Ben Pilla is a third-year student at Maryville University in St. Louis, Missouri, where he is majoring in actuarial science and minoring in data science and business administration. Ben was recently elected president of his university’s Actuarial Science Club, and he is also currently interning at Reinsurance Group of America. We spoke with Ben in May 2021.
Tell us one thing about you that’s not on your resume.
I really enjoy hiking and spending time outdoors. It’s something my family has always done together since I was a kid. It’s really nice to get out and explore nature and see wildlife, and it’s also a great stress relief.
What has your experience at Maryville University been like?
I’ve really enjoyed my experience at Maryville so far. It’s a smaller school, with about 3,000 students. As a result, classes tend to be smaller, so you really get to know all the students and your professors, which makes it more engaging to learn.
The atmosphere at Maryville is really welcoming and accepting. I really enjoy studying in the library and hanging out with friends on campus. Typically, there’s a lot of activity going on on campus, but the COVID pandemic threw a wrench in that a little bit. We’re starting to get back to normal now though, which has been good.
I’ve had a great experience within the actuarial science program at Maryville. As it’s a smaller program, I’ve gotten the chance to know everyone in it and have had some of my best friendships come through it.
As far as my classes, I’ve really enjoyed all the classes I’ve taken so far, especially my actuarial science classes—they have been outstanding, and I’ve learned a lot.
I’m really involved in the Actuarial Science Club at Maryville. I was recently elected to be president of the club after previously serving as treasurer this year and freshman liaison the previous year. Serving on the board has given me the opportunity to not only stay involved with the club by attending almost every meeting/activity but also allow me to grow my communication and collaboration skills by working with my fellow officers and peers to organize activities. Our club is a great organization, and it’s been a pleasure to be a part of it and meet all the people involved in it. I’m really looking forward to leading the club next year and coordinating our events.
What other schools were you considering, and why did you choose Maryville University?
I applied to a lot of different schools around the Missouri area, and then a couple out of state before I ultimately decided on Maryville. I was initially considering majoring in engineering because I liked mathematics and science. It actually wasn’t until my senior year that I heard about actuarial science from a family friend.
We started to do some research into it, and I learned that Maryville had a strong actuarial science program and was having an Actuarial and Data Science High School Day. I attended the event and really enjoyed it. Everyone was really welcoming, and I got to learn more about actuarial science, the exam process, internships, and a variety of other things.
I also got to meet a majority of the professors in the program, along with many of the upperclassmen I would later go to school with. The event really sold me on not only actuarial science as a major but Maryville as well. I also liked how welcoming Maryville was and that they were a smaller school that was known for providing a personal touch for all of their students.
What influenced you to pursue an actuarial science program?
I’ve always been interested in mathematics and statistics, which led me to initially look into majoring in engineering. But, as I did more research into actuarial science, it stuck out to me as the perfect blend of mathematics and risk, and that seemed like something really interesting to pursue. I also liked the structure of the exam process, where you continually get an opportunity to learn and grow throughout your career.
Why should other students consider a focus in actuarial science?
Actuarial science is a great focus for anyone interested in mathematics who enjoys problem-solving. It’s definitely a challenging major that requires commitment and perseverance, but it’s extremely rewarding at the same time. I’ve currently passed three actuarial exams (P, FM, and IFM), and I’m sitting for exam STAM soon. It’s a great feeling to pass an actuarial exam, especially after putting in all the time and effort to study and prepare for it. It makes all the hard work that went into it worth it.
It’s also a great opportunity to apply what you’ve learned from your coursework. I’ve noticed that through all my actuarial classes at Maryville, the material itself directly applies to the exam process or the workforce. So, everything you’re learning will be applied, and it’s all useful.
What has been your experience with the actuarial science program at your school?
I’ve had a great experience within the actuarial science program at Maryville. As it’s a smaller program, I’ve gotten the chance to know everyone in it and have had some of my best friendships come through it. When I started as a freshman, I was really grateful for the willingness of all the upperclassmen and the faculty to provide help and guidance. I didn’t really know what to expect starting out in college, but they did a great job pointing me down the right path and giving me a lot of great advice.
At Maryville, we’re also assigned faculty advisors. They do a great job for all of us, really above and beyond. I know my faculty advisors, Dr. Guangwei Fan and Dr. Jennifer Wei, have done an incredible job, and anytime I’ve had questions, they’ve always been there for me and provided me with guidance.
