Editor’s note: This story is part of a series of profiles of notable fall 2023 graduates.
First-generation college student Austin Adams is graduating from Arizona State University this fall with a bachelor’s degree in actuarial science. He will be honored as the School of Mathematical and Statistical Sciences 2023 Dean’s Medalist at The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences’ convocation in December.
Adams received the New American University President’s Award and the Robert G. Maule Actuarial Excellence Scholarship.
Adams grew up in Elburn, Illinois, a small village of 5,000 people about an hour west of Chicago. Both parents pushed for him to attend college and "to choose a major that would be profitable."
He grew up being fascinated by sports and played football, baseball, basketball, soccer, track, and cross-country throughout his childhood. Even today, his favorite things to do in his spare time are to watch football and manage his fantasy football teams, as well as workout and play sports with his friends.
He served as treasurer of Gamma Iota Sigma Kappa chapter at ASU, an international fraternity that promotes student interest in actuarial science, risk management and insurance as professions.
“The club helped me grow and look up to role models as I progressed through the tough actuarial science classes and actuarial exams,” said Adams. “Now, I get to return the favor to the newer students by telling them about my experiences throughout college and lead them down the right path. This is very rewarding for me.”
Actuaries are certified professionals required to pass a series of examinations. Adams has already passed two of these professional exams while attending ASU, and will take his third exam in the spring.
Multiple professors within the actuarial science program mentored and guided Adams.
“Paul Johnson taught me how to be myself and embrace my personality within my schooling. He was the professor I connected with most, and I felt like he encouraged me to be my best in school and outside of school.”
“Everyone has been very supportive and promotes academic success for the students that put in enough effort. Also, my fellow classmates were a massive component to my success thus far. They help explain tricky concepts that I struggle with, and in turn I do the same for them. I think the program does a great job preparing students for ... real-world work as well as only giving them necessary coursework,” said Adams.
“Austin has a positive attitude and puts effort into everything he does,” said Teaching Assistant Professor Paul Johnson. “In classes, beyond just showing mathematical aptitude on exams, he is always willing to participate in discussion and provide insightful comments and questions. He also dedicates his time to the Actuarial Lab and applies actuarial and data science techniques to real insurance problems.”
Adams worked as an intern at Toyota Financial Services in Plano, Texas, and Nautilus Insurance Company in Scottsdale, Arizona, which helped him decide to work in the property and casualty sector. Next summer he will work at Ernst and Young in Chicago doing actuarial consulting work.
After graduation, Adams plans to return to ASU to get a master’s degree in actuarial science. After that, he plans to pursue his actuarial career somewhere in the Midwest.
We asked Adams to share more about his journey as a Sun Devil.
Note: Answers may have been lightly edited for length or clarity.
Question: Why did you choose ASU?
Answer: I chose ASU because of the academic and career success from its prior students as well as getting away from the cold weather in the Midwest.
Q: What was your “aha” moment, when you realized you wanted to do actuarial science?
A: Spring of 2020 I researched the actuarial profession and was very intrigued. I realized it was a perfect blend of my strengths: problem solving, statistics and mathematics. Thus, I decided to switch from ... engineering into the actuarial science major.
Q: What do you like most about mathematics and actuarial science?
A: I like that there is a set answer to most problems and that working with numbers is objective. Numbers and statistics can tell a story if you put them together in a certain way, but they are objective and the correct numbers cannot be tampered with. This gives a good structure to the work being done.
Q: What is something you learned while at ASU that surprised you, that changed your perspective?
A: At ASU I learned how to truly be an adult and handle my responsibilities. Moving far away from my family and parents, I was solely responsible for managing everything that was required of me during college for the first time ever. I learned how to juggle different duties and manage my time efficiently to complete everything necessary and graduate.
Q: What is the best piece of advice you would give to those still in school?
A: Leverage your peers to help you get through school. Most people that you are surrounded with all have a common goal and come across many of the roadblocks that you do, so ask them how they overcame their adversity and let them help you.
Q: What was your favorite spot on campus, whether for studying, meeting friends or just thinking about life?
A: The Sun Devil Fitness Compplex was my favorite spot on campus. I love working out and talking with other people that love working out as well. I tend to find people there with common interests and goals to mine. Also, playing different sports and games there is a great way to get my mind off of school and life for a bit and just compete with other athletes.
Q: What do you think is most misunderstood about math by the general public?
A: The biggest misconception is how applicable math is. The general public assumes that most math is unnecessary to learn; however, math can be used to explain almost anything that occurs in our world.
Q: If someone gave you $40 million to solve one problem on our planet, what would you tackle?
A: $40 million sadly would not be enough to tackle most of the major issues on our planet these days, but I would attempt to try and fix the major health issues that occur globally. For example, pollutants that are chemically damaging the fish that humans consume, leading to more health issues in humans that consume the toxic fish from some locations. Overall, I prioritize the health and well-being of our society and think that many humans take (their health for granted).
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