Q&A with Dr. R. B. Drennan on the Fox School’s RMIH Department at Temple University

The Risk Management and Insurance programs at universities and colleges across the globe vary greatly in size, approach, and resourcing. We are beginning a new feature in the ARIA newsletter to highlight these different programs and provide insight into what they are doing to further their RMI efforts and address current challenges. The first program we are highlighting is the Risk, Insurance, and Healthcare Management program at Temple’s Fox School of Business (RIHM). The Fox School maintains a distinguished tradition of educating the nation’s finest risk, insurance, actuarial and healthcare systems professionals. With over 600 students and 19 full-time faculty, the Department of Risk, Insurance and Healthcare Management (RIHM) is the largest of its kind in the world. Two of ARIA’s current board members are part of the RIHM department, Randy Dumm and Martin Grace, and distinguished past presidents and editors, including David Cummins, Mary Weiss, and Laureen Regan have been department faculty. The department delivers a periodic newsletter, “The Fox Update”, where you can stay up to date on the latest happening in the Risk Management and Insurance world (frequently referencing ARIA!). Check out the latest newsletter here. You can sign up to receive upcoming newsletters here.

We sat down with Dr. R. B. Drennan, Associate Professor and Chairman and former Academic Director of Fox School’s BBA Program, to discuss the latest happenings with the RIHM Department at Temple. Dr. Drennan touches on key differentiators of Temple’s RIHM program, how they have been able to attract undergraduate students and how the pandemic has affected the program.

 What new initiatives/events/opportunities that you have introduced recently or want to call attention too?

We have recently changed our curriculum so that it will be mandatory for all our RMI students to take a course in risk analytics. This way our students will have exposure to the use of data science and analytics as applied to issues and problems in risk management. This is a key differentiator in our RMI program.

We have also continued to maintain our department events. One of our professors, Michael Zuckerman, has done an exceptional job in serving as a thought leader in the ERM space and runs an ERM conference every year. The conference has high-level speakers attend to discuss risk management. We also continue to host a (now virtual) research seminar series for our research faculty. Because of the virtual format, we can host scholars and attendees from all over the world. In addition, our Gamma Iota Sigma chapter has remained active despite the obstacles we have faced due to COVID-19. Our students have been very appreciative to have these Gamma Iota Sigma activities throughout the year and the chapter has been able to pivot well and maintain a great turnout at our sessions. These include our weekly H. Wayne Snider Distinguished Guest Lecturer Series, Career Receptions for placement of our students into full-time positions and internships and various types of professional development workshops.

Another exciting item to note is that we are 2 years out from celebrating our centennial. Temple University has been involved in teaching actuarial science, insurance and more recently risk management for close to 100 years! We are in the process of formulating a major capital campaign to financially preserve and support our program in Risk Management and Insurance and in Actuarial Science going forward.

How have you been able to attract undergraduate students to pursue an RMI/Actuarial Science major?

The road to becoming an actuarial science major is very different than becoming an RMI major at Temple. Usually, the actuarial science majors have selected us and have done their own research into our program and our curriculum. As an RMI major, there is an element of recruiting/students pursuing the major on their own after taking our introductory class.

On the actuarial side, if you are interested in mathematics and begin to look for careers to pursue in that field, you will quickly discover that being an actuarial science major offers tremendous opportunities.  In speaking to our actuarial science students, many of them have said that they chose Temple over other schools because of the professional development activities we offer through Gamma Iota Sigma. If you want to have a career as an actuary, you are required to pass many exams, and our faculty is extraordinarily dedicated to help our students make that happen.

On the RMI side, we are fortunate to have our “Intro to Risk Management” course a requirement for every business student. It is an integrated course that takes modern public policy issues and puts a risk management spin on them to allow students to think about risk and risk management in a different way. Chances are if you are a 19-year-old student, your only exposure to the risk management profession is through your own personal experiences-usually if you buy auto insurance. This exposure to risk helps in piquing the interest of our business students and encourages them to pursue an RMI major. In addition, we have created a culture here where students are proud to be an RMI major at Temple. There is an understanding that if you are an RMI major, you are going to learn a lot and you are going to develop your professional skills by plugging into our professional development activities that Gamma Iota Sigma offers. Through this, students develop the understanding that there are many different paths one can take in the RMI space. You can become a subject-matter expert in a particular field, or you can take the route of a broker and talk to clients or you can manage risk for corporations. There is something for everyone in this field and we try to excel at showing them that.

How has the pandemic and online teaching affected the performance of the program?

 The first semester for our RMI majors is quite challenging as students take what is known as our RMI ‘core curriculum’.  This experience is even more challenging for students with the transition to online learning. While we have done our best to keep them engaged in all our classes, it is difficult to get to know the students when you can’t see them. However, our Gamma Iota Sigma chapter has helped alleviate some of the disconnect by hosting a weekly series for students with high-level speakers. This has been a success for our department has we have been able to maintain a high and consistent turn out at these events. Each speaker averages over 400 students in a zoom room.  We have still have kept the structure of our capstone courses where we have industry sponsored projects and industry judges in a case competition at the end of each course.