ASU Dean's Medalist passionate about helping others as senior actuarial analyst
Editor’s note: This story is part of a series of profiles of notable spring 2023 graduates.
Arizona State University honors student Lainey Waldman is graduating this spring with a bachelor’s degree in actuarial science and a minor in economics. She will be honored as the School of Mathematical and Statistical Sciences Spring 2023 Dean’s Medalist at The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences’ convocation in May.
Waldman will also receive the Moeur Award for maintaining a 4.0 cumulative GPA in eight consecutive fall and spring semesters. She is a Spencer Foundation Scholar, Stuart A. Robertson Actuary of Tomorrow Scholar, Arizona CPCU Chapter Scholar and CPCU Next Generation Scholar.
She was born in Maryland but lived in Las Vegas since age 2.
“I honestly did not realize how unique growing up in Las Vegas was until I came to college. There are small things, like being able to go to the grocery store at midnight, but also big things, like having this magical place just 30 minutes from your house that I just didn't get to appreciate until I moved away. I grew up going to comedy shows on the Strip. I took my prom photos at the Venetian. I didn't realize that bowling alleys existed outside of casinos until I was 16,” Waldman said. “Saying I am from Las Vegas is definitely a conversation starter.”
Waldman started ASU as an engineering major, but once she took physics, she knew engineering was not for her. After countless career quizzes, she found herself drawn to becoming an actuary.
“I never thought one day I would thoroughly enjoy learning about insurance terminology, actuarial ratemaking and high-level statistics, but I am now graduating with a (Bachelor of Science in actuarial science) and can declare that I loved every second of it,” Waldman said. “I truly believe I have found my place, and I am so enthusiastic about the years to come.”
Her Barrett, The Honors College thesis focuses on the social determinants of health, working with Professor of Practice Hongjuan Zhou.
"The social determinants of health (SDOH) are non-medical factors that influence the health outcomes of an individual and are currently creating a health equity barrier in the United States. Lainey was first exposed to the SDOH through projects in her Humana actuarial internship in 2021 summer. There, she discovered that through exploration of the associations of the SDOH and health outcomes, programming and policymaking can begin to address the barrier to health equity that the SDOH create,” Zhou said. “In her honors thesis, 'U.S. Health Care’s Equity Barrier: An Analysis of Neighborhood and Built Environment Impacts on Health Outcomes,' Lainey collected public data sets and explored the association between a variety of SDOH and health outcomes on a county basis throughout the United States.”
Waldman's research found a link between food insecurity and higher rates of critical illnesses such as diabetes, heart disease and other obesity-related illnesses. Further, the research showed a link between transportation inaccessibility and lower rates of mental and physical health.
“In particular, at a county level, counties with higher rates of individuals who commute alone also had higher rates of mental distress,” Waldman said. “Another interesting find was looking at non-emergency medical transport (NEMT). This helps to address individuals who financially or physically can't take themselves to the doctor’s office. The study we looked at following Medicaid beneficiaries in Michigan, New Jersey and Louisiana showed millions of dollars in return on the investment in their NEMT program, which indicates better health outcomes because of less health expenditures.”
Actuaries are certified professionals required to pass a series of examinations to obtain a professional designation. Waldman has already passed four of these professional exams while attending ASU – Probability, Financial Mathematics, Investment and Financial Markets, and most recently, Statistics for Risk Modeling – an impressive achievement.
Waldman serves as vice president of Gamma Iota Sigma Kappa chapter at ASU, an international fraternity that promotes student interest in actuarial science, risk management and insurance as professions. She has also been treasurer and committee member with the chapter. She also works as a Barrett Peer Mentor who helps first year students adjust to campus life.
"Working with Lainey has been an absolute pleasure,” Zhou said. “Her positive attitude, exceptional leadership skills and self-organized personality make her a prime candidate for a successful health actuary. With these valuable qualities, she is sure to excel in her career and make impacts to the actuarial community."
In July, Waldman will begin her career as a senior actuarial analyst with Cigna Insurance Group in Denver, Colorado.
We asked Waldman to share more about her journey as a Sun Devil.
Question: Why did you choose to attend Arizona State University?
Answer: Starting as a civil engineering major, my decision to attend ASU was primarily based on the rank of the engineering school and proximity to home. However, I feel so thankful that I did decide to come to ASU because I wouldn’t have found my true passion and career without it.
Q: What was your “aha” moment, when you realized you wanted to study the field you majored in?
A: Often when students are good at math or science in high school, everyone pushes you towards engineering. I was no exception to this rule and came into college excited to follow my engineering destiny … up until I took physics. After discovering my passions did not lie in the engineering field, I scoured the internet for some career that might balance my passions of math and business only to find actuarial science. While I was excited to start my new major, the moment I knew that I belonged in actuarial science was my first GIS meeting. I was surrounded by a group of like-minded, equally nerdy but capable group of determined students, and I knew I belonged in this community.
Q: What’s something you learned while at ASU that surprised you, that changed your perspective?
A: Not at one particular moment, but throughout my four years at ASU, I feel as though I have learned to stay open-minded and respect the opinions of others better even though I may not agree with them. This becomes particularly important on group projects where every member is extremely intelligent, capable and opinionated. Everyone’s opinion is valid and it became imperative that we all listened and weighed the possibilities to make the best decision.
Q: Which professor taught you the most important lesson while at ASU?
A: Dr. Hongjuan Zhou is the best professor I have had throughout my time at ASU. While her academic lectures are invaluable and prepared me for a number of actuarial exams, her determination, organization and empathy as woman in the actuarial science field has been inspiring to say the least. She taught me that I can truly achieve what I want in this field as long as I set my mind to it.
Q: What’s the best piece of advice you would give to students?
A: Don’t let the opinions of others hold you back, particularly those in a more powerful position. Often we let the advice of parents, professors or advisors hold us back from what we know is right. While advice from wise persons in your life is invaluable, don’t let it hold you back from your true potential and goals.
Q: What is most misunderstood about mathematics by the general public?
A: That mathematics can only be done by a select group of persons born with an innate ability. While I do agree that some may find it more challenging, I truly believe anyone can develop an understanding, if not a talent, for it if they set their mind to it.
Q: What do you like to do in your spare time (when not studying or doing school related tasks)?
A: I am a huge "The Bachelor/The Bachelorette" fan, so I often run bachelor fantasy leagues and keep up to date with the franchise. I unfortunately am not up to date with this season but look forward to getting back into it with "Bachelor in Paradise." I also very much enjoy cooking. Finding new, fun, healthy recipes is a passion of mine and something I look forward to exploring more after graduation.
Q: What was your favorite spot on campus, whether for studying, meeting friends or just thinking about life?
A: I love the Starbucks at the Memorial Union. My roommate and I would always go study or just play Bananagrams there, and it reminds me of the happy times we shared.
Q: If someone gave you $40 million to solve one problem on our planet, what would you tackle?
A: I would want to invest the money in solving world hunger. While that in itself is an extremely important issue, the implications of food insecurity on health care are also enormous. From my thesis, I discovered that in the United States, counties with higher food insecurity are linked to worse physical health. While there is definitely food insecurity in the U.S., the issue only becomes worse throughout the world and likely manifests in even worse health outcomes. By addressing world hunger, it would ideally address both of these issues at once.