Join host Julie Groves and guests Omar Gonzalez and Zane Smith as share their unique experiences studying risk management at the college level and how organizations like Gamma Iota Sigma and URMIA helped shaped both of these students’ interest in the field of risk management. Learn more about how to get involved with student opportunities & scholarships in risk management, listen to their advice and plans for their post-collegiate experiences, and get excited for the risk managers of the future!
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Omar Gonzalez- Student, Appalachian State University
Zane Smith- Student, Saint Mary's University of San Antonio
Julie Groves- Director, Risk Services, Wake Forest University
Jenny Whittington: Hey there. Thanks for tuning in to URMIA Matters, a podcast about higher education, risk management, and insurance. Let's get to it.
Julie Groves: Hi everyone. Welcome to another episode of URMIA Matters. I'm Julie Groves, your host, and I am glad to be here today with a couple of very fantastic student members of URMIA. And we're gonna get to them in just a minute with some introductions.
But I wanna let you know that I am the risk manager at Wake Force University in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, and I am currently the president of URMIA. So, I am glad to be here today with Omar Gonzalez, who is right up the street from me at Appalachian State University in Boone, North Carolina, it's a lovely time of Europe there.
The leaves are starting to change, so welcome Omar. I am also have Zane Smith, who is from St. Mary's University in Texas. I can't speak to the leaves down there, Zane. Sorry I haven't been down there, but, um, and so I'm gonna let them talk a little bit about themselves and give you guys an introduction. So, Omar, why don't you go first and just tell the listeners a little bit about.
Omar Gonzalez: So, I'm Omar Gonzalez. I am a senior actuarial sciences student with a minor in risk management and insurance, a minor in statistics. And I'm also a Master of Science and applied data analytics candidate that really rolled off the tongue. Let's see, uh, I'm, I'm a non-traditional student. I was active duty for just under six years.
I hit four years in the reserve this year, and so for a total of 10 years in the military. Um, and then fun fact, I am next Thursday is my very last day in the military, so I will no longer be Sergeant Gonzalez. Just Omar Gonzalez. That's it. But yeah, I'm just loving it. Just love being a student. And then, uh, it's been challenging, but very rewarding. And again, I wouldn't, I don't regret a thing. I love it.
Julie Groves: And what branch of the service were you in? Are you in for a few more days?
Omar Gonzalez: Yeah. Uh, the United States Army.
Julie Groves: Well, thank you so much for your service to our country. Okay. All right, Zane, for those of you who are at our annual conference in Indianapolis, you may have seen Zane because he gets the award for the most dapper dresser at the conference.
You probably remember his fantastic suit. We are going to post a photo of. In the show notes because he wore it today thinking this was maybe perhaps a video recording, and unfortunately you cannot see him. You can only hear him. But I do want everyone to have the benefit of seeing his dapper. So welcome, Zane. Thank you for coming. Why don't you tell folks a little bit about yourselves?
Zane Smith: Thank you so much for that introduction, Julie. I'm super, super happy to be here with the URMIA community. Hopefully my brand from the conference of being the boldest dresser is still going strong within the EA network. I'm glad. I'm glad to keep that brand vision up. But yeah, I'm super, super excited to be a part of the podcast. I am, like you mentioned, a student at St. Mary's University in San Antonio, Texas. The leaves have not quite changed here yet. We are still getting close to a hundred degrees at least once a week. So, it is still summer here in Texas, not fall, just.
But I'm, I study in our business school here at St. Mary's. I'm not studying quite as many things as Omar is, so I've just got the finance and risk management major, which sounds like a double major, but it's not. We've got like a combo major here. But I really fell into the study of risk management. I didn't come to college expecting to be, I got recruited into Gamma Iota Sigma, which is a student organization that we have here on campus, and it ended up changing my major to study risk management.
I fall in love with the industry, with all sides of it, and I'm very, very excited to become an actual industry member. So, I love being a student member of all these organizations. I can't wait until next year when I don't have to be the student member anymore, when I can be a full industry member.
