Risky business: Studying math to become an actuary

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Alec Filak (mathematics and statistics, ’15) knew he was good at math, but he wasn’t sure how that skill could translate into a career. So he took a few math classes his freshman year and quickly learned a math degree could open doors to many great jobs.

“The math and statistics departments at Iowa State are committed to helping students find a career they will love,” Alec said. “By my sophomore year, I knew what I wanted to do and was able to work towards that goal.

Alec decided to become an actuary after one of his professors invited an actuary from a Des Moines-area insurance company to talk to his class. After hearing how he could use math to solve complex insurance and financial problems for big companies, Alec knew what he wanted to pursue.

Today, Alec is an actuarial associate at Northwestern Mutual in Milwaukee, Wisc. While working towards his FSA (Fellow of the Society of Actuaries) certification to become a full actuary, his typical workday is spent analyzing the financial consequences of risk for Northwestern Mutual clients.

“What I enjoy most about my work is that I can be independent,” Alec said. “What I do is very detail- and analysis-driven, and while some analysis is straightforward, I work in a great environment where I can use my own creativity to solve a problem for a client.”

While in college, Alec was a Cyclone Aide, competed in team math competitions, and was part of a problem-solving group that worked on complex math problems once a week. He also studied abroad in the United Kingdom for a semester, where he said he learned valuable life skills that made it easier for him to start a job in a new city after graduating.

“The math community at Iowa State is a strong community,” he said. “There are so many ways to get involved and discover a great career that you’ll love!”