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Actuarial Conference Showcases Financial Research, Student Success

Representatives from more than fifteen major financial companies, including the national corporations ING, Prudential, Aetna and Cigna, visited Storrs this week to attend a conference organized by students in the College of Liberal Arts and Science’s Actuarial Science program.

Milanthi Sarukkali of ING, left and Shujuan Huang, actuarial science graduate student, talk at the Student Actuarial Research Conference

Milanthi Sarukkali of ING, left and Shujuan Huang, actuarial science graduate student, talk at the Student Actuarial Research Conference

The Student Actuarial Research Conference, sponsored by the Janet & Mark L. Goldenson Center for Actuarial Research, showcased student and faculty research, including novel financial models and risk analysis approaches, which are of particular interest to financial companies. The conference also gave students the opportunity to speak about their work to potential future employers.

“This was a great networking opportunity,” said Gunjan Saxena, a senior actuarial science student who was one of the conference organizers. “Students were able to come and practice their public speaking skills, and also talk to company officials and get their name out there.”

The actuarial science program is an example of how UConn provides tangible economic benefits to the state of Connecticut, says professor and director of the Goldenson Center Jeyaraj Vadiveloo.

“Our students aren’t just good at passing exams,” Vadiveloo said, referring to the series of actuarial science exams that students must take to become certified actuaries. “They are also producing original research that can translate into real benefits for companies, both in Connecticut and beyond.”

“The research happening here shows that UConn really is a center of actuarial excellence,” said Saxena, who is the current president of UConn’s chapter of Gamma Iota Sigma, the national actuarial fraternity. “We push our students to go the extra step.”

Housed within the CLAS Department of Mathematics, the University of Connecticut Actuarial Science Program has been recognized each year since 2009 as a Center of Actuarial Excellence by the national Society of Actuaries. The program is one of only 18 in the U.S. and 24 worldwide that hold the distinction.

At the conference, a series of student talks in the afternoon was followed by evening poster sessions and networking among students, faculty and business leaders. Some of the talks’ topics included a new metric for forecasting profit in the Standard and Poor’s 500 stock index, predictive modeling for long-term care insurance, and an index that models the sustainability of national retirement plans.

“What stood out for me was the breadth of projects the students presented,” said Brad Nieland, an assistant vice president at Sun Life Financial in Windsor, Conn. “They’re tackling a lot of really interesting problems that appeal to different parts of the industry. There were things in every presentation that I was able to pull out and apply to what I do on a day-to-day basis.”

For example, Nieland said, an interest rate model developed and presented by one of the students was in some ways more useful than the rate model developed by the American Academy of Actuaries.

“This is a proof point of how this work has an impact not just on Connecticut, but on the broader United States,” said Nieland.

Graduate student Justin Xu, left, laughs with Matt Phelan, a Wall Street stockbroker who is working with the Goldenson Center to help design, price and market a patented insurance product. Xu is working on a National Retirement Sustainability Index project with a team of students.

Graduate student Justin Xu, left, laughs with Matt Phelan, a Wall Street stockbroker who is working with the Goldenson Center to help design, price and market a patented insurance product. Xu is working on a National Retirement Sustainability Index project with a team of students.

Graduates of UConn’s actuarial science program are represented across the state in Connecticut-based financial companies; members of the 2013 graduating class landed jobs at Aetna, The Hartford, ING, Cigna, MetLife, Penn Mutual, Travelers, and many other Northeast and national companies.

Saxena, who interned at Sun Life in the summer of 2013, will be starting a full-time position in the Sun Life actuarial department in August. She said that meeting business leaders in attendance, many of whom are vice presidents and chief actuaries at their respective companies, is an unparalleled opportunity for finding a job in the state.

“We know our students are smart and capable, but actuarial students can sometimes spend all day at a desk working out math problems and not interacting as much with other people as they’d like to,” Saxena said with a laugh. “So this gives them a chance to do that. This gives students experience and confidence in their work.”

Nieland agrees: “You can’t help but walk away impressed by these young people, and how quickly they’ve developed at UConn,” he said.

By Christine Buckley (CLAS)


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