Julie Groves: Okay. Well, we are, we will look forward to that. So, Tell us a little bit about, since you mentioned it, Gamma Iota Sigma, talk to us about, I know you both are involved in that. I was recently at the Gamma Conference in Charlotte a few weeks ago and uh, you were both there. So just give our listeners who don't know anything about it or know very little about it, just give them an overview on what that, uh, association is.
Zane Smith: Yeah, for sure. I'd be happy to take that one. Gamma Iota Sigma is kind of the premier talent pipeline for college students who are into getting into the risk management and insurance industry. It's been around for a little while, but it's really seen a lot of massive growth in the past decade. So, there are about a hundred collegiate chapters of Gamma Iota Sigma across the United States and Canada.
And so, colleges that either do have a risk management program or don't, but they just have a good population of students are interested in the career path can start a chapter of Gama Iota Sigma. So, we have local chapters here on our campuses, and that comes with a host of resources locally to get involved in the industry, but also national conferences and resources that are put together by the National Gamma Iota Sigma organization to help really build these students up into a successful professional career anywhere within the risk management in an insurance industry.
So, as I mentioned, I got involved with my local chapter, my freshman year of college. I now lead that chapter and I've gotten the opportunity to stay involved with our grand chapter that oversees all the other chapters as well. So, it's a really, really cool organization and it's nice to be able to have opportunities to network with so many other students that are like-minded about their career aspirations.
Julie Groves: And so did you say that you, you went to college and you got involved in Gamma Iota Sigma and then decided to maybe work in the risk and insurance field. How did you come to find out about Gamma?
Zane Smith: It was completely by chance. I just, we happened to already have, the chapter was active on my campus, and I just happened to have a mentor assigned to me my freshman year who was very, very involved in our chapter. I think I came into school as an international business major if I'm remembering correctly. So absolutely no intention to study insurance or risk management. I don't. Any family members or any connections in the industry. So, I really knew nothing about it, but it was just through that, that mentorship connection. Someone recommended that I try it out. I went to my first conference and just thought it was super interesting and a great career path. The rest is history.
Julie Groves: So, Omar, how did you decide to, I mean, you sound way smarter than I am. I mean, you named, you named subjects that I don't even know that they had when I was in school.
But so how did you, with your, with your actuarial work. How did you decide that you wanted to get into that field?
Omar Gonzalez: So, our, uh, university, we have something called building insurance talent. It's like a little program for an underserved, like just underrepresented populations. And it, it literally bridges like the gap of like between, you know, those populations, like, you know, one I'm a part of. Right. And then insurance and just risk management in general. And they, uh, they got me to drink the Kool-Aid. They really did, they really did. But I mean, it, it kind of makes sense because actuarial sciences, it's like, it's risk management. Definitely more numbers, but we're slowly bridge-, you know, bridging that gap between, you know, actuaries and the, the RMI majors and all that.
Because, you know, I don't know if y'all watched the Office, but you know, Kevin Malone says, ‘I do the numbers’, you know, so, you know, we, we have the people who do the numbers and then people who really get the conceptual and also the communication and all of that. So, kind of fell into it, but I felt like it was inevitable.
And also, I don't know, I guess being in the military, there have been a lot of, um, it was just a really easy transition for me because, like, I've always kind of had an affinity because of the military. It teaches you to be critical. It teaches you to look at the negative, pretty much ask questions and initially, you know, kind of is toxic. It's, it's kind of as bad as it sounds depending on what unit you're in. And don't get me wrong, I, I was not perfect when I got outta the military. Thank goodness for my wife. She showed me what grace is, but you know, now instead of me, look or looking at faults and then yelling at people. Now it's like, oh man, this is messed up. How can I help? And so, from my background, from the major and everything, it just, it was inevitable. It was, it was bound to happen,
Julie Groves: so. Mm-hmm. So how did you get involved in Gamma Iota Sigma?
