional societies dictate the course contents, and marketplace decides the number of exams students need to pass in order to be successful as entry-level actuaries.

"So far the program has achieved the expected goals in terms of the number of graduates," says Jayawardhana. "All of our graduates who complete the program successfully have found jobs a semester or even a year before graduation.  Graduates from our program have advanced quickly in their professional exam ladders and established a good reputation among the employers."

Now established for some years, the program has had an effect. Professional actuaries are invited to campus for professional talks and, in particular, the Allstate Insurance Company has established a program to reimburse exam costs for students who pass the actuarial exams. Every year students find summer internships in insurance companies. 

Always quick to give credit to others, Dr. Jayawardhana points out contributions from colleague across campus.

"Dr. Connie Shum, Professor of Finance has been a constant supporter and active participant of the program from the beginning," he says.

Dr. Yaping Liu Yaping Liu


Dr. Yaping Liu, a professor in the department of mathematics along with Jayawardhana, has also been a part of the program from the beginning.

"In the past," says Liu, "our graduates had basically two options: teaching in high school or going to graduate school and teaching in college. A small number did find employment in fields other than teaching, but that happened haphazardly and was on students' own initiative."

According to Liu, that is no longer the case as the mathematics department's program in actuarial science becomes more mature. With the actuarial science program, he says, the students are better informed with regard to employment opportunities and the process of becoming qualified for actuarial jobs is streamlined.

The job of actuary is frequently rated as one of the best in the nation based on working environment, compensation, job security and other factors. In order to become an actuary, a student needs strong mathematical and statistical skills and some background in finance and economics. Seeing an opportunity in this area, the mathematics department instituted the interdisciplinary emphasis on actuarial science during the fall semester of 2002.  Since then, this program has seen a slow but steady growth.

"Spectacular growth is not to be expected," says Liu, "because only very motivated and very committed students with very strong mathematical skills will be able to pass the required actuarial exams and successfully find employment in the industry.  Every year a few PSU students find employment in some of the strongest insurance companies, and, according to reports, all of them have been doing well in their jobs. "

Matt Crotts, a native of Dodge City who graduated from Pitt State in 2003 is among these.  Crotts started with NCCI Holdings (National Council on Compensation Insurance), working as an assistant actuarial analyst in 2003. 

"In the past 6 years I've steadily passed my exams and received promotions and exposure throughout the company," says Crotts who was an Associate at the end of 2007 and a Fellow at the end of 2008, all before the age of 30.

"PSU prepared me for an exciting career in the actuarial field by introducing me to it!" says Crotts.  "I had never even heard the term 'actuary' until Dr. Jay gave me some literature on the field."

Jennifer (Fowler) Jabben, another 2003 PSU grad from Pittsburg, is another success story.

"I'm currently a Senior Assistant Actuary and have been promoted twice in my time here," says Jabben who is currently the Pricing Manager for the Encompass Brand (Allstate's Independent Agency Representation).  Jabben is responsible for New York, New Jersey, and Florida, as well as, the Southeast Region (NC, SC, AL, GA) and West Central Region (IA, MO, KS, CO). "I have a team of  employees that report to me."

A current student who is already experiencing success is Kodzo Dekpe who has been awarded the Actuarial Diversity Scholarship of the Actuarial Foundation for 2009-2010 academic year. 

"This is a renewable scholarship," says Jayawardhana.  "The scholarship award is $2,000 and the Foundation assigns a practicing actuary as a mentor for the year.  This is a very competitive scholarship and Kodzo's outstanding academic record definitely helped." 

The future is bright for Dekpe, as it is for all of PSU's actuarial students as they make their way through a program designed for success.

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