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Katie School Pioneers Diversified Insurance Education for Young Professionals

After the prestigious trade journal Risk Management Magazine praised the programs offered by the Katie School of Insurance, Cheap Insurance 123 spoke with Professor Kevin Ahlgrim and Associate Director Debbie Babcock.

The Katie School offers a strong double major in insurance and finance which gives students a valuable edge when they seek employment directly in the industry or in related fields.

Additionally, Katie has a strong track record for graduate job success with many of its graduates receiving the Chartered Property Casualty Underwriter (CPCU) professional designation.

(Thanks to financial support from the Katie School, students begin taking exams as undergraduates and then earn the full designation early in their careers.)

1. Can you provide a brief overview of your insurance program and how the courses or sequences are handled?

The introductory course, Introduction to Risk Management and Insurance, is the largest in the course catalog with five to six sections offered per semester. It is a broad materials overview that draws a varied audience of students from various disciplines who want to learn about risk management in general, and to improve their personal insurance decisions. It is a gateway to introduce students to the industry, with instructors bringing in people who actively work in insurance and risk management to present a broad cross-section of knowledge.

After the introductory course, there are six others offered. FIL 350 and 352 are mostly coverage analysis courses for property and liability respectively. The material covered helps students learn to recommend valuable coverage types based on an evaluation of consumer needs. A senior level course, Insurance Company Operations, relies on semester-long simulation projects to involve students in the different aspects of claims, underwriting, and actuarial work.

FIL 354 Risk Management is the capstone course which offers an advanced study of risks faced by firms, various methods used to measure and to manage risks, and the process of making risk management decisions.  Other courses include Life and Health Insurance, and Retirement Planning & Employee Benefits, and we also have a new Financial Planning minor.

We offer a tremendous number of internships including some that are international. Every summer, students are selected to intern in London, Zurich, Bermuda and South Africa to gain a stronger perspective of global insurance markets.

The Actuarial Science program is one of only 21 programs (fourteen of which are in the United States) that are recognized as Centers of Actuarial Excellence by the Society of Actuaries. It is a highly regarded educational experience and very engaged with the insurance industry.

2. Can you describe one or two “typical” classes and how students are involved in the learning process?

There is a strong emphasis on student involvement and engagement across all courses, and professors mix instruction with guest speakers and industry specific projects. Many of our Katie School alumni are eager to return to campus to interact with students in the classroom, sharing their experiences, career paths, and advice for undergraduates.
3. How do computer skills and systems analysis and design figure into your business information sequence in relation to insurance?

The insurance business information systems sequence provides an in-depth study of insurance and financial services combined with the study of computer programming, systems analysis, and systems design.   Students analyze, design, develop and implement a complete business information system. That experience, along with their insurance knowledge base, allowed them to become valuable employees within the insurance industry.

In 2011, the Katie School developed a two-part workshop on Business Intelligence for students in the Katie School Student Leadership program. The purpose of the workshop is to enable the student to comprehend, explore and manage significant issues confronting the field of Business Intelligence from a multi-disciplinary perspective. Students are given data sets to analyze and then develop corporate strategies based on the insights gleaned from the data.

4. How does the mentorship and job shadowing experience work for your students? What type of insurance professionals do they shadow, and what do they tend to glean from the experience?

The Katie School has a variety of ways that students are mentored, including programs through the local CPCU Chapter, the Gamma Iota Sigma insurance fraternity chapter and through Katie School alumni.  The CPCU Chapter invites students to be paired with local insurance professionals that assist with soft skill assessments, resume and interviewing critiquing and opportunities to job shadow in various departments within the industry.

The insurance fraternity pairs senior members with younger students who have recently joined the organization to familiarize them with the insurance program and activities offered by Gamma and also by the Katie School.  Our alumni provide job shadowing experiences and networking activities for our undergraduate students.  The students have a better understanding of certain career paths and avenues to follow in the RMI environment that helps them more accurately determine the direction they would like to pursue.
5. Please describe a cross section of your student body. What kind of people are coming to you to study insurance?

Students from various disciplines study insurance and many of them double major in insurance and other majors such as finance or marketing.  We have students combining insurance with accounting, finance, organizational leadership, business administration, actuarial science, marketing, economics, and similar combinations to enhance their career options in the insurance and risk management industry.

6. Where do your students go after graduation? In what sector or segment of the industry do they tend to be employed?

Our students accept a variety of positions within areas such as brokerage, claims, underwriting, agency, actuarial, risk management, risk engineering, safety and reinsurance. They are mobile, and are locating across the country with strong consideration for working abroad.

7. How does your approach to insurance instruction make you stand out from other schools?

The Katie School is fortunate to have a strong connection to the insurance and risk management industry that allows our students to experience so many opportunities outside of the classroom. They receive an excellent education from our professors, and we enhance that knowledge with such added values as company visits, attendance at industry conferences, the taking of professional designation exams, student Toastmaster chapter activities, guest speakers on campus, industry lunches and networking opportunities, an extremely active Gamma Iota Sigma chapter and a student leadership program.

8. Your department also houses the Institute for Insurance Ethics. Can you tell us more about its function?

The Institute for Insurance Ethics is part of the Katie School that develops programs that educate students as well as members of the insurance and financial services industry about the nature of ethics, social responsibility, and the application of high ethical standards to the insurance industry.

As part of the Institute, the Katie School has developed an online, interactive ethics program which is used by the faculty in teaching students about ethics and values. This program includes case studies and individual values assessments. In addition the Katie School provides classroom facilitation for students on ethics in insurance to assist faculty.

Between 2006 and 2011, more than 3,500 industry professionals had participated in all or part of the Katie School workshop on Developing Ethical Intelligence. In 2009, the Katie School developed a workshop on Ethical Leadership which has had more than 500 participants.

In 2012, the Katie School will begin a new course and associated workshops on the subject of Risk Management and Sustainability, which examines the role of insurers in promoting environmentally friendly products, financial transparency, private market solutions to climate change, and corporate social responsibility.

9. Can you describe the background and experience of your faculty?

The faculty affiliated with the Katie School bring a wide range of expertise and knowledge to the classroom and research projects. With the industry going across so many disciplines, it is incumbent upon the Katie School to work with faculty members across campus in diverse majors including insurance, finance, actuarial science, safety, human resources, sustainability, marketing, communication and many more. The faculty will oftentimes have practical work experience that enriches the classroom education exponentially.

10. What else would you like to share about your program?

Students in the Katie School of Insurance at Illinois State University receive a very well rounded and balanced education with excellent classroom education from outstanding faculty coupled with a tremendous amount of interaction with industry professionals. Through many resume enhancing activities, the students become very committed and passionate about careers in risk management and insurance and become very knowledgeable, well respected and retainable employees.  They are highly recruited and enjoy successful careers in the industry.

Obviously, the Katie School of Insurance is taking a forward thinking approach to educating the next generation of insurance industry professionals. By elevating their instruction from the level of textbooks and lectures to an environment rich with real world experience, the Katie School is leading the way in educating young professionals who exist their studies with a real world perception of the field in which they will be working.

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