Omar Gonzalez: So, through building insurance talent, they, it all kind of falls under the Brantley Risk and Insurance Center here at Appalachian State University. And we just have all these small little programs and then eventually, you’re in one program that leads to another, that leads to another, and it led me to Gamma Iota Sigma. Now I'm in the, I'm on the leadership team. You are as well, right? Zane? Are you president?
Zane Smith: Yes.
Omar Gonzalez: I'm just, I'm just co-VP of memberships.
Julie Groves: A team here. The A team here? Yep. And you're, and Zane, are you on the student board? As well for Gamma?
Zane Smith: Yeah, that's correct. So, there's local leadership within chapters, and so I'm co-president for my chapter. So alongside, we do two presidents at once to ensure we have a good transition to power since students graduate and it's really cyclical, but within the larger organization as well.
So Grand chapter. Grand Chapter has a staff that oversees all the operations, but they also find it very, very important to keep student voice involved in that, uh, administration process for the organization and long-term strategic planning. And so, every year the presidents of each chapter get an opportunity to elect two student representatives to serve on the grand chapter.
So, we. Our formal members of the board of trustees and the advisory board, and we help with a lot of that strategic planning for the organization and just and continuing to integrate the student perspective and all those decisions that are being made. And so, I'm serving in that role this year. So, I've gotten a really unique opportunity to be able to see not only the local impact of the organization, but how that organization is kind of moving the needle on the industry's perception of how and in what ways students can and should be engaged with the industry and how we can continue to invest in that pipeline.
Julie Groves: And that's so great because for a lot of people my age, we did literally fall into risk management. And so, it's very reassuring to know that there are people who are coming behind us who are actually very thoughtfully pursuing it and they’re you know, they're actually taking courses and be much better prepared for this kind of career than we were when we sort of were thrown into it. So, I saw, I didn't meet you officially, but I saw both of you for the first time last year in San Francisco at RIMS, at this Spencer Challenge. You both competed with your respective schools in the, in the, uh, Spencer. I guess it was a risk management scenario and your teams had to kind of come up with a, an answer or. A case study answer for that. So, without going into a lot of detail, how was that experience for you all?
Omar Gonzalez: It was all kind of validating that whole experience. Um, it was stressful, but first Sure. Stressful, but it was very validating because that same, it was actually a semester prior to that I took enterprise risk management and that's when I knew, oh man, I really, this is cool stuff is very strategic.
It's a place where you bring all the puzzles together and you try to figure things out and try to really solve like real life problems and, and. Everybody's lives easier, better, safer, because so, so we did Starbucks, right? And the challenge itself is, you know, pick five risks. We decided to kind of make it, we, we were gambling a good bit because, uh, we, I don't want to call it cheating.
We did, we did five risks, but we did five concentrations of risk or five nodes of risk instead of five specific risks. We did like, it was just broader. It really did identify a risk, but within that risk, within that one node of risk, one of the five, we had about three or five other risks within that, that same lane. Right? And so, we picked five nodes, but it was really like 20, 30 risks and I don't know how we were able to fit it all in 10. And what was it? Was it a 10- or 15-minute presentation? It was 20, but yeah, we, we somehow, jam-packed at all in in that, all that information in one. But long story short, it was very validating.
It was, it was cool to take the class and then apply that knowledge from that class into the, Into the risk man or the Spencer RIMS challenge and just winning. It was just, I'll say that. I didn't go into it wanting to win. It's not that I didn't wanna win, I, I worded that that wrong. But my goal was to make sure that myself, or that me and my team just, we all brought out the best of each other and we just really, really, really tried hard on it. And, um, winning definitely was the icing on the cake, but it was fun. All in all, I really loved it.
