Why “Intro to Risk Management and Insurance” Should Be Your Next Core Elective

A man and two women collaborate in a classroom setting around laptop. Headshot Mike Angelina

What’s the one class every undergraduate should take? Where will you learn the stuff that will help you to not just get a decent job but win at life?

Public speaking seems like a good bet, and maybe a business writing course isn’t a bad idea. Wine tasting or ballroom dance? Definitely fun but not quite as pragmatic.

Here’s one you’ve probably never considered: “Intro to Risk Management and Insurance (RMI).”

Think about it. Over the course of your life, you’ll make hundreds of thousands of decisions, and whether you realize it or not, you’ll be weighing risks as you make them. So why not learn the science behind risk management?

Michael Angelina, executive director of the Academy of Risk Management and Insurance at Saint Joseph’s University, happens to agree. We recently spoke with him to get a behind-the-scenes look at one of the top risk management programs in the country, and to hear his rationale for why you should round out your course load with “Intro to RMI.”

MyPath: Why do you think every undergrad should take intro to RMI?

Mike Angelina: Well, it’s the students who say this is a course everyone should take because you walk out of it understanding how to buy insurance. We all buy insurance, right? It teaches you about risk and uncertainty, diverse management processes, personal risk management. Then it dives into homeownership, personal lender umbrellas and various types of life insurance and other employee benefits.

MP: That does sound like something everyone can benefit from. Sometimes, it’s tough to understand the policies we pay for that are tailored to us!

MA: And that is such a shame. I think this is where the industry gets a bad reputation — the idea that there are people out there trying to sell you things you may not need. Not to say that the course will erase all of the doubt, but it may at least expose people to new things.

MP: So the course helps you figure out what kind of risks you’ll be comfortable taking as you transition to real-life adulthood?

MA: That’s right. Take something as simple, and enjoyable, as owning a dog. That entails a certain degree of risk. A dog adds companionship, but what happens if your dog trips somebody? All of a sudden, you’re filing a claim because you’re being sued. I am a fan of courses that are going to help you in life. Anything that’s going to force you to do things you will use in the professional world is good.

MP: We know that you want your students to become RMI majors and ultimately work in careers in insurance. What would you say are the biggest benefits of this field?

MA: We can talk about a few different things the insurance industry offers. One is that it is constantly changing — it is a very dynamic industry. Throughout your career, you will be exposed to a variety of different things. You’re definitely not doing the same thing for 30 years.

The second thing is that you are providing a solution to something that someone needs. Whether you’re a broker or work for a carrier or as a corporate risk manager, there is a problem you are trying to solve for your client. There is something gratifying about that.

The third piece is the people. The insurance industry is a very friendly business. You work with interesting, intelligent and challenging people who make you better. You develop these networks of lifelong friends and professionals you will interact with for the rest of your career. It is kind of fun!

I would say the reason to be an RMI major is the success and personal gratification you get in your career. Why wouldn’t you get a degree in a field that is a lot of fun, challenging, makes you a better person, lets you solve problems and provides a nice living?

MP: There are so many job openings in the risk management and insurance field right now. How do you talk about job prospects with your students?

MA: Students see that I enjoyed my career. It is more about showing that this job is a lot of fun and a good career. And there is definitely something for everybody. If you like manipulating data, you can be a catastrophe modeler. If you’re a gregarious person, maybe you’re going to be a producer or head of marketing. I do not look at my job as about teaching insurance. It is really about launching careers.

MP: How is an RMI degree different from other business degrees?

MA: That’s a good question. At St. Joe’s, since we are a liberal arts institution, every student takes 20 courses in various subjects — science, foreign language, critical thinking, etc. Then we move into the business core that every business student takes whether you are an accounting major or insurance major — statistics, business law, marketing and finance. Then within the major, there are six courses that define the specialty.

Within the insurance courses, we really focus on case studies, presentation skills and teamwork skills. We make it real. It’s not just about reading and developing things from a textbook. We dig into how it really translates to real life and into the business of insurance.

MP: Can you give any examples?

MA: We just spent a week in our enterprise risk management class talking about liability events. We got into teams and did discussions and presentations on the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill, the Ford Pinto, the Tylenol recall, Chipotle’s salmonella outbreak — issues like that. One student did a presentation on the blackouts in New York City and actually found a tree in Ohio that arguably could have caused the entire Northeast to be without power for a while in 2003. We not only investigated the disasters, but dug into things to that could have been done to prevent it.

MP: That’s a great approach. So you’re talking about things students are already aware of and seeing in the real world?

MA: Yes. And with that, we can get into ethics. What did the company do wrong? Did it reach an ethical decision? That adds an element of fun to it.

MP: What about connections to the industry itself? Do students get to see what these jobs actually entail?

MA: I can only speak for our school, but yes, our students have access to the industry. The beauty of the insurance industry is that there are a lot of people out there who want to help young people. They want to cheer them on. They get a lot of personal satisfaction out of their work, and they want to share that happiness with other people. I think a lot of students appreciate, later, that they had access to so many talented people.

In fact, we recently had Inga Beale, the chief executive officer of Lloyd’s of London, speak at a dinner. She spent three hours on our campus with students. That’s 65 students who got to spend time with her. It’s something these students will be talking about for the rest of their lives.

MP: What advice would you give someone trying to figure out what their major should be?

MA: The first thing I ask is what they like to do. What do you like to do and what are you good at? If you can naturally connect those two, life is good. For some, RMI is not the right answer. There are some people who want to work on Wall Street—RMI isn’t the right answer for them. Other people want to do advertising on Madison Avenue — RMI isn’t for them. But some people will say, “I want to spend a lot of time working with people, and I like solving problems.” In that case, RMI is for you. But it starts with what you’re good at, what you like to do. There’s an RMI job for pretty much everything.