Three recent GVSU Math grads reunited at Foremost Insurance
Kris Lund ('05), Mark Sheely ('07), and Danielle Wiest ('05) are three of the many recent GVSU graduates to find interesting jobs in industry. What might be most unique about their situation? Together they work in the same department along with two other Product Management Analysts at Foremost Insurance in Caledonia, MI.
None of the three originally set out to work in the insurance business. After graduating from Grand Valley, Kris and Danielle each completed master's degrees (Kris in pure mathematics at the University of Nebraska, Danielle in applied mathematics at Miami University of Ohio); Mark was contemplating graduate school. But for different reasons, all ended up applying to Foremost, and now each of them loves their job and enjoys how much mathematics is involved in their day-to-day work.
As product market analysts, Mark describes their job as "analyzing data and investigating opportunities." Their day-to-day work involves a substantial amount of mathematics (lots of multivariable calculus) and statistics, as well as regular use of software. Kris shares that "most of this work is with a program that I liken to Maple, but for the insurance world." Their work is a combination of data analysis, problem-solving, and communication. For example, they might spend two full weeks mining data in gigantic spreadsheets to discover trends, while at other times their days are filled with speaking engagements to various agencies about opportunities in the marketplace.
Danielle likes both the technical and social sides of the work. Besides learning new software and running data analysis, she appreciates the opportunity to collaborate with other members of the company in order to come to the best solutions possible. "The work we do and the decisions we make affect our entire company, so it is a very important part of our job to make sure everyone is on board and understands how we decide to change a certain product."
When asked about the most valuable aspects of their education, each of these alumni refer to the broad skills they acquired through the mathematics major. "Problem solving and the ability to communicate solutions have been the most valuable," states Lund. "Far and away, the most important thing I learned was to solve complex problems in a compressed timeframe," says Sheely. "After that, honing my ability to formulate a complete, well-reasoned argument - and then explain it to people who may know much much more about the topic than I do myself, or possibly much less about the topic - has been of great value." Wiest echoes these feelings with an analogy to proof-writing: "As you think your way through a proof and reason your way toward an answer, it is much like I do at my job when analyzing data and trying to decide what I should do about certain trends. You need to be able to comprehend what the data is telling you and then be able to explain it to other people, as well as support your decision of what you want to do about it."
Mike Cok, Vice President for Specialty Property Products at Foremost, supervises Kris, Mark, and Danielle and is very appreciative of what they have collectively brought to the company. About math majors generally, Mike says that one of their most appealing traits is their critical thinking skills. Furthermore, "Having strong analytical abilities is very important to assessing our data and our position in the market. We find mathematics majors have the aptitude and passion to find patterns, to help turn data into information, and help us make the best decisions to successfully compete in the market by always improving our value proposition to our customers."
For current students looking ahead to their own future in the world of employment, there are several good suggestions from Kris, Mark, and Danielle to consider:
Develop a better grasp of the programs Excel and Access. They're not hard to use, but everyone uses them regardless of what part of the business world you end up in.
Learn a programming language - once you learn one, it is much easier to learn another one if you have to (and you will have to at some point).
Get out from behind your desk and work on your people skills. Meet people, network, and most importantly, be open to opportunities when they present themselves, even if the opportunity doesn't fit in with what you had expected.
Be creative in choosing companies to apply to. A lot of businesses are in need of analytic thinkers, you just have to put in a little effort and sell your skills.
Mike Cok goes further in his own advice to students, saying "Be curious and be passionate." He also thinks that students often overlook the insurance industry, but notes that "there is noble work to do in this industry. Assessing risk and protecting our customers is very rewarding work. We are in the business of making promises, helping our customers manage for the unexpected that can happen in life."
It's exciting to see our recent alumni finding employment that uses the wide range of skills they acquired in their studies at Grand Valley in order to make a difference in their company. As Mark observes, "Our department is one of the driving forces for innovation and change in the company. Instead of the mathematician as the investigative recluse, you have the mathematician as the investigator, leader, critic, advocate, and so forth. It's a difficult and stressful job, but a very exciting place to be."