Tag Archives: education

RIMS 2017 – Here we come

Bright and early Sunday morning, I depart with four Ferris State RMI students to attend the 2017 RIMS Annual Conference in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  I confess that at this stage of my career – having endured 30 years of planes, trains, and automobiles – business travel has little appeal to me.  Yet, I am enthused to accompany four students to this very large and impressive industry event.

It’s difficult to convey the vast scope of the RMI industry within a classroom.   Some things just have to be experienced and witnessed firsthand.  The immensity of the RIMS conference, with its thousands of attendees and vast array of exhibitors that includes many household names of the insurance industry, certainly drives home the point with students.  The educational sessions show the students that there is much more for them to learn and a cornucopia of career opportunities awaiting them.

My first RIMS conference was 26 years ago, and I still learn something new every year.  I am truly excited for the opportunities awaiting my four students.  I know that they will meet new and interesting professionals at the conference events, learn of concepts that will spark their interest, generate new ideas for their careers and personal ambitions, and yes, have some fun.

It’s going to be a great week and I will relish the opportunity to watch my students take it all in.  It may even make the planes, trains, and automobiles tedium of business travel worthwhile.  Maybe.

Scholarship Season

scholarship_money

Spring break is upon us!  Over the next few days, Ferris State students will scatter to various warm climates for spring break next week.  When the RMI students return in mid-March, they will be facing several imminent scholarship deadlines.  The amount of scholarship assistance that is available to today’s RMI student is impressive, uplifting, and dare I say, overwhelming.  The ever-growing list of RMI scholarships certainly reflects the industry’s urgent need for young talent, and that should speak volumes to those students and parents still contemplating an academic and career direction.

Many of these scholarships have springtime application deadlines so that awards may be made during May for the upcoming 2017-18 academic year.  This time of year, I receive multiple scholarship opportunities each week that I pass along to my RMI students.  As I have blogged in the past, there are also several online resources (including our own partial list) that will help students to find RMI scholarships.  There is absolutely no reason that a diligent student cannot find at least some scholarship assistance for their RMI education.

All of this is good.  Or is it?  Let me return to my prior use of the word “overwhelming” as it relates to these scholarships.  There are so many scholarship opportunities from every type of RMI organization imaginable, that students seem to be “freezing up” when it comes to applying for these scholarships.  With so many opportunities, it becomes difficult for the individual student to discern which opportunities afford them the best chance of receiving an award, and with limited time to crank out scholarship applications, they can apply for only so many.  In fact, this is beginning to be noticed by the awarding organizations as I have begun to receive queries from some scholarship sponsors as to why their application numbers are lower than expected.  To be clear, I don’t think that’s a universal condition as many of the established and well-known scholarships continue to receive plenty of applicants and award their scholarships only to the most deserving students.  It seems to be the newer, lesser-known scholarships that are struggling to find applicants.

This is a real shame because these sponsoring organizations have funds to help students, and they really do want to bolster the young talent coming into the industry.  I hesitate to say that there may be an over-supply of RMI scholarships because that almost feels blasphemous.  How could there ever be an over-supply of such a fantastic thing as scholarship money when tuition and book costs continue to rise?

I have an idea.  What if some of these scholarship sponsoring organizations who are struggling to generate applicants diverted those scholarships funds for a few years?  Instead of begging for student applicants, put the funds into the hands of the collegiate RMI programs to use for program marketing and enrollment growth initiatives.  More RMI students enrolled at schools equals more future scholarship applicants.  Now, you might argue that the scholarships themselves should be a powerful recruiting tool for boosting RMI enrollment.  Absolutely true, but there is much more to the student decision to major in RMI and I believe that the individual RMI schools are in the best position to convey the overall value proposition (including abundant scholarship opportunities) to prospective students – but not many schools have budgeted funds specifically for marketing their RMI academic programs.

This could be an interesting short-term tactical shift for some scholarship sponsors that pays off with a long-term strategic success of awarding more scholarships to the most deserving students (however each awarding organization may define that) a few years down the road.

Practical Education

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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.

Back to School

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Next week marks the beginning of a new academic year at Ferris State University, and it is going to be a busy one.  The FSU Risk Management and Insurance program officially launches a re-engineered curriculum this fall.  One of the most important features of the updated curriculum is a 15-credit block wherein students will tailor their education (with academic and professional advice) to suit their interests and aptitudes.  Some students may decide to enhance their RMI degree with an area of emphasis in data analytics by completing coursework in data mining, statistics, and predictive analytics.  Other students may focus on risk management by adding coursework in advanced risk management, enterprise risk management, and risk management technologies.  These are but two examples of potential specializations which might also include other areas such as cyber-risk, entrepreneurship, agency operations, and more.  Fun stuff!

Earlier this year, the Ferris State RMI program launched a strategic planning process.  The bulk of the committee’s planning work is now complete.  Execution of the strategic plan is already underway, and will be an ongoing process over the next few years.  This will result in considerable activity both inside and outside of the academic classroom, adding to our students’ success and strengthening the program for future students.

