Sun Devil Welcome a raucous start to new year

August 18, 2015

Editor's note: As ASU gears up for the start of classes this week, our reporters are spotlighting scenes around its campuses. To read more, click here.

If anyone walking into the arena Tuesday afternoon for the Sun Devil Welcome rally didn’t have maroon and gold blood coursing through their veins, they certainly did when they left. Incoming freshman show their school spirit at the Sun Devil Welcome. Incoming freshmen of the Ira A. Fulton School of Engineering show their school spirit during the Sun Devil Welcome at Wells Fargo Arena on Aug. 18 in Tempe. Download Full Image

Plus ruptured eardrums.

With drums, horns, dancers and balloons cascading from the ceiling, the 11,000-strong class of 2019 filled two-thirds of the arena with a sea of gold from all 50 states and more than 100 countries.

“Awesome,” said Race Carter, a business management major from Scottsdale.

After a kickoff performance by Andaaz, the Bollywood dance team, vice president of athletics Ray Anderson told the crowd that when he arrived at ASU two years ago, people said ASU Athletics was a sleeping giant.

“I’m here to tell you the giant is alive and well, and stomping through the Valley and the Pac-12,” Anderson said. “And we are kicking butt in all our programs.”

“Raise your pitchforks high and give ’em hell, Sun Devils!” yelled Corina Tapscott, ‎president of downtown student government.

A video of a Godzilla-size Sparky stomping across the Valley to the thundering bass of AC/DC drew huge cheers, especially when he crushed a car with the University of Arizona logo on the roof before entering his Sun Devil Stadium and impaling the turf with a flaming pitchfork.

“That is the last time you will hear those words (U of A) spoken,” marching band director James Hudson told the crowd. “It’s ‘that place down south.’ We never speak those words.”

And, he added, “On Friday we wear gold.”

University President Michael Crow took the stage. “Yes, I’m the old serious guy,” he began. “Somebody’s got to be.”

He asked the crowd what they want their lives to mean. “When people talk about you after you’re gone, what do you want them to say?” he said. “There is not a person in this room who should not graduate from this institution and go on to do fantastic things.”

There are 400 areas of subjects to learn from at ASU, Crow said.

“We have hundreds and hundreds of majors,” he said. “Why? It’s not because we have so many students. It’s because they have so many dreams."

The university president — who was the first in his family to graduate from college — spoke about how majoring in political science helped him, despite not going into politics. It doesn’t matter what you study, he said.

“What that major did for me was help me to understand how things work,” Crow said. “It helped me to figure out how to learn new things. … I was able to adjust to anything I experienced. Every job I’ve had, every opportunity that I’ve had, everything was a function not of the specifics of what I learned, but of the process of learning how to learn.”

He gave out his email address and asked any student with an unsolved problem to contact him directly.

Carter was most impressed by Crow’s speech, “the fact that he believes in all of us, the fact that someone that high up is approachable is impressive.”

Ashley Altmann, a journalism and mass communication major from the Bay Area, thought the rally was inspiring.

“It made me want to get involved,” she said. “I feel like I’m at home here. It’s only my third day and I feel like I’m at home.”

SunDevil Welcome from Arizona State University on Vimeo.

Scott Seckel

Reporter, ASU News

ASU's 1st actuarial science grad lands job as analyst

August 19, 2015

Jeff Durham has always liked math: “Math is something I’ve always enjoyed — the way it makes you think about a problem.”

Durham is the first to earn an actuarial science degree from Arizona State University’s School of Mathematical and Statistical Sciences. He also received a concurrent bachelor’s degree in economics from the W. P. Carey School of Business. This combination of business and math skills helped him land his first job in the industry, as an actuarial analyst with Nautilus Insurance in Scottsdale.  two people talking at desk Jeff Durham (right), the first graduate of ASU's actuarial science program, talks with Brent Carr, vice president of actuarial and data analytics for Nautilus Insurance in Scottsdale. Download Full Image

“Many candidates have the math and business aptitude, but Jeff’s attitude is what stood out,” said Brent Carr, vice president of actuarial and data analytics for Nautilus Insurance. The company specializes in providing commercial property and casualty insurance within the excess and surplus lines industry.