I really like how our program works hand in hand with the Actuarial Science Club. I’ve been involved in the club since my freshman year and have really enjoyed attending the variety of events we hold. We typically hold 10 to 15 company info nights in the fall semester before our Career Fair. Companies will come to Maryville and present on their company, their role, if they’re looking for internships, if they’re looking for full-time hires, etc. These info nights are very informative and interesting, and I’ve really learned a lot from them.
We also typically hold two to three speaker series events each year. The head of our program, Dr. Fan, does an incredible job of bringing in qualified professionals from the industry to come and talk about their experience and background.
Due to COVID, our events were all held virtual this year, but we’re looking forward to having in-person events again this next year.
What is your favorite class so far and why?
One class that really stood out to me was ACSC 305: Insurance and Risk. My professor, Chris Clark, actually worked as a Vice President and manager at RGA, the company I’m currently interning with. He did a great job of applying everything we were learning in class to real-world concepts. He would bring in scenarios and different problems that applied to the real world or that he had worked with in his position. It was really cool to have that insight and see what you could potentially be working on in the future as an actuary.
What has been most challenging about studying actuarial science? Is there anything you wish you had known ahead of time?
Time management definitely stands out. It’s challenging balancing work, studying, classes, and your personal life as well. Sticking to a schedule and keeping organized has gotten me through it, along with the support system at Maryville, where anytime you’re feeling stressed out, you can go to your peers or the faculty, and they can help you with a plan moving forward. It’s nice knowing that that fallback system is there if needed.
In terms of what I wish I had known ahead of time, I think for me, personally, going through high school, I didn’t often have to overstudy for tests, but when you start studying for actuarial exams, it’s kind of a wake-up call. You’ve got to stick to that schedule and persevere to go forward. That was something I quickly learned as I got into the field.
Have you had any insurance-related internships? If so, how was your experience?
I started interning with Reinsurance Group of America (RGA) as a freshman in January 2020. I initially started on the U.S. Experience Studies & Analytics Team, and I was there for about a year and then rotated in January 2021, to the Non-traditional Valuation Team.
I’ve really enjoyed my experience at RGA. It’s solidified my interest in the actuarial science field, and it’s given me a great perspective, as far as applying what I’ve learned in the exam process and through my classes in real-world scenarios. Both the teams I’ve been on have been outstanding and very open to answering any questions I’ve had. I’ve been able to work on a wide variety of interesting projects at RGA, allowing me to continue to develop my soft skills by presenting and discussing my results, and further grow my technical skills. It’s also been great to get a big picture view of RGA and the insurance industry as a whole.
What are the latest developments or trends in insurance?
The rise of big data, with machine learning and data mining tying into that. I was able to do a research project for one of my classes at Maryville studying big data and data mining, along with its impacts. I really enjoyed researching it and it will be interesting to see how it’s going to affect the industry moving forward. Another trend that stands out to me is cyber risk and data governance, and how, as an insurance company, you prepare for that as that market continues to grow.
What are your future aspirations or career plans?
One of my biggest goals right now is to continue working towards my ASA and then FSA. In the future, I hope to be working as an actuary, with an emphasis in finance and technology. I’ve also considered returning to Maryville University to pursue a master’s in either data science or actuarial science after starting full-time. This would allow me to potentially teach part-time as well, which is something I’d be interested in doing to help and give back.
One of the best things about Maryville’s program is that many alumni come back and share their knowledge with current students. That’s something I’ll definitely be interested in—coming back and helping out in any way that I can.
What advice would you give someone interested in the insurance field?
I recommend researching and learning more about the field. If you have a college in mind, reach out to the program there. I know for a fact that the students in that program are going to be 100% willing to talk with you and explain what their experience has been like so far and point you down a path to start with.
Do you have any favorite books, websites, or media that you would recommend for someone interested in insurance?
As a starting point, I would recommend the SOA and CAS websites. They also put out a monthly newsletter. It’s great for learning more about actuarial science and getting insight into what’s going on in the industry. I also recommend reading financial websites—I read Yahoo! Finance, Bloomberg, and MarketWatch quite a bit. The cool thing about actuarial science is that it applies to so many different areas, whether it be mathematics, economics, finance, or computer science, and so getting a well-balanced foundation is really important.
» If you liked Ben’s interview, check out our other actuarial science student interviews.