On a personal note, I am beginning my fourth year in academia this fall.  After spending the first 25 years of my career working in and around the risk and insurance industry in a variety of roles, I can honestly say that the past three years have been the most intrinsically rewarding years of my career.  But what really excites me is what I see ahead.  Ferris State has established a fantastic foundation for the RMI program, the risk and insurance industry is eager to hire ambitious graduates, and now we just need to fill more of the seats.  It is going to be a busy and exhilarating year.  Let’s get started.

Experiencing the Risk and Insurance Industry

erikwahl_rims15

Just one month ago I was in New Orleans attending the 2015 Risk and Insurance Management Society Annual Conference with Ferris State student Corey Bledsoe.  The conference featured engaging keynotes speakers such as Erik Wahl (pictured here) and Arianna Huffington, and numerous educational sessions and networking opportunities.  I asked Corey to share his thoughts about the RIMS experience from his perspective as a student:

Being able to attend and participate in the RIMS conference was an excellent opportunity for me as a student to experience the insurance industry on a much grander scale than what I get to experience in Big Rapids, MI.  Having companies from all over the country and even the world in one location is an experience I won’t soon forget.

I was able to tour the Superdome on my first day in New Orleans and it was cool getting to see how risk management played a part in helping the Superdome recover after hurricane Katrina.  I was able to hang out with other insurance students from around the country and see how their programs compared with ours here.  I knew many of the students there through the professional fraternity I am in, Gamma Iota Sigma. 

While at the conference I got to see inspirational keynote speakers like Erik Wahl, world-renowned speed painter and Simon Bailey.  After the speakers the exhibit hall would open up and thousands would flock to hundreds of exhibitors showcasing their products there.  As a student it was extremely overwhelming because I had no idea where to start.  Many exhibitors were aimed away from my demographic but it was still nice to see so many people involved in our industry.  The major thing that I took away from this conference is that the industry will be seeing a large part of its professionals retiring in the next few years.  This means that young people like myself will have ample room for growth and experience.

The most fulfilling thing for me was definitely the sessions that the conference offered.  I was lucky enough to be able to volunteer by introducing the CEO panel who were discussing claims and also discussing underwriting.  It was a great opportunity to hear more about what it’s like running a large multinational corporation and all of the things that go into making a company successful.  As an Anita Benedetti Scholar I was welcome to many of the events hosted by companies and even to FM Global’s yearly party that featured a performance by the band Foreigner.  I highly suggest that anyone interested in attending the RIMS conference apply next year for the scholarship as it will be in San Diego.  This conference is a great experience to learn more about the industry and connect with industry professionals from all over.  Having connections is a huge part of this industry and RIMS is an excellent place to do just that.

Corey’s experience attending the RIMS conference exemplifies the experiential learning opportunities that Ferris State strives to offer its students across many of its academic programs.  It is certainly one of my top goals for the risk management and insurance program.  Let’s face it, the risk and insurance industry doesn’t have much of a reputation as an exciting and dynamic career although those of us in the industry know otherwise.  We need to do more than tell our young students about the opportunities – we need to show them through experiential learning.  See you in San Diego in 2016!

Grading Scales

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The Ferris State University semester concludes this week.  Exams are behind us, and now there is the all important matter of performance assessment, i.e., grading.  Today, I find myself reading and passing judgment on the semester’s concluding assignments from my students of my small business management and risk/insurance courses.  I’m taking a break from that activity to post a few general thoughts on the process.

The academic “A-F” grading scale has been with us for decades, and we’re conditioned to react to this subset of innocent alphabetic letters with an array of emotions.  We rejoice in “A” and dread the “F” with a spectrum of feelings in between.  We have even adopted the academic letter grade scale to various professional and entertainment pursuits.  Some Hollywood films are “A” and some are “F” – NFL teams receive letter grades for their draft performance – some companies even use the academic scale in employee evaluations.

As a society, we seem to have this ingrained desire to assess and classify performance on the basis of letter grades, that translate into grade point averages, and implicitly into some expectation regarding future performance.  Which leads me to two thoughts that I will leave you to ponder…

The oft-used phrase in financial prospectus documents may apply to grading scales as well:  “past performance is no guarantee of future results.”

I’m told that a diminishing number of companies consider an entry-level job applicant’s GPA anymore, so why do we continue to use this assessment system?

Scholarships aplenty

scholarship-money

Providing yet another bit of evidence that the risk and insurance industry is encouraging young people to consider insurance careers, it has been a busy week in terms of scholarship news.  Business Insurance just reported that the Griffith Insurance Education Foundation awarded over $100,000 in scholarships last year.   Locally, there are several scholarships offered by insurance agencies and professional organizations.  Just this week, I had a conversation with a representative of the Muskegon Adjusters Association, a professional organization of West Michigan claim adjusters.  This organization wants to begin awarding annual scholarships to Ferris State students of risk management and insurance.

From my perspective, there is no more clear statement that the industry wishes to attract talented, young professionals than the multitude of industry organizations who are willing to pay for students to gain an education in the field.  I keep a list (which seems to be getting longer and longer) of scholarship opportunities on my desk, ready to share with students.  So come and get it.  The money for your risk and insurance education is out there – just waiting for deserving and dedicated students to claim it