Dylan Ketcham is a senior at Arizona State University in Tempe, Arizona, where he is part of a “4+1” program, which means he’ll be earning both his bachelor’s and master’s in Actuarial Science over the course of a five-year program. Dylan is the president of ASU’s Kappa chapter of Gamma Iota Sigma, and he is currently interning at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Arizona. We spoke with Dylan in December 2019.
Tell us one thing about you that’s not on your resume.
I play a lot of tabletop roleplaying games, and that’s a big hobby of mine. I play a lot of Dungeons & Dragons, and I’ve been branching off into other games as well. I think it’s a fun way to combine a lot of my interests—my math and statistics side, hanging out friends, doing a little acting, and just having a great time.
Being an actuary is one of those jobs where it’s challenging every day. You get to make predictions that will have an actual impact on how a company is going to make its decisions.
What has your experience at Arizona State been like?
Arizona State has been awesome for a lot of different reasons. First, I’m native to Arizona, so I already knew a lot of people going to Arizona State. It was kind of like going to high school again but with freedom this time.
Another great thing about Arizona State is that it’s a big school so you have a lot of different resources, but the way the school is split out by colleges means it never really feels like the school is too big. I never felt like just a face in a crowd because I could get the resources of the giant 70,000 person school, while also being part of this little actuarial group we’ve got going on. I’ve always felt like I had the community of a small school, while still having all the great things that a big school brings.
What other schools were you considering, and why did you choose ASU?
I was looking at a few other schools, one of them being Creighton University in Omaha, because I’ve got family in Omaha. But I really wanted to stay in Arizona because I’ve grown up here for most of my life. I didn’t want to uproot the life I had already built here. I have a lot of friends here, and I wanted to be close to family. Arizona also has a great actuarial science program, so I didn’t really see any reason to go to another college.
What influenced you to pursue actuarial science?
I have a couple of family members who work in the insurance industry, so we’ve had family friends who are actuaries. I always knew about what an actuary was growing up, and then as I went through school, I fell in love with math.
I’ve always been a math geek. A story I like to tell is that when I was growing up and had to wait in the car with my dad as he picked up my little siblings from school, while we were sitting in the car, I would make him give me incomplete fractions so that I could simplify them. That’s what I liked to do when I was bored: math.
I always knew I wanted to do something with math, and I knew that there was an opportunity to flex that math muscle, while also working in an industry and job that a lot of people really love. I knew going into college that I wanted to give actuarial science a try, and when I started studying at Arizona State University, I fell in love with the program.
Why should other students consider a focus in actuarial science?
If you are a person who enjoys math, actuarial science is an awesome decision. Being an actuary is one of those jobs where it’s challenging every day. You get to work with a lot of complex problems, while also feeling really rewarded. You get to make predictions that will have an actual impact on how a company is going to make its decisions, which is very cool.
What has been your experience with the actuarial science program at your school?
The actuarial science program at Arizona State University is a really close group because we have one class that every actuarial student takes in their first or second semester. Every single person who’s starting an actuarial program in that semester is in that class, so you immediately know everyone who’s going to be in your classes for the next few years. Right away, you’ve got the opportunity to make friends with a lot of different people who share a lot of the same interests as you and are going to be pursuing the same path.
The academic part of the actuarial science program is really intertwined with an organization we have on campus called Gamma Iota Sigma—we’re the Kappa chapter—which is a professional and academic organization that provides a lot of different resources to actuarial science students on college campuses. The organization provides a lot of different events for connecting you with companies and helping you get to know every single person in the program.
Even if you’re just a first-year student starting out, you’ll be able to get to know all the people who have already taken a couple of the exams or are almost done with classes. There’s never really a disconnect of, “Oh, those are the seniors, and I can’t talk to them,” because I felt like I could be friends with them right at the start because of this organization. And I loved being in the organization enough that I’ve actually gotten really involved. I was their Diversity and Inclusion Officer before, and now I am serving as their president, which has been really cool.
