Rachel Ndjuluwa is a senior at Wartburg College in Waverly, Iowa. She is double majoring in actuarial science and mathematics, with minors in data analytics, computer science, and leadership. Rachel is a student director for the Volunteer Action Center, an organization focused on volunteer opportunities for students, and is currently completing an actuarial internship with Royal Neighbors of America in Illinois. We spoke with Rachel in June 2020.
Tell us one thing about you that’s not on your resume.
I really enjoy public speaking. I have a YouTube channel called Actuaries in Creativity. It showcases my creative side, in addition to being an academic. I like empowering people on life issues. I’m also very interested in style and fashion, so I discuss that on my YouTube channel. I’ve been on YouTube for about two years, but I have been taking breaks when I need to because I’m in a demanding career field. I refuel my creativity and go back to it when I feel confident and comfortable.
What has your experience at Wartburg College been like?
My experience at Wartburg has been both eye-opening and insightful. As an international student from Namibia, Wartburg was my first home here in the U.S. I developed a beautiful community both in school and outside school. I have amazing host parents who support me in my personal life as well. I have amazing professors who genuinely care about my well-being. It’s a good support system in terms of what people are willing to do for you, and what they do to make sure that you are having a great life-defining experience, both in your education and personal life.
Wartburg has been a good support system in terms of what they do to make sure that you are having a great life-defining experience, both in your education and personal life.
I’ve enjoyed attending Wartburg College. I really love spending time with fellow students, and I’ve been involved in a lot of student organizations. I’m currently a student director for the Volunteer Action Center, which is an organization focused on establishing volunteering opportunities for students at Wartburg. That gives me an opportunity to meet different kinds of people both on campus and off campus because we also work with off-campus organizations.
What other schools were you considering, and why did you choose Wartburg College?
My first consideration was deciding in which country to pursue my tertiary education. I’ve wanted to be an actuarial scientist since 2013, so I knew that I wanted to come to the United States because this is where the biggest market of actuarial science is. It’s more fulfilling to do actuarial science work in the U.S. because of the insurance industry and financial market here.
Once I chose to come to the U.S., I started applying to colleges here. I attended the United World College, which is basically a post-matric college for students all over the world. That gave me an opportunity to qualify for a lot of scholarships. I got accepted into three universities: Wartburg College, Randolph-Macon, and St. Olaf College, and they were all offering full scholarships to me, but Wartburg really stood out because they offer the actuarial science major at the undergraduate level, which is very rare in American universities.
What influenced you to pursue an actuarial science program?
Since starting high school, I was very interested in mathematics and commercial subjects like accounting and economics, but at that time I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I knew that I didn’t want to get into mathematical research or education, but I also didn’t want to be an accountant because I liked advanced mathematical analysis. My accounting teacher went to South Africa for an accounting conference, and she came across the actuarial science career field, so she researched it. She came to me the following Monday and said, “I think this is something that you have been looking for.” I researched more about it, and I just fell in love. I love the combination of having the mathematical abilities, the interest in commercial subjects, and the ability to communicate numbers and modeling to people. I’ve been very invested in the actuarial science career ever since.
What has been your experience with the actuarial science program at your school?
Wartburg College is a small private college, and the actuarial science major is a fairly new major, so we have a small class size. That is very beneficial in terms of the support system you get. Our advisor is very invested in our success. He makes sure that we are all on track with our board exams and our classes. Having a smaller group helps us support one another, study, and share resources. It even makes it easier for the school to support us, whether it’s helping us with exam reinvestments, or any kind of initial support that we may need.
We just started the Actuarial Science Club a year ago. We meet biweekly and talk about what’s happening in the field and the exams. It’s a beautiful opportunity for the students to come together as a small group and share ideas and knowledge, especially when it comes to the new students. It gives them the ability to get to know more of the available resources to use when you want to advance your knowledge or just start taking your exams.