Zane Smith: It was such a blessing. Yeah, it was, it was a transformational experience. So, we were the runners. The runners up, so it was down to us, a university from China, and then Appalachian State in those finals. And you could just tell that we don't get to watch each other's presentations. But from everything I heard, you could just tell that so much work was put into everybody's final products. I mean, it was hours and hours. Basically, doing volunteer risk management work for these organizations. And I doubt they took any of that and actually applied it but going through the full risk management process that a risk manager would go through just for an extracurricular activity.
And so, the skillset that we were able to get from that competition, I think was transformational. The exposure and the opportunity to present in front of so many people. I mean, you even mentioned it, you're the president elect of one of the largest associations within the risk management. And you watched us present, but we didn't even formally meet you. So that exposure that we were getting as students is crazy. And it's, it's a really cool investment in students and I, I've always thought that the competition format is always a great way for students to learn because you're competing, but you're also getting those real-world experiences. So, it was an amazing experience for me. I I wouldn't trade it for anything. I don't know that I would do it a second time just because of the, the crazy time commitment, but I loved it while I was on the team.
Julie Groves: Well, I can honestly say from being there, I did get to see both of your teams and I mean, you both did a stellar job and I, I'm, would've had a hard time choosing the winner, so I, I really commend you both for your involvement in that and, and congratulations on. To the finals and again, I thought it was great. So, we're gonna move a little bit into URMIA because then you are both involved as URMIA student members and saying, I saw you at the Indy conference. You were actually a student scholarship winner and so we were glad you were, be able to, we, you were there to be able to participate that.
And I think Omar, were you supposed to be a scholarship winner, and then something came up with your schedule, so yeah, you couldn't participate. So, we're gonna make sure we bring that back around for you again. So, tell us, and, and Zane, why don't we start with you, how you've heard about URMIA and how you decided to get involved with it.
Zane Smith: So, I originally heard about the URMIA conference just through an email from my professor. I think during the, the promotional phase that y'all do for the student scholarship, you reach out to a lot of the faculty members that stay involved with some of the larger risk management programs. So, I found out just to be an email that applications were being opened.
For me, it was something that I was instantly interested in applying for. I've always had a keen interest in higher education. It's definitely a possibility down the line that I end up back at a higher education institution. I wanna be a professor eventually. So that intersection of the higher education that I loved, plus the risk management that I've recently.
Fell into being so interested in was just kind of the perfect conference opportunity for me. So, I applied, and I was fortunate enough to get that student scholarship and be able to attend the conference. That was really my first involvement with URMIA. I wish I had heard about it before. I had to, I had to sign up as a student member to submit that scholarship application. But if I had known about it in advance, I probably would've already been a student member. I had such a great time at the conference. It was an amazing experience.
Julie Groves: Well, and it's a great deal for students because our student membership is free. So be sure to tell all your fellow students that they, you know, if they're interested, to definitely sign up for our free student membership. So, Omar, tell us how you heard about URMIA and first got involved.
Omar Gonzalez: So, I first heard about it, well, to start that off, I'll have to go back a little bit. So, I was the inaugural intern for the Enterprise Risk Management Office at Appalachian State University. And with that internship came like funding for the URMIA conference. I had never heard of URMIA, but they were like, hey, my first one was the one in Seattle, and they're like, hey, you're going to Seattle. I was like, What? Awesome. Cool. So. That's how I first heard of URMIA, but man, even after actually, well, still going back with the internship and after the internship or after the, after the conference.
I, I mean, um, I used a lot of URMIA resources because for the first five to six months of that internship, we actually didn't have an enterprise risk manager. So, the office consisted of me, just me, the intern, and so I had, as you could tell, I had a lot of questions, and so, so URMIA was just such a valuable resource like the, the forums and all the questions that are asked there, because I was asking those same questions daily and I was freaking out. I mean, obviously I'm not gonna get in trouble if bad things happen cause I'm just an intern, but I still tried to. Do my very best and URMIA and the forums and just being a member helped that and it really, it really bridged a lot of gaps, a lot of intelligence gaps, a lot of everything. And it was, I'm very thankful, so thank you all for everything that you do.