What has been most challenging about studying actuarial science? Is there anything you wish you would have known ahead of time?
The actuarial program is a very, very rigorous program. There have not been a lot of actuarial science classes I’ve taken where I’ve been able to say, “Oh, this is going to be an easy class,” because they’re preparing us for those actuarial exams, which are hard.
It’s been challenging juggling all of the classes, along with the other things you start to build as you go through college. For example, I’m working at the same time I’m serving in the president position for Gamma Iota Sigma.
I think the hardest part isn’t that the classes are difficult, but that the classes are difficult and you’re doing that on top of the rest of your college life. If I had to tell myself something going into the program, it would be, “Do a lot more in your freshman and sophomore year because as the classes ramp up, you’re going to get a lot busier.” I love every single thing I’m doing right now, but it doesn’t leave me a lot of space to explore other parts of campus life. I think if you can experience a little more campus life in the first two years of school, whenever you’re really ramping up as you approach graduation, you won’t feel like you missed anything.
Have you had any insurance-related internships? If so, how was your experience?
I am currently interning with Blue Cross Blue Shield of Arizona, and this coming summer, I’ll be interning with Wakely Consulting.
The internship has been awesome so far. I’ve found that pretty much everyone I’ve met in the insurance industry has been a really interesting person to talk to. Everyone’s got their own stories, especially in actuarial science. There are so many people who did something else before getting into actuarial science. I have a manager right now who started in chemistry, and now she’s an accredited actuary who’s the manager of this particular actuarial group, which is awesome.
I’ve also been able to learn a lot. None of the works has felt like busywork because it’s all been work that the company needed, and I’ve been able to see the impact that it has had on the company, which has been really cool.
What are the latest developments or trends in insurance?
Everyone nowadays is talking about disruption. There are a lot of big changes that are being made. We’ve got AI starting to come in, machine learning, self-driving cars in the property and casualty industry, and more. I’m actually writing a paper right now about the fact that cannabis is becoming legal in a lot of places, and like any other crop, it needs to be insured. But right now we’ve got this weird wiggle room where it’s legal in some places and illegal in others. It’s illegal across the country, so how do we deal with that? I think the big trends we’re seeing in actuarial science and insurance in general right now are just dealing with a lot of big changes in society and how we are going to have to adapt to them.
What are your future aspirations or career plans?
The hope is that as I’m coming out of the program, I’ll be able to work for an insurance company. I still haven’t decided between the two different sides of actuarial science, which are the life and health side, and the property and casualty side. I’m still exploring my options on those. But I’m hoping to find a place where I can work on the things I’ve been learning, and while I’m there, my long-term aspiration is to become an actuary. I’ve currently passed two of the exams, and I’m going to be taking two or three more before I graduate. Hopefully, I can keep chugging along and get my accreditation so I can really be able to call myself an actuary.
What advice would you give someone interested in the insurance field?
If you’re just getting started, reach out to the actuarial science person at your closest college campus. People who are interested in actuarial science love to talk about it, and teachers are definitely included in that. If you know that your local university has a program for actuarial science, try to reach out to those people. You could probably organize lunch with them or come talk to them about actuarial science and what opportunities they have.
Do you have any favorite books, websites, or media that you would recommend for someone interested in insurance?
The two actuarial organizations, the SOA and the CAS, release a lot of articles, and they both have academic journals where they talk about the various things that are going to be impacting the industry in the future. I check those every so often and see, “Oh, they released an article about AI and what that’s going to be, what effect that’s going to have on the industry.”
I think the place I get most of my information about trends and changes in the industry is from conferences. If you’re looking to become part of this, and you started a program at your local university, look into if they have any way to connect you with these various conferences, because hearing it from the people who are working in the industry in person can be some of the most valuable information you can get.
» If you liked Dylan’s interview, check out our other actuarial science student interviews.