Josh Nymeyer ('14)
Pricing actuary at Zurich Insurance, Overland Park, Kansas
In 2012, Josh Nymeyer was a busy guy. As a third year student on the campus of Dordt College with two majors, he decided to pick up a third in the form of actuarial science. In September, with nearly an entire school year yet to complete, Nymeyer received his first job offer as an actuary. In just over one year’s time, Nymeyer had traveled a road filled with hours of hard work and more studying than he originally planned. But when he picked up his phone to hear Zurich Insurance on the other end, it was worth it.
When Nymeyer heard about actuarial science in his junior year, he was excited right away and began looking into it. Already studying business finance and accounting, it seemed like the perfect fit to him. He picked up the third major and began preparing for the first actuarial exam without much knowledge of the process. “I went into the first one (FM) expecting it to be easy. It’s a standardized test, it couldn’t be that bad.”
“I was wrong.”
Nymeyer studied about 80 hours for the first exam. The recommended standard is 300 hours. “After I failed the first one, I knew how much work had to be done to prepare for the next. I studied much more and passed.” He immediately began studying for the second exam and started applying for internships right away.
Nymeyer knew he needed to secure an internship for the summer, and he knew he was late to the party. As a junior with just one exam passed, he was already a couple years behind. “I knew I had to work hard to get a summer internship before my senior year. I probably applied around 40 places all over the country, and heard back from three of them.” One of those three was Zurich Insurance. Nymeyer accepted and spent the summer of 2013 in Kansas City. A few months later came the job offer.
Actuarial internships often lead to job offers, and Nymeyer knows he wouldn’t have received his offer without the summer in Kansas City. Working hard for the company while also studying for his next exam was crucial. “Actuarial internships are like extended interviews and are important for both parties. I showed them my capabilities and work ethic, and they showed me what it’s like to work at the company.”
Nymeyer recommends working very hard to get an internship as soon as possible, and then continuing to work hard in that internship to secure a job. He also insists Dordt prepared him for the hard work that comes along with actuarial science. “Having an actuarial science major shows companies your interest in the area. That is only one of the reasons I’m thankful for Dordt College and its actuarial program.”
Nate De Boer ('06)
Managing actuary, Economic Capital Modeling at Mutual of Omaha, Omaha, Nebraska
According to Nate De Boer, “Failing is normal.”
Perhaps that isn’t a phrase a person would be excited to hear in a serious conversation, but when talking about the actuarial exam process, it’s quite true. Nate De Boer recognizes the normality of failing in a process with a 41.6 percent pass rate. It’s really just simple math. These facts only make De Boer more thankful for his time at Dordt College that prepared him for his employment as an actuary at Mutual of Omaha.
Before graduating in 2006, De Boer's study of mathematics at Dordt prepared him to pass 50 percent of the actuarial exams he took. But beyond the technical skills needed to pass the exams, De Boer acquired many more important tools while on campus, primarily stemming from his study schedule. “Finding a way to fit rigorous, efficient studying into my daily college life was crucial. Balancing my time well allowed me to experience other important parts of college.”
This meant many late nights studying alone, but freed De Boer to have a life outside of the books. Participating in various activities and being a part of a healthy social circle was an important part of college for De Boer. He also spent time outside of class tutoring his peers.
Along with the technical math skills clearly needed by actuaries, De Boer strongly recommends a variety of business courses, computer programming, and communication classes. “Communication is a skill definitely needed by actuaries today. Developing writing and speaking abilities can really give you a leg up on the rest.” For De Boer, his tutoring was particularly helpful in teaching him how to convey information to others.
In addition to his college preparation, De Boer also had an internship at Mutual of Omaha in his junior year. “My internship really introduced me to the business setting and gave me practice being an accountable employee for the company.”
De Boer enjoys what he does today, modeling the company’s financial profile under a variety of economic scenarios, interest rates, and catastrophes in the country. After seven exams and eight years at Mutual of Omaha, he has also identified the morality factor in his job. “In a very complex financial situation it could be potentially easy to manipulate results.” And for that, he’s thankful for his rounded education at Dordt.
