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Partners in Education The University of Colorado Denver’s Risk Management and Insurance program illuminates how industry collaboration today propels the insurance stars of tomorrow. By Heather Turner

Nestled on an urban campus near the Rocky Mountain Foothills, the University of Colorado Denver (CU Denver) may at first seem like an ordinary public university. But a world-class risk management and insurance (RMI) program lives here.

As one of the few universities in the Western United States to offer RMI majors, CU Denver’s middle-American location is simultaneously challenging and opportune.

Each semester, the program has approximately 130 students enrolled across seven RMI offerings. That’s a far cry from the 15 students the program started with in 2011. Still, today’s student count falls far behind many East Coast RMI undergraduate programs.

A student works side-by-side with an insurance professional at Virtus Underwriting during Shadow Day.

Small but Mighty

Don’t let the size of CU Denver’s RMI program fool you. Consider that it boasts a 100% job placement rate for graduating students, and the International Insurance Society designated CU Denver as one of its Global Centers of Insurance Excellence (GCIE) in 2019. Only 34 universities across 11 countries carry that distinction, which recognizes best-in-class insurance education and research facilities.

There’s a clear reason for this success: CU Denver’s RMI program fosters a culture of collaboration between faculty, students, and perhaps most importantly, the insurance industry.

Helmed by Ajeyo Banerjee, associate professor and program director, and Assistant Director Lori Genuchi, CU’s RMI program flourishes because of strong partnerships.

Students visit AIG in London as part of the Global Risk Management course. The class includes two weeks of lectures, presentations and discussions. Then the class travels to London for a week.

“No other program in the CU Denver Business School has the industry involvement that we have,” Genuchi says. “When students get involved in the program, they have a plethora of opportunities to network, and they really get excited about meeting people in the industry and hearing their stories.”

Banerjee adds: “If you look at the list of companies that work with us, it’s a ‘Who’s Who’ of insurance.”

Essential Industry Support

Insurance-industry partners serve as key players in the development of CU’s RMI program. Today, more than 30 insurance professionals serve on its advisory council, and many more partner with the school on networking events and guest lecturing opportunities.

Industry partners also contributed to the $444,696 in scholarships awarded to 625 RMI students since 2011.

But these partnerships provide the most value in their interactions with students. Consider the RMI Shadow Day, which is open to all CU Denver majors. The event allows students to spend time at nearby insurance businesses. It’s popular among participating companies as well as students, who often walk away with internship offers.

Sarah Kelsey is the program’s external relations coordinator. She explains that about half of the students who attended the last RMI Shadow Day were from other majors. Many of these academic looky-loos returned from their day in the field with newfound interest in pursuing an RMI major.

“We really have a lot of industry support, especially from local groups like the Colorado CPCU Society and Rocky Mountain RIMS,” Kelsey says. “They are all very open to inviting students to attend their meetings and events.”

More than 320 companies support CU Denver’s RMI students by actively participating in the advisory council, Shadow Days and GIS chapter activities. Here, students spend a Shadow Day at Philadelphia Insurance Companies.

Global View

One course, in particular, brings together RMI students and industry partners in a special way. The three-week Global Risk Management class includes a visit to London, where students are immersed in the market and learn about how global risk transfers.

“Students visit insurance carriers [and] brokers such as Aon, Marsh and Willis, and Lloyd’s of London,” says Associate Professor Jeungbo Shim. “They are able to observe transactions by sitting in a syndicate box.”

Such strong collaboration between RMI students, educators and working professionals tends to be a “selling point” for prospective students.

Students visit Zurich on Shadow Day.

Consider CU Denver Seniors Judes Odjo and Mariah Purtell, who joined the RMI program after taking a single risk management course. This introduction to the subject inspired Purtell, then a financial management and accounting major, and Odjo, a finance major, to add RMI to their academic rosters.

As students with other business majors, they have a distinct perspective on risk management education.

“The mentoring program, the Shadow Days, and all the networking I am able to do with the RMI program are incredible,” says Purtell.

For Odjo, the blend of real-world and classroom experiences lent focus to his personal career plan.

Teaching the Fundamentals

Insurance consumers may be unfamiliar with how insurance carriers make money or determine particular premiums. For Jeungbo Shim, introducing risk management and insurance students to the mechanics behind risk management is a fundamental lesson.

“The most challenging part of this industry is how to quantify and measure uncertain risks,” says Shim, associate professor in finance and RMI at CU Denver. “Great [RMI] students need to understand statistics, accounting and economics.”

Shim teaches topics that go beyond simple coverages and risk management, from how to forecast losses from uncertain events to insurers’ hedging strategies. He also trains students on the technical aspects of risk analysis by challenging them to use available industry data to quantify certain risks. This intensive approach enables students to develop the skills needed for today’s challenging risk industry, the educator says.

Other concepts Shim aims to explore with students include regulatory capital requirements and insurance accounting rules, which differ from general rules applied in other industries.

“[Insurance companies] hire financial analysts, legal experts, accountants, marketing experts and more, so there are a lot of great opportunities that students may not know,” Shim notes. “It is easy to sell insurance [as a career option] when you introduce all those different functions.”

Better Together

Working with industry partners has been instrumental in forming an RMI curriculum that reflects the evolving demands of today’s insurance industry.

It can be challenging for instructors and professors to stay attuned to rapid industry changes, says Program Director Ajeyo Banerjee. Industry partners provide necessary insight into today’s insurance business.

“We run our syllabi through our advisory council, who help decide what to teach, what not to teach, and what needs updating,” Banerjee says. “They contribute to the students’ education.”

For instance, an industry partner once recommended that a topic be removed from syllabi because a recent lawsuit had rendered the subject obsolete. “Those are the kinds of things that can be difficult for faculty to know,” Banerjee notes.

In another instance, a roundtable discussion featuring faculty and InsurTech experts illuminated how technology now informs risk management and should, therefore, carry even more weight in RMI courses. “The confluence of business analytics, insurance and IT is the area where a lot of forward movement is taking place,” says Banerjee, who expects to see even more technology skills built into the program in coming semesters.

CU Denver RMI Instructor Cindy Baroway started her career in claims. She also served as president of the CPCU Leadership Council. “One of the things we heard from our advisory council is that when they’re hiring students, they need to know that they can present [to clients],” says Baroway, who challenges students to create a client proposal around a mock scenario as the final project in one of her courses.

“In the past, underwriters didn’t go out and meet clients,” she says. “Today, underwriters need those social skills.”

Signing day for the establishment of CU Denver’s Gamma Iota Sigma (GIS) chapter, Beta Mu. GIS is a collegiate fraternity aimed at promoting student interest in insurance, risk management and actuarial science professions.

Looking Forward

Collaboration and camaraderie are key elements of success and growth for CU Denver’s RMI program.

For this program to continue to thrive, however, it must attract more students. So faculty often visit other business courses, attend orientations, and pass around printed flyers promoting the program. But the best pitch people for the CU Denver RMI program are its students.

“Students talk about the program with their friends,” Genuchi says. “Friends see [the RMI students] go to industry events and receive scholarships, and then they want to learn more.”