“Jeff came across as a very genuine person – confident yet humble,” Carr said.

The actuarial science degree at ASU is one of the only offered in the Intermountain West. Although many people don’t know what an actuary is, a recent survey by CareerCast ranks it as the best job in the United States because of its high pay, low stress, robust hiring outlook and healthy work environment. Actuaries put a financial value on risk, such as the chances of a hurricane destroying a home or the long-term liabilities of a pension system.

While a student at ASU, Durham was president of the Actuary Club, which offers many opportunities for students.

“The Actuary Club at ASU allows you to meet professionals, shake hands, ask questions and engage them,” he said. 

He also credits a part-time job for helping to hone his people and leadership skills: “Working in restaurants gives you a good background in connecting with people on the spot.”

A line on Durham’s resume garnered some attention from Carr and his fellow interviewers: "Maximized efficiency to increase sales while maintaining high level of service." Carr was impressed with this creative way to phrase a waiter job when applying for an actuarial position.

“Jeff probably doesn’t know this, but we went through over 50 applicants for this position,” Carr explained. “There are three elements we look for: Can do, will do, and will fit. Can do is: Does the applicant have the intellectual horsepower to get the job done? Will do is: Do they have the ambition, are they a go-getter? And will fit is: Culturally is this somebody we think we can work with?”

“We want people who are not afraid to speak up, are comfortable in a group environment, and are strong team players. Jeff’s got all that — personality, confidence and charisma,” Carr said.

Jelena Milovanovic, professor of practice and actuarial science program coordinator, knew Durham would quickly land a job in the competitive actuarial field.

“Jeff is not only a diligent student but also a great role model. He passed the first two actuarial exams within a month of each other, setting the bar high for others to follow," she said.

Students must pass a series of professional exams to become credentialed actuaries. While at ASU, Durham passed his financial mathematics and probability actuarial exams. He recently passed his financial derivatives exam with the support of his company. 

“It’s awesome. I get paid study time at work. Thursday and Friday after lunch I switch gears and focus on my studying. It’s been extremely helpful,” Durham said. “They pay for the exams, and they give me study materials to use. It takes a lot of the pressure off.”

Carr agrees that this is one way for companies to stay competitive.

“The best employers, like Nautilus, will offer a competitive and financially rewarding study program. It’s unique to the industry,” he said.

In addition to preparing students for exams, ASU’s actuarial science program provides opportunities for students to meet face-to-face with top employers in the industry with events like the annual actuarial career day.

“My advice to students is network, network, network,” Durham explained. “The actuarial career day is a huge opportunity. I attended this year, and it was great to be able to approach the people I had met the year before. It can help you get your foot in the door so much more than listing ‘database skills’ on your resume.”

Nautilus’ Carr agrees: “The actuarial career day in the spring was outstanding, with many qualified applicants. The school put on a very professional event.”

As a new employee in the actuarial profession, Durham had heard he might have to wait as long as six months before he would really start contributing to his company. He was surprised that during his first week on the job, Carr asked him to prepare a rate review exhibit for a client meeting.

“I was pretty excited that my work was already being used. I was happy to contribute and help my teammates out right away,” he said.

Durham said the education he received at ASU helps determine how he thinks about things, and is actually useful.

After a meeting in his first few weeks at Nautilus, Durham came up with the idea of putting together a break-even analysis based on net income.

“And that was a tremendous insight for somebody that’s only been out of school for a month,” explained Carr.

“Nautilus is excited to be able to attract Jeff and build a pipeline with the ASU actuarial science program," Carr added. “It’s a very strong program.”

Durham is excited for his future at Nautilus.

“The work here is not necessarily easy; it’s definitely thought-provoking and requires you to really think about what you’re doing, which is nice because I’ve always been of the mind-set that you should work not necessarily as hard as you can, but as smart as you can,” he said.

Rhonda Olson

Manager of Marketing and Communication, School of Mathematical and Statistical Sciences