Professor Jeffrey Zheng is on a mission as the director of the new actuarial science minor at the University of Notre Dame: he wants everybody to know what an actuary is. “An actuary is someone who deals with and quantifies uncertainty.”
An actuary uses both math and business skills to assess and manage risk in a wide variety of fields, from insurance and banking to energy and natural resources, transportation, and climate change. Zheng hopes that the new program, the product of collaboration between corporate industry partners and alumni who wanted to see greater attention paid to actuarial science, will assist Notre Dame students in pursuing this high-demand career option.
Students pursuing this minor are first required to take four courses in mathematics and statistics, one of which is the probability course that students take after completing a required three calculus sequence. Students then take four business courses that are designed to expose them to the business side of the field. These classes include accountancy, financial management, and investment theory, important topics because most large firms that use actuaries have a large amount of capital to invest. Finally, students are required to take principles of microeconomics and econometrics.
Zheng, who is in his first year with the university, not only has theoretical knowledge, but also brings experience in the field to his job. After obtaining his bachelor’s in actuarial science and economics from the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor and his masters in accounting from the same institution, he worked for CNA Insurance in Chicago where he performed a variety of jobs including pricing, reserving, and underwriting. After over 6 years with CNA, Zheng left to continue his education and obtained his master’s in education from Harvard University. He then went on to work at Roosevelt University in Chicago where he helped coordinate their actuarial science program. He came to his present position at Notre Dame because he was enticed by the opportunity to be entrepreneurial and build a program.
Response to the actuarial science minor has been very positive so far, says Zheng. “There is no selection process but there is a wait list. I think this is a popular minor because it allows students to take business courses which may have been otherwise unavailable. For those who are interested we advise them to complete their calculus l-lll circuit, as well as the math/acms and economics courses, so that once they are off the waitlist they can add the business courses. So even if you are not actually an actuarial science minor at the time, you can still be working towards it.”