Nathan Schelhaas (’97)
A fellow in the Society of Actuaries, senior actuary at Principal Financial Group, Des Moines, Iowa
A typical day in the life of an actuary is like a game show, according to Dordt College graduate Nate Schelhaas of Edgerton, Minnesota. “They play The Price is Right, and try to put a price tag on future risk. Think about a company as a car that’s driving down the road. The CEO is in the driver’s seat, steering the car. The salesman is in the passenger seat yelling, “Go faster, go faster!” The CFO is in the back, calculating the gas mileage, making sure the car has enough gas to get to the destination, and determining the arrival time, and the actuary is turned around, looking out the back window, giving directions. Actuaries use the past to try to predict the future.”
Nate graduated from Dordt in 1997 with a degree in mathematics, and went to work for Principal Financial Group in Des Moines as a para-actuary. “Think of para-actuaries like para-legals. They do a good deal of the work, but are paid much less. Principal has a program where they’ll pay you to study to take the exams to become an actuary, so that’s what I did.” Nate passed his first exam to become an actuary right out of college. Since then, Nate has held a number of positions in the company, and currently works in life insurance.
Nate Schelhaas chose Dordt College for its athletic program. He started out as a biology major, but struggled to balance his schedule with basketball practice. He decided to switch to math late in his college career. Looking back, he feels that Dordt did a very good job of preparing him for the work world in general. “The toughest math I do is algebra, but Dordt helped develop a problem-solving skill set, and the emphasis on liberal arts helped me to understand more than just math,” he said.
Dordt also shaped Nate’s view of the world. In corporate America, people care too much about the bottom dollar, according to Nate. He feels that the workforce is in need of ethical people to step up and do the right thing, with confidence and backbone. “Dordt was talking about worldviews before they were ‘cool’. Every sphere of life is God’s; you know that you need to be responsible to do what you do well.”
For Nate, the Christian education he received at Dordt was his greatest treasure. “I still remember what I learned in my class on Calvin’s Institutes, and the community at Dordt is a theme that comes up again and again. I appreciate the opportunity to really know my professors, and the investments they put into me. In fact, my dad roomed with Professor Jim Schaap in college, and he loves to tell embarrassing stories about my childhood to his classes!”
Dordt’s new actuarial science major and minor will include education in math, statistics, economics, and business, among other disciplines. Nate Schelhaas has been fundamental in the creation of this program, and sees great value in it. “So many people are gifted in math, but feel lost. This program will give them another avenue.”
Chris Veenstra ('85)
Co-president of Watkins Ross & Co., Grand Rapids, Michigan
Without a degree in actuarial science, one might wonder how Chris Veenstra could end up as an established actuary at Watkins Ross & Co. In fact, it may be difficult to believe that a major in biology and a minor in chemistry eventually led to Veenstra’s role as vice president overseeing the development of retirement planning packages. Veenstra didn’t end up where he is today without hard work and dedication, and his journey began at Dordt College in the early 1980s.
While at Dordt, he participated in track, choir, and intramurals and enjoyed being involved in other social activities. “I didn’t apply myself as rigorously as I probably should have and didn’t pursue my math degree until after graduating from Dordt,” said Veenstra, who continued on to CSUF and studied applied math in 1991.
From there, he was led into the field of actuarial science and began preparing for the exams. Veenstra testifies that his study time and effort varied from “a lot” to “a lot more.” Through the lengthy testing process, he noted the importance of staying positive and avoiding getting discouraged. “Average pass rate for candidates at that time was one pass for every two attempts. My experience was pretty consistent with that.”
Though Veenstra successfully completed several exams without a degree in actuarial science, he recommends the major to those interested in going into the profession. Chris said of an actuarial science major, “I would expect that program to target the skills needed for success, incorporate an actuarial exam preparation component, as well as develop networks with actuarial firms.”
Veenstra is particularly excited about the actuarial science major at Dordt College. While he didn’t pursue math while on campus, he nevertheless strongly values the foundational concepts incorporated into all areas of study at Dordt. “Our Christian, Calvinist tradition has emphasized steady, faithful attention to responsibilities–qualities that are valuable in fields such as mathematics and actuarial science.” Coupling that along with the technical skills of math provides an educational experience that can prepare a student for the work ahead.
Understanding the big picture and having the diligence to work hard with Christian morals has been important to Veenstra at Watkins Ross. Having 22 years of experience and being in a leadership role as co-president, he knows there is more to actuarial science than crunching numbers and recognizes the importance of Christian education.