Julie Groves: We are so thankful that both of you were involved. And you're right, Omar, when you look at the forums, our communities and the emails and the questions that people send a lot of times. You realize you have just seen the answer to a question you didn't know you had; you know? And so, it's helpful to know that other people out there are wondering about the same things or struggling with the same things. So, it's a, it's a great resource, you know, for everyone, from students all the way up to it, very experienced risk managers. So, let's just switch gears for a minute and I want you guys to tell our listen. What your plans for the future are. So, I think Zane, why don't you, you start that cuz I think you have exciting news if you can share it with everyone.
Zane Smith: It's not LinkedIn official yet. I haven't made the LinkedIn post, so this is like a soft launch. I'm waiting to officially find out what team I'll be on before it's official on LinkedIn. But I will be joining Munich Re graduate training program, which is a two-year rotational training program. After which I'll be a full-fledged underwriter for Munich Re. I'll be in New York City, which was like a childhood pipe dream of mine to move up to the city. So, I'm very, very excited to do that.
I should know within the next month or so what business unit or team I'll be on. So, once I know that portion, it’ll be announced on LinkedIn, but that those are my plans for the future as I'll be graduating in May and moving up to New York City, and I'll spend two years learning as much as I can about the Munich Re organization, but just also about how to be a good risk professional, how to underwrite to the best of my ability. And so, I'm very, very excited for that future.
Julie Groves: Well, congratulations. That's great. And I mean, when you start out as an underwriter trainee program and then you're an underwriter, you can, you can go a lot of places after you've done that. So that, that is, that's gonna really set you up well. So, do you think that you hope to stay involved? For instance, with Gamma in any way or with URMIA in any way?
Zane Smith: I'll start with Gamma. Gamma would have to, I, they're gonna interview trying to get rid of me in the next decade. So, they're going, they're probably gonna be fed up with me trying to stay involved. The good news for me is that the current role that I'm in, that international student representative role helping with Grand Chapter doesn't end until August. So, they at least have me for a few months after graduation. The organization transformed my life, and I'm gonna, I'm, I'm very, very passionate about it, and so I'm gonna do everything that I can post-graduation to continue to stay involved and realize that impact for future, St. Mary students, but also for gamma students, uh, across the organization and speaking also to URMIA I hope to be able to stay involved. I hope that I will find myself in a role that makes sense to stay engaged with a higher education organization. I have a feeling I'll be back eventually. I don't know if it'll be immediately, cuz I don't know where my career will take me during this first few years. I hope to find a way to get back to an URMIA conference at least once.
Julie Groves: Well, good. Well, we would love to have you in whatever capacity you can be there. So, Omar, what's on your horizon for your future besides being done with the, uh, armed forces?
Omar Gonzalez: Let's see that, that is, I, I'm getting that question a lot lately. And after, so after my internship, I found out that I like really, so I also interned at U.S.A, so specifically internship with the university. I found out that, man, I really love it and, and I really want to just, just being at URMIA. So, the reason why I have all these quantitative concentrations and applied data analytics, statistics, actuarial sciences like is because I really want to bridge that gap.
I really wanna help quantify risk using big data just because data's everywhere. It's all over the place. And I found, you know, working with university, it is all over the place and a lot of universities have seem, have been more decentralized. I've been more of a decentralized risk management. They had more of a decentralized approach to risk management, and so I would love to stay at my university.
Again, nothing's promised. I don't know if, if there's gonna be position for me at all. If not, we'll have another year to think about it because I'm still trying to, I'll just do full time for my master's degree, right? But I'd love to stay at the university and just really, you know, pay respects to the decentralized model, but really help integrate and really build a, a phenomenal enterprise risk management framework at the university here at App. So that's the goal. If not, then I will cry. We'll see.
