The Biggest and One of The Best
The Risk Management and Insurance Department (RMI) at Temple University’s Fox School of Business is the nation’s largest, oldest and for the second year in a row, one of the five best in the country, according to “U.S. News & World Report.”
The school’s Sigma chapter of Gamma Iota Sigma (GIS), a fraternal professional organization, has been similarly superlative, winning the Edison L. Bowers Award for the most outstanding chapter an astonishing 18 of the last 23 years.
Students have excelled in other competitions as well. In 2014, four Temple University students were honored at the annual RIMS conference after they beat out 14 other universities to win the Spencer-RIMS Risk Management Challenge.
Each university team had been given a risk management case study challenge by Dan Kugler, retired risk manager for Snap-on Inc., and current director of the Center of Risk Management and Insurance at the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh. The students were asked to make a presentation to “win” Snap-on’s broker business.
“This is like the Super Bowl for risk management and insurance,” Kugler said at the time.
A year earlier, a group of Temple students took home the glory at the Virginia Commonwealth University RISC/Spencer RMI Challenge after the team analyzed a complex risk management case study focused on an upcoming world championship bicycle race and presented their solutions to a panel of risk management experts.
Does Bigger Mean Better?
Many factors have contributed to the size and success of Fox RMI, which offers undergraduate and graduate degrees in actuarial science, health care management, and risk management and insurance. But being the largest and among the best are in some ways mutually reinforcing.
“The size of the program certainly allows you to hire the professors that enhance the research, which is ultimately the academic reputation of the program,” said Moshe Porat, dean of the Fox School of Business and former chair of Fox RMI (Pictured above).
“If you were very small, no matter how good the quality, you wouldn’t have the resources to hire the top-notch researchers,” he said.
R.B. Drennan, the department’s current chair, agreed.
“We’re pretty deep in every area,” he said. “Any RMI program in the United States is going to have a series of courses that focuses primarily on property/ casualty and corporate risk management. And we do as well, but we have a lot of bench strength.
“We’re one of the few if not the only school who has a concentration … in employee benefit management,” Drennan said.
Decker Youngman, chief recruitment officer at Brown & Brown, said there is a practical impact of that bench depth.
“Other programs [are] developing an employee benefits track, but Temple’s been doing that for a number of years so … especially if you’re looking to recruit and hire some employee benefit specialists, you find students who are already fairly knowledgeable and maybe even focused on that career path.”
“It is growing primarily because of the value proposition.” — Moshe Porat, dean of the Fox School of Business and former chair of Fox RMI
A Fox RMI intern reception in February attracted 110 representatives from 45 companies and nearly 200 internship-seeking students.
“The next closest program,” Youngman said, “is maybe 200, 250 [total student body] and [Fox is] close to 500, so they’re twice as big. That’s obviously a draw for a recruiter because you’ve got more students to canvas.
“And in terms of quality, it’s as good as any program in the country. We have found the students to be very well prepared,” said Youngman.
The department’s size also means a larger built-in network for graduates — of particular importance in a relationship-based industry like insurance.
Cassidy Starkey, an assistant vice president at the Graham Co. who graduated the program in 1999, said the network has been invaluable.
“I’m very close with a lot of those people that I was friends and classmates with. … We all help each other and we do business together.”
When you take into account, he said, that the program graduates more than 100 students each year and he graduated 15 years ago, “you’re talking about a huge network.”
Of course, Porat said, a large department may find job-placement challenges, “but we haven’t yet reached that size. Our placement is fantastic, not only for this program but for the whole school. We place 94 or 95 percent of our graduates within six months of graduation, and 95 or 96 percent of MBAs within three months.”
He also attributed the program’s size to its excellence rather than the other way around.
“It is growing primarily because of the value proposition. It gives students a really relevant education and top-notch placement, for very reasonable tuition. … Good jobs, good preparation for the jobs, as well as very reasonable tuition, which is Temple’s tuition,” Porat said.
A Commitment to Recruitment
Youngman said the program benefits from having senior faculty teaching all levels of classes as well as having them actively recruit into the program some of the talented students they find taking introductory-level courses.
“A lot of universities would turn an intro class over to a graduate assistant, but in this case Rob Drennan and [assistant professor] Michael McCloskey teach that class.
“Not only do they make it more interesting, but they actually recruit from that class. I think that is why they have such high quality students in their program,” Youngman said.
“They are selecting them from the entire business school as opposed to students who might just find their way into a risk management program.”
Steve Costa, a 2015 graduate and now a risk analyst at AIG, said he was enticed into the program while taking an introductory class.
“The intro class got you hooked,” he said. “They say, ‘Look, you’re doing really well in the class, it seems like you have a sense for risk management and insurance,’ ” said Costa.
