Michelle Hearn is a junior at Texas Christian University in Fort Worth, Texas, where she is double majoring in mathematics and economics with a concentration in actuarial science. Michelle serves as the president of the TCU chapter of Gamma Iota Sigma, and this summer she is participating in the Casualty Actuarial Society’s Student Central Summer Program. We spoke with Michelle in June 2021.
Tell us one thing about you that’s not on your resume.
One of my favorite ways to spend my free time is playing the piano and singing. I’ve played the piano since first grade, and I’ve loved singing since I was little. Even though I no longer take lessons, I still enjoy figuring out chords to my favorite songs, playing piano, and singing on the worship team at church. It’s a great outlet when I’m stressed, and it makes me feel more in touch with my creative side.
What has your experience at TCU been like?
My experience at TCU has been incredible. TCU is very intentional about making students feel at home and encouraging students to get involved in different activities, which is great because you immediately feel like you’re a part of the community. There are always fun events happening on campus, and there’s no shortage of organizations to get involved in.
All the students in our actuarial program are super close and are always willing to help each other out, which makes you feel like you have a strong support system instead of just classmates.
As a freshman, I got involved in French Club, Gamma Iota Sigma (GIS), and Chi Alpha, a campus ministry organization. By living on campus and getting involved in these organizations, I’ve made so many amazing friends and countless memories.
With about 10,000 undergraduate students, TCU is large enough to get the big-school experience with school pride and sports, while still having classes with 30 people or less. Most of my major classes have only had about 15 or 20 people in them, which has been nice because there’s always the opportunity to ask questions or seek help from the professor or other students if you need it.
I’ve thoroughly enjoyed all my classes at TCU, regardless of the subject or the course. All the professors genuinely enjoy teaching and really care about their students, which makes the classes much more enjoyable and engaging.
What other schools were you considering, and why did you choose TCU?
Although I visited several other schools, the only other school I applied to was Lebanon Valley College. While LVC has a strong actuarial science program, I fell in love with TCU the moment I stepped on campus. I loved the strong sense of school pride, the welcoming community, and the size of the school.
I wanted to go to a college that was larger than my high school, but I wanted classes to be small enough that I could still form relationships with my peers and my professors. I also knew that there would be endless opportunities for me to grow in my faith at TCU, which was really important to me going into college.
What influenced you to pursue an actuarial science program?
Math has always been my strongest subject, so I knew I wanted to do something with numbers. I knew I didn’t want to go into teaching, so the two main careers I was interested in were accounting and actuarial science. Fortunately, we have a family friend who is an actuary, so I was able to speak to him about his job and all the different kinds of work he has done as an actuary. It sounded so interesting to me, and I liked the variety that the position had to offer. Ever since that phone call, I’ve told people that I want to become an actuary.
Why should other students consider a focus in actuarial science?
I think that other students should consider a focus in actuarial science because it’s a rewarding career that’s in high demand. While it can be challenging, it’s perfect for people who enjoy math and are hard-working. It’s also great for people who are goal-oriented. Each exam is like a new goal to work towards.
What has been your experience with the actuarial science program at your school?
Although the actuarial science program at TCU is a concentration as opposed to a major, the program is well-established. It is a smaller program, but the size of it has allowed me to form close friendships with many of my peers in the same program, as well as form more personal relationships with my professors.
All the students in our program are super close and are always willing to help each other out, which makes you feel like you have a strong support system instead of just classmates. Our program also provides a lot of support and guidance when it comes to building resumes and job placement.
Dr. Susan Staples is the director of the actuarial department, and she is an amazing professor and advisor. She is always willing to do what she can to help students, whether that be helping students who are struggling in class or providing advice about what courses to take. Dr. Staples is always informing us of internship opportunities, and she has even worked with the career center to host actuarial science career fairs at TCU. She is also the advisor for our GIS chapter.
Our GIS chapter was just chartered in 2019, so it is relatively new. However, the students in our GIS chapter have had the opportunity to attend GIS’s national conferences as well as attend informational sessions from industry professionals. GIS has provided many of our students with great networking opportunities, which has allowed several of our actuarial students to secure internships and full-time positions.
I have been involved in GIS since my freshman year. I served as treasurer my sophomore year and was recently elected as president. As COVID restrictions continue to loosen, and we go back to in-person events, I am hoping to host more events with industry professionals and make our chapter a real resource for our members.
What is your favorite class so far and why?
My favorite class so far has been Interest Theory, which is a two-semester class that is meant to prepare students for Exam FM. Although it’s the hardest class I have taken at TCU, I’ve enjoyed learning how different types of bonds and investments work. I’ve also enjoyed seeing how the topics we cover tie in with different theories I’ve studied in my economics classes.
Since Interest Theory is a challenging class, it feels like an achievement when you finally understand how to do certain types of problems or do well on an exam. I think this has made me enjoy the class more; I love the feeling of achieving something, and it’s always encouraging to see the hard work I put into studying pay off.
What is unique about focusing on actuarial science relative to other majors you could have chosen?
I think the most unique aspect of studying actuarial science relative to other majors is the exams. Studying for exams, on top of doing coursework for classes, can be a bit intimidating, but actuarial science is really unique in that you can take exams that help you in your profession both as a college student and as an employee post-grad. I think this is one of the aspects that motivated me to study actuarial science the most. It’s encouraging that you are able to further your career before you even graduate college.
What has been most challenging about studying actuarial science? Is there anything you wish you would have known ahead of time?
I think the most challenging thing about studying actuarial science is the determination and time it takes to practice problems, understand the concepts, and study for the exams. The amount of information you have to learn and master can definitely feel overwhelming, so it’s important to stay motivated and not get frustrated too easily when you don’t understand a problem or can’t get the correct answer right away.
What are the latest developments or trends in insurance that are of interest to you?
One trend that is becoming increasingly popular is the use of artificial intelligence in insurance. With advances in technology and automation, insurance companies can save time and resources while improving the accuracy of different models. Not only does this impact employees and how they do their job, but it also impacts the experience of the customer. I think it’ll be interesting to see how much progress is made in automation over the next few years and see how this shapes the industry as a whole.
What are your future aspirations or career plans?
My goal is to pass at least two exams by the time I graduate from TCU. I also hope to secure an internship the summer after my junior year, which will hopefully lead to a full-time position after graduation. As of right now, I think I would like to work in health or life insurance, so I am currently working towards my ASA. However, the CAS program may encourage me to pursue a different track. Either way, my ultimate goal is to become a fellow in one of the actuarial societies.
What advice would you give someone interested in the insurance field?
I would advise them to do more research over all the opportunities in the insurance field. There are so many different positions in the insurance industry that there’s something for everyone. I think it’s important to take the time to understand the difference between similar jobs in the industry to know what you would be best at and enjoy the most.
Do you have any favorite books, websites, or media that you would recommend for someone interested in insurance?
The SOA website always has great information on a large range of topics. There you can learn more about individual aspects of an actuary’s career, as well as search for job openings, find informative webcasts, and access their newsletter. I would also recommend the Spot On Insurance podcast. This podcast discusses several different topics that relate to the insurance industry and provides helpful information for professional development.
» If you liked Michelle’s interview, check out our other actuarial science student interviews.