Julie Groves: I mean, I think, you know, universities in particular really need people who are passionate about ERM. Especially because some, some schools don't even really have a formal program or just getting the program off the ground. So, it's great that you have that passion and hopefully that will be rewarded there. Do you plan to stay involved with Gamma? I mean, obviously while you're still a student, I guess you will. And, uh, what about after you're a student? You wanna, are you gonna stay involved with your Gamma chapter if you're still at App?
Omar Gonzalez: I mean, Again, this, this sounds, so me working at App, hopefully working at App would be just so amazing because I do, I want to stay involved with GIS. I want to still communicate and just be tied in with the student population at in some capacity. Because while there is a generational gap, you learn so much. I mean, they're my mentors too, right? And. I would love to, uh, also stay with URMIA as well and I'd love to see your face every year at a conference. Right.
Julie Groves: So hopefully I'll go off into the, into the woodwork a little bit, but yes, it would be great. It would be great to see you there. Yeah. So and so that, I mean, so what we'll have to do then is make sure that everyone at App gets the link to this podcast so they understand, they can hear your passion and, and know that they need to hire you. So, I'm happy to be a reference for you if you need that. So, okay. So, let's just real quickly, if you all had advice to give students in your field, what kind of advice would you offer them? Zane, you wanna start?
Zane Smith: I would say two things. Take advantage of every resource available to you, whether that be Gamma Iota Sigma or URMIA, or any of the other professional associations within the industry. Um, I'm sure all of the students have heard about it, but we have a talent gap, probably better called the talent crisis because it's really getting to a critical point. There's more roles in the industry to fill than we're graduating students out of risk management programs right now, and so these professional associations are begging for students to come in the door and take advantage of these resources. In almost all cases, student memberships are going to be free. There are so many resources out there for you to take advantage of, so don't, don't fumble that bag. Don't miss that opportunity. Take advantage of all of those resources. Um, and then the second thing I would say is don't be afraid to ask questions. Being a student who is interested in this industry now is truly the last time where you can completely risk free, ask questions at the beginning of your career.
It's still great to ask questions, but you're in your career, so you're supposed to know a little. But as a student, you can ask as many dumb questions. Not that there are dumb questions, uh, but as many dumb questions as you want, and you're a student, so you get a pass on that. So, take your, take advantage of it now and ask as many questions as possible while you're still going through your education to prepare you for your career.
Julie Groves: That's, that's great advice. Great advice. And Omar, what, what would you say?
Omar Gonzalez: My one advice would be just to be a sponge. Um, say yes to everything. And I'm not saying say yes to everything all the time. Say yes to everything. now and then once you found your dharma, your purpose, right? Scale back and just really, really concentrate on that. Be a master, be a master craft, and then help innovate, right? Be a sponge, be involved, Say yes to a lot of things. And um, philosophically I would say know yourself. Know yourself, and take a lot of time to, um, be mindful and. And, you know, just really ask yourself, what, what makes me happy? But that's going down a philosophical path and I can speak hours, but.
Julie Groves: But I think that's, that is important to consider, right? As you're getting ready to move from this chapter of being a student into being someone in the workforce. I mean, you do really have to remember to ask yourself, what is it that is gonna make you happy and give you fulfillment, right? Because I think we all know whether you've been in the workforce negative five months, or you know, 35 years or longer. It's hard to get fulfillment from work, right? So, make sure that you know what, what can be fulfilling for you and what makes you happy. So, I think that was an excellent point to wrap up on. So, thank you so much guys for being on the podcast today. It's been so great to talk with you. And again, like I said, we are, all of, all of us old people are very cheered by the fact that the folks coming along behind us, they, you all are so much smarter than we were and you're, we really know we're leaving risk management in great hands. And so, we do appreciate everything you've, you are going to be doing for us in the future so we can sail off into retirement.
So, thank you so much. So, congratulations again to you, Zane, and Omar. We will get in touch with App and make sure they hire you. So, thank you all both so much. And this wraps another episode of URMIA Matters.