Learning to manage risks is a huge part of any person’s success. Developing these skills can be tiresome and nerve-racking. Fortunately, Michigan State University works to provide the classes and resources that Spartans need to manage any outcome.
For those interested in making a career in this space, the Broad College’s minor in insurance and risk management, which began in the 2017–2018 academic year, helps students enhance those skills, succeed in any business scenario and become well-rounded in a diverse field. With only three required courses and two electives, students in the minor grasp information that will benefit them in day-to-day aspects of business for years to come.
“[The courses] gave me a great base knowledge of what insurance is. I learned a great deal about basic terms within the field, and I credit [the minor’s coursework] most with helping get my Property and Casualty license,” Joey Callahan, a recent alum, said of how the classes have helped with his career already. Callahan graduated last spring with a B.A. in Economics and double minors in leadership of organizations and insurance and risk management. He now works for the Ottawa Kent Insurance Agency as a commercial lines technical assistant.
This year the Broad College welcomed Rebecca Holnagel, co-director of the minor, who is working alongside Frank Freund, fixed-term faculty in the Department of Finance, to manage the program. Holnagel focuses on the internal aspects of the minor, such as curriculum and advising students. Freund oversees the external aspects, such as working with insurance companies and acting as a liaison for the minor to stakeholders and alumni. Students will also be able to see Holnagel and Freund in the classroom as they both teach classes for the minor.
“I’d love to have coffee with you, answer questions and introduce you to people in the industry. There are so many opportunities out there,” Holnagel said.
Holnagel comes from an extensive financial background. She graduated with a math degree in hopes of becoming a high school math teacher, and she was certified to teach at one point. However, she found a passion in actuarial science, where she had the responsibility of managing the financial risks in insurance and finance fields using statistical methods. After retiring early from her position as chief actuary, she wanted to keep herself engaged and use her experience and knowledge to grow others. This led her to teaching classes for the IRM minor at MSU, and when the opportunity to co-direct the program came up, she said, she took it.
Ties to industry are prevalent throughout the minor, with professionals teaching the courses and sharing their real-world insights. Students gain knowledge from faculty, staff and alumni who have firsthand experience and networking connections to insurance companies like Jackson National or Auto-Owners Insurance. The minor also gives students the tools to manage the “what-ifs,” scanning opportunities and evaluating for solutions. This is a very sought-after skillset for employers and one that can come in handy in any field.
Freund described his own career journey in the insurance field. “I was an accounting major when I graduated from MSU. I went to work in public accounting here in Michigan. My first clients were in the insurance industry, and that quickly became my specialty,” he said. “With my accounting and insurance background, I had the opportunity to travel around the country working on various insurance industry projects. I ultimately left public accounting to become a CFO at an insurance company, expanding my reach even more as I would travel internationally during our reinsurance negotiations and become involved in the public stock markets.”
Students who decide to apply for the minor can expect to see a career where they are a crucial member of the overall management team for any organization. Risk management is a major factor in any company and, as Holnagel noted, the insurance industry has a growing demand for leaders.
“The IRM industry is big and not going anywhere anytime soon. The industry is facing a looming talent gap due to impending retirements and is also ripe for innovation and disruption. It is a rewarding career with significant upward potential,” Holnagel said, encouraging students to join.
Helping to prepare the next generation of insurance leaders is Alan Kaufman (B.A. Finance ’70), chairman and chief executive officer of Burns & Wilcox, an insurance wholesaler. He has been a champion for the minor for years, directly supporting student success and outcomes. With a passion for fostering growth through education, Kaufman has provided students with real-world experiences at his insurance organizations, offering mentoring and internships, as well as hiring Broad Spartans upon graduation, year after year.
In addition, he and his wife created the Alan J. and Sue E. Kaufman Endowed Professorship in Insurance, which continues to strengthen the learning opportunities offered to students in this discipline.
“No matter what career or industry you ultimately choose, this minor will be helpful as it will make you more aware of effective risk mitigation techniques and strategies,” Holnagel said. “It will also help you to be a better-informed consumer of insurance products.”
Alumna Megan Garter echoed this sentiment. “I knew this minor would not only provide me with valuable knowledge regarding insurance, but it would also teach me how to manage risk, which is relevant in many areas. Therefore, I realized that even if insurance was not for me, I would be walking away with valuable information that I could apply in any field of business.”
For Spartans interested in the minor, this year’s application due date for the 2024–2025 academic year is March 15. Students must have completed the prerequisites with at least a 3.0 GPA and should be prepared to submit a resume, GPA and a short answer on why they want to be accepted. To learn more about the minor, students are encouraged to attend the upcoming Insurance Night at Broad, which will take place on Wednesday, Oct. 11, from 4 p.m to 7 p.m. in the Minskoff Pavilion’s Multipurpose Room.