Students' Summer of Experience
From left to right: Mark Hutchinson, Dan Harris and Jasen Sonday.
Photo by Jon Keeling
For a college student, the opportunity to gain hands-on experience in their future vocation through an internship is an ideal way to put what they’ve learned in the classroom into practice.
Even though he has been out of school for some time, Western & Southern Financial Group’s Chief Actuary Dan Harris also benefits from summer internships.
“We’ve been running the program every summer for about a decade now,” he says. “One of our goals is to let students get a good feeling for what actuaries do, and to let them get to know us and our work culture, too.
“Really, it’s like a 12-week interview. If things go well, at the end of the internship we often make an offer for entry-level employment. Then the student goes back to college to finish their senior year knowing they have a job waiting for them when they graduate.”
Using concepts of math, statistics and risk management, the four actuary interns accepted into the program each year complete projects that are later presented at the end of their three-month stay.
“We look for students who are self-motivated and who will take ownership of their summer project and see it through to the end,” says Harris. “Students will also learn the balance between working hard to solve problems on their own and realizing that we have a team within our department who are there to help them.”
Most of the interns (many are Cincinnati natives) come from Midwestern universities and typically major in actuarial science, math or statistics. Around 80 percent will be offered a full-time position after graduation. Employees who are sourced through the internship program have a higher retention rate than employees hired in a more traditional manner.
“Spending the summer with us gives them the opportunity to find out what working as an actuary will really be like,” Harris says. “And, it’s been rare, but we’ve had some finish the program and say, ‘This is not for me,’ and they’ve had time to reflect and change course before graduating with a degree they may not actually want.”
That wasn’t the case for Mark Hutchinson, who completed the internship program in 2009 when he was a student at Miami University in Oxford.
“I got to see what life insurance actuaries do on a day-to-day basis, see who they interact with and learn about the software applications they use,” he says. “I enjoyed the internship and liked the mix of math and finance. When I was a student, I had a few other opportunities that I could have pursued, but this admittedly was the most interesting for me.
“If I wouldn’t have had this internship and gained real-life experience, I would have just gone to class thinking that an actuary just sits alone in a cube doing some math. Instead I learned that, yes, sometimes you do just sit alone in a cube and do some math, but you also spend time helping implement products and communicating with people.”
Today, Hutchinson is an assistant vice president at Western & Southern.
“Since I started work in life insurance, I began thinking more about the importance of savings and planning for retirement and I’m able to give good advice from what I’ve learned to people in my own life,” he says.
Jasen Sonday, who attends the University of Kentucky, is one of the program’s 2017 summer interns. New to Cincinnati, Sonday stays in a dorm on Xavier University’s campus with other students interning at various companies throughout the city.
“I’ve only been here for about three months, but I’ve really enjoyed my time in Cincinnati,” he says. “I really wanted to get the internship at Western & Southern because I felt that their professional culture of hard work and dedication matched up with my own views and values.”
Last year, Sonday completed an internship at an insurance brokerage in Lexington, and says that the two internships have been different experiences.
“Western & Southern is a much larger company, which allows me to meet and get to know a lot of different co-workers. One thing I’ve learned from the people here is that there’s always room for improvement. It impressed me seeing how everyone continues to work to get better. I hope to apply that strong work ethic to other areas of my life.
“Working here this summer I’ve learned that being an actuary is the profession that I want to pursue and I see Western & Southern as the kind of place where I really want to work. If I have the opportunity to get a full-time job here, I hope to continue working hard on different certifications and work my way up to becoming a manager.”
Hutchinson now works with the summer interns.
“I think back at my time in the intern program and can see how people really educated me,” he says. “So now I try my hardest to build into the interns. I really see the value in that since I was in the same exact place and want to be sure the great experience I had is passed forward.”
Western & Southern is located at 400 Broadway Street, Cincinnati, OH 45202. For more information, call 866.832.7719 or visit westernsouthern.com.