Actuarial science student Ella Barker, left, and President Ali Malekzadeh
Actuarial science student Ella Barker (left) and President Ali Malekzadeh at a birthday cupcakes event this winter.

Through a Field Museum community science project, volunteers from around the world collect data that adds to a growing body of research on biodiversity. This spring, all of that data funneled through Ella Barker and her actuarial science classmates.

In professor Melanie Pivarski’s Industrial Research Problems class, the museum’s biologists shared their data with a cohort of students. Their online volunteers had measured the leaves of plants called liverworts — a crucial indicator of climate change. Students broke into groups to sort “good” data from bad, helping the biologists better understand the different species.

Ella Barker enjoyed the class so much that she asked to take it twice.

“It was really a large group effort,” Ella said. “I learned a lot about using VBA in Excel to move the data around and see which measurements were accurate.”

Ella started her journey at Roosevelt in 2012 as the first person in her family to leave home for college. In December, she will graduate prepared to excel in the growing specialized field of actuarial science.

Learn more about the actuarial science program.

Finding her communities

Born and raised in Michigan, Ella began her college search near home. But, as she said in an interview with AdvisorSmith, she “fell in love” with Chicago and the Roosevelt campus.

“The school and Chicago have always felt like a home away from home,” she said. “One thing that drew me to Roosevelt was that it’s big on social justice, and I’ve loved that.”

As a first-generation college student, Ella struggled at first to navigate loans, scholarships and financial aid applications. After her first year at Roosevelt, she transferred to a community college closer to home. As she worked toward an associate degree while holding a full-time job, Ella felt more prepared to take on higher education on her own.

“Figuring out the logistics got easier at the community college, and it got easier the longer I was working toward the degree,” Ella said.

In 2016, Ella earned her associate in mathematics with honors. A few years later, she returned to Roosevelt to finish her degree.

CRISP members and actuarial science students Kyler Gillespie, Ella Barker and Cicero Brooks.

What do actuaries do?

When Ella registered for classes, Professor Pivarski was one of the first people she talked to. She helped Ella explore programs and learn more about her options. Through Roosevelt’s intimate class sizes, the actuarial science major became close with instructors that she could rely on for sound career advice.

“You walk into a class and the professors know your name right away and care about how you’re doing,” she said. “I’m really close with most of my professors.”

Actuarial science is a field with big potential for students like Ella who are interested in math, finance and statistics. Professional actuaries measure and assess potential financial risks, often for insurance companies. “There’s a lot that actuaries can do, such as pricing, reserving, modeling or other financial matters,” she said.

Jobs are projected to grow 20% by 2028, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, with a median annual salary of $108,350.

Through Roosevelt, Ella attended the National Risk Retention Association conference, where she talked with actuaries about what it was really like to work in their field. “Everyone loved their job, and it was easy to see why,” Ella said. “It’s a really amazing field to get into because there’s so much excitement.”

Getting involved on campus

Ella's advice to prospective students is to "get involved as soon as you can" in conferences, job shadowing and networking. When she returned to Roosevelt, the actuarial science major seized the opportunity to join campus organizations. As president of Roosevelt’s Math and Actuarial Science Club, she organizes math-related talks for students and invites actuaries to campus panel discussions.

Ella is also vice president of the Collegiate Research Initiative and Shadowing Program (CRISP), a group that matches actuarial science students with job-shadowing opportunities. Through CRISP, Ella and two other students traveled to the annual Vermont Captive Insurance Association conference in Burlington, Vermont.

“It was incredible to be able to shadow a few actuaries and network every day we were there,” she said.” The club will return to the conference virtually this August.

Through the clubs, Ella has met students who could answer her questions about course work or her career path. One helped her land a summer job at Ezra Penland, an actuarial recruitment company where she has worked two summers now.

“I’ve learned so much from having this job and from my shadowing experiences that couldn’t have happened if I wouldn’t have joined these clubs,” she said.

You walk into a class and the professors know your name right away and care about how you’re doing. Ella Barker BS Actuarial Science, '20

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