Financial Research, Student Success Add Up in Actuarial Program

Justin Xu, a Ph.D. student in actuarial science, talks to Matt Phelan, a Wall Street stockbroker, about the National Retirement Sustainability Index project Xu has developed. Phelan is working with the Goldenson Center to help design, price, and market a patented insurance product. (Christine Buckley/UConn Photo)

Justin Xu, a Ph.D. student in actuarial science, talks to Matt Phelan, a Wall Street stockbroker, about the National Retirement Sustainability Index project Xu has developed. Phelan is working with the Goldenson Center to help design, price, and market a patented insurance product. (Christine Buckley/UConn Photo)

Modeling long-term care insurance and calculating the sustainability of national retirement plans were among the projects at the recent Student Actuarial Research Conference, a display of the ways that students are thinking about improving the economy.

The actuarial science program is an example of how UConn students go on to produce original research that can translate into real benefits for companies, both in Connecticut and beyond, says Jeyaraj Vadiveloo, professor and director of UConn’s Janet & Mark L. Goldenson Center for Actuarial Research.

Housed within the Department of Mathematics, the University of Connecticut Actuarial Science Program has been recognized each of the past five years as a center of excellence by the national Society of Actuaries. The program is one of only two dozen worldwide that have that distinction.

Milanthi Sarukkali, actuary at ING, talks with Shujuan Huang, a UConn actuarial science student, at the recent Student Actuarial Research Conference, sponsored by the Goldenson Center for Actuarial Research. (Christine Buckley/UConn Photo)

Milanthi Sarukkali, left, an actuary at ING, talks with Shujuan Huang, a UConn actuarial science student, at the recent Student Actuarial Research Conference. (Christine Buckley/UConn Photo)

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.

“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.”

The conference, sponsored by the Goldenson Center, showcased research of particular interest to financial companies and 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 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.”

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. Representatives of many of those companies attended the conference.

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 noted. “So this gives them a chance to do that. This gives students experience and confidence in their work.”

Nieland, the assistant VP of Sun Life Financial, agrees. For example, he 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. “You can’t help but walk away impressed by these young people, and how quickly they’ve developed at UConn.”