We have the Pathways Center at Wartburg, which helps us with career development and finding internships. We also have the Orange Connection, which is a one-week career mentoring trip to either Chicago or Des Moines that the school organizes. They help us job-shadow people in our specific career fields. I went last year, and it was an amazing opportunity to job-shadow at various insurance companies with different actuaries. It helped me and opened up a lot of opportunities for me.
What is your favorite class so far and why?
I really enjoyed Math 314: Statistical Applications. It’s a class I took at the beginning of my junior year, and it introduced me to R, which is a program that most actuaries use nowadays. I fell in love with the way modeling and a lot of mathematical work can be done easily using an effective program.
What is unique about focusing on actuarial science relative to other majors you could have chosen?
There’s a lot of deep learning that takes place in actuarial science. You don’t just learn the content and apply it—it’s more than that. It’s how you act from what you learn.
I’ve also realized that the exam-taking process builds character that you will use outside your career. How far are you willing to go, and how far are you willing to push for what you really want? The character-building that comes with the actuarial science career is huge, and that’s something unique that you don’t necessarily find in other majors or careers that you pursue, especially in college.
What has been most challenging about studying actuarial science? Is there anything you wish you had known ahead of time?
For me, it’s definitely the exams. In actuarial science, you take professional exams that are independent of your major. At Wartburg, because actuarial science is new, you kind of need to do independent study for the exams. While you do have support from other students who have taken the exam and the professors who make time for us to ask questions, you also need the intrinsic motivation to push yourself. That can be challenging, especially as a full-time student. You are already taking your normal classes for your major, and it’s not just one of those things where you’re like, “Oh, I’ll study when I have time.” You really need to dedicate and commit yourself because the exams are extremely demanding.
I knew that I needed to take these exams while pursuing my major, but I wish I had known how important it is to discipline yourself in terms of taking the practice exams. There’s studying the content, and then there’s practicing the exams. My first mistake was just learning the content and feeling like I’m prepared to take the exam. Taking the exam is different from just knowing the content. You need to know how to take the exam effectively.
Have you had any insurance-related internships? If so, how was your experience?
I’m doing a summer internship right now at Royal Neighbors of America in Illinois. This is my first internship, and I’m really enjoying it so far. Royal Neighbors is a nonprofit organization that provides fraternal benefit life insurance. I love their work beyond the actuarial science career as well. Serving and volunteering are close to my heart, and that’s what really attracted me to this company.
So far I’ve been working on a few projects that are advancing my knowledge and skills in R, which is the program I’ve learned in school. Getting that practical knowledge and applying all the concepts that I’ve learned at school into real life is something that’s very fulfilling and satisfying.
What are your future aspirations or career plans?
First of all, I definitely want to continue working here in the U.S. I started taking my board exams, which are U.S.-based, and I think I have a better opportunity of growing and learning in the U.S. when it comes to actuarial science. I’m planning on working toward my FSA designation, so that means I have to keep working on my exams, and I plan on working in life insurance after graduation.
What advice would you give someone interested in the insurance field?
Actuarial science is a really good career to get into. It has a lot of benefits. You work hard, but it pays off. If you are passionate about math, modeling, and commercial subjects, it’s a perfect major to get into. You learn beyond what you are learning in the classroom. The market is also huge in terms of actuarial science. Even with everything going on right now, there are a lot of insurance companies looking for actuaries because actuarial work is important. Working in the insurance industry is important. You get to serve the community and help with the financial protection people need right now and in the future.
Do you have any favorite books, websites, or media that you would recommend for someone interested in insurance?
I keep going back to the Society of Actuaries website to see what’s going on—if there’s a new podcast or any information that I need to know regarding the career as a whole. But I will also definitely recommend a book that I’ve read at school. The book is Principles of Risk Management and Insurance by George E. Rejda. It talks about insurance and the whole concept of risk management, so it touches on some actuarial science concepts as well. It looks at the insurance industry, including life, property, casualty, and health. It’s an amazing book to get started with, and it’s very understandable as well. It’s something that you will understand no matter what level you are at.
» If you liked Rachel’s interview, check out our other actuarial science student interviews.