Vince Galasso, another 2015 graduate, now an analyst at Towers Watson’s health and group benefits practice, had a similar experience.
“I took the Intro to Risk Management class. I felt engaged and I really liked it. I was approached by Dr. Drennan, who was my teacher, and he asked me if I’d be interested in adding it as a major,” said Galasso.
“The teachers,” said Porat, “are able to ‘sell’ the program to the student early on.”
“And I say ‘sell’ in quotes, because they are convinced there is a good career in there. But [then the program] sells itself.”
If recruitment is key to bringing top quality students into Fox RMI, student professional development has been one of the keys to producing top-notch graduates.
“The intro class got you hooked.” — Steve Costa, a 2015 Fox RMI graduate and now a risk analyst at AIG
Porat said professional development “certainly accelerated to a higher degree in the last 15 years and Rob Drennan played a major role in that.”
“He took it to another level when he was just faculty and coordinator of the department’s professional development program.”
The Fox School has a Center for Student Professional Development, but Drennan’s contributions have made the school’s Sigma chapter of GIS the largest and most successful in the country.
“Any major in a business school can offer courses in finance, accounting, marketing or whatever,” Drennan said. “But to me, you’ve got to put these things in context.
“We think the professional development of our students is just as important to the value-added proposition as the stuff we do in the classroom … to help them make a transition from being a student who’s studying risk management or actuarial science to being a professional.”
Drennan, said Youngman, “has very high standards for participation and selection of officers and he’s very much involved in that. … But then he leaves it up to the students to make sure that they’re meeting that standard that he sets.”
Costa, a former president of the fraternal organization’s chapter, called his experience “irreplaceable.”
“They had things ranging from etiquette at receptions, dining etiquette, to interview-skills workshops.
“When the students come for the first time they are very shy, but after a year … they’re going toe-to-toe with industry executives, high-level speakers, and having really stimulating conversations,” he said.
“The professional development that we engage in,” Porat said, “is from how to eat right, how to dress, how to write a resume, to … really preparing you for professional designation and exams and everything in between.”
Another key to Fox RMI’s success is proactively assisting students in pursuing scholarships and other aid. The school goes beyond simply making information available, Costa said.
“In our department, you not only hear it from the professors in the classroom, you’re not only getting it via email, but you’re getting it every single week at those [GIS] meetings.
“They’re telling the students, ‘These are the ones to apply for, you should really do it.’… They sit with them for a couple different meetings, have them come into their office and try to get them to finish up these applications.”
Costa said the scholarships are an important element in the department’s academic excellence.
“It gives you such a weight lifted off of your shoulders, knowing that you can focus on your studies and not have to worry about ‘Am I going to pay rent this month? Am I going to have to buy groceries somewhere else? Am I going to have to call my parents to get money from them?
“You get to focus and really hone in on what you’re trying to learn, which is risk management.”
Focusing on Industry Trends
At the center of Fox RMI’s success, though, is a program that produces graduates with an understanding of insurance that goes beyond a solid foundation to include up-to-the-minute trends.
“My employee benefits course [curriculum] … probably rolls over by a factor of 20 to 30 percent every time I teach it,” Drennan said.
“It’s maddening at times, but it’s interesting because who wants to teach the same thing over and over again?”
“Our MBA [curriculum] is almost every two to three to four years completely rethought,” Porat said.
“The undergraduate in business is generally less so, but courses are updated based on the feedback we get from employers.”
Some of that feedback has led to an increasing focus on big data.
“Almost every program, including the insurance programs, is … adding strong data analytics into its curriculum,” said Porat.
“I think this will make the students coming out of here better able to manage large data and actually interpret it quickly,” he said.
Youngman said he has found that graduates are up-to-speed on issues like cyber risk, the Affordable Care Act, reinsurance, catastrophic risk management and computer modeling as well as big data analytics.
He attributed the knowledge to Drennan’s and McCloskey’s “involvement with people in the industry. They’re not sitting in an ivory tower teaching from a textbook — they’re making it relative to what’s going on in the industry today.”
That is crucial in recruiting young professionals, said Youngman.
“Employers today are looking for skill sets, they’re not looking for generic graduates. Insurance brokers, insurance companies, consultants are flocking to the RMI programs because they’re finding students already focused on our profession.”
About 35 percent to 40 percent of recruits at Brown & Brown are RMI graduates, and Youngman sees demand for a lot more.
As far as Drennan is concerned, that makes perfect sense.
“It’s more target-efficient to focus on … students that are studying risk management and insurance. A lot more companies are embracing our programs … and recognizing that it makes a whole lot of sense to focus on us.”