February is “Insurance Careers Month” during which risk and insurance professionals make a concerted effort to highlight the industry’s career opportunities for young people facing a myriad of academic and professional choices. A few years ago, when Ferris State University revived its storied risk management and insurance academic program, we re-engineered the curriculum and co-curricular opportunities for the 21st century. As the new program took shape, I sat down with an advisory board sub-committee to craft a tagline for the program that would capture its essence and the potential that it offered students:
Ferris State University Risk Management and Insurance: Practical Education. Flexible Career. Rewarding Life.
In the context of insurance careers month, I decided to break this tagline down and discuss each of its component parts over the next few weeks.
“Practical Education” is not just lip service – it’s part of the Ferris State DNA. The school was founded in 1884 by Woodbridge and Helen Ferris as Big Rapids Industrial School. A review of the school’s history clearly demonstrates a focus on teaching practical skills that prepare students for gainful employment and successful careers in fields where workers are needed. To this day, Ferris offers programs in such fields as Heavy Equipment Technology, Welding Engineering Technology, Plastics Engineering Technology, Pharmacy, Optometry, and yes, Risk Management and Insurance. All of these are fields clamoring for young, educated talent. The Ferris State mission and core values clearly emphasize the practical nature of a Ferris State education.
The new Ferris State RMI academic program has been designed from the ground-up to provide this practical education. Our students learn the foundational concepts of the risk management process, insurance coverages, insurance law, and terminology. But that’s not all. The reality is that in many fields, a significant portion of the technical knowledge a person gains in school will be obsolete within ten years of graduation. The truth is that the technical learning continues well beyond college graduation, and in fact, never really ends. Insurance coverages will evolve with emerging risks such as cyber-risk, and who knows what comes next in the 2030s, 2040s, and beyond.
At the heart of our practical education is an emphasis on experiential learning, adaptable degree programs, and development of timeless skills. Practical education means that our students will complete internships where they go to work in the “real world” of risk and insurance. It means they attend industry conferences where they are exposed to emerging industry issues and begin building a professional network. It means that they participate in co-curricular activities such as Gamma Iota Sigma.
Practical education means that students complete the foundational RMI courses and then have the opportunity to draw a variety of other courses from across the University to complete their degree and to suit their interests and career direction. Interested in becoming a cyber-security/cyber-risk expert? Take a few of our information security courses. Interested in predictive analytics for risk and insurance? Take data analytics and data mining courses. Interested in the agency side of the business? Take our agency operations course along with a few small business management courses. Examples of practical tailored education abound.
Practical education means that students learn and practice the skills that every employer seeks. The RMIN 489 capstone course includes units, exercises, and activities in such areas as critical thinking skills, logic, problem-solving, and collaboration, to name a few. Just next week, the RMIN 489 students will be addressed by an industry veteran who will be coaching them through several case studies drawn from genuine situations from the realms of underwriting, claims, sales, and risk management. The cases we use in this course are not canned textbook cases – they are real-world (with names changed to protect the guilty/innocent) situations for which there is rarely “one correct solution.” The intent is to exercise the students’ problem-solving and analytical skills as they evaluate each case against the foundational risk and insurance knowledge they have gained.
This is real-world stuff. This is a practical education.