Student Essay Contest

An Inspirational Actuary

2012 AWM Essay Contest: Undergraduate Honorable Mention

by Cheri Morris

Last summer, I participated in an eight-week internship at Kaiser Permanente’s Program Offices in Oakland, California where I worked full-time in the Actuarial Services Department. Kaiser Permanente is a nation-wide non-profit hospital and health insurance organization. During my time spent there, I was introduced to many interesting people. One of those people was a woman named Mischelle Schweickert. She was the one of the few African-American people in our department and the only African-American actuary. I thought of her immediately when I was presented with this essay and she quickly and happily responded to my interview questions.

Mischelle Schweickert is an Actuary at Kaiser Permanente. She attended San Francisco State University where she attained her Bachelor of Science in Applied Mathematics. She pointed out that most of her family members had high school diplomas, but the others ranged from having some college to Ph.D. and M.D.

When I asked what motivated her to pursue a career in mathematical sciences, her response was “I simply love math.” I thought that response was great because it is the same reason why I decided to major in mathematics. It was difficult at first for her because she did not want to go into theoretical mathematics, and most other fields required additional knowledge of a secondary subject that she was not particularly interested in. And the thought of choosing a career with no mathematics in it was “depressing”, as she described it. Finally, she decided to pursue a career as an actuary, which she loves. Her job responsibilities today require providing support in developing Kaiser Permanente’s member fee schedules, which involves forecasting, trend analysis, benchmarking and understanding the impact of business decisions and budgetary planning. Although her job requires most of her time and attention, especially time periods in which she is studying for a module or actuarial exam or benchmarking for the fee schedule team as I witnessed this past summer, she tries to incorporate some of her favorite interests into her free-time. She has many hobbies, “too many to list and too many to maintain”, she joked. She enjoys knitting and sewing, cooking and eating, dancing, reading and sports. She also enjoys spending time with her husband and children.

The most important question I asked Mischelle was asking for any advice she could give me or any other student pursuing a career in mathematics. She made sure that I understood that in the non-theoretical world, mathematics is simply a tool. There are many other factors that need to be considered, so it is important to be open to different perspectives, and to be prepared to pull in resources besides math. And it is important to understand the story or decisions being considered in different situations. Also, if a different perspective being presented, but you choose to not accept it, be prepared to explain, in very objective terms, why it is not being accepted. She stressed that this was particularly important for minority women. Lastly, she stated something that really left a strong impression on me. She said “If your work is strong and you are objective, then it will be easier to find support in your endeavors,” which was a great closing to an already exceptional interview.

Mischelle is very intelligent and a great contribution to Actuarial Services. Her friendly, bubbly personality is complimented by her brilliant mathematical knowledge. She is an inspiration to me and a great role model for any minority student pursuing a career in mathematics. It was a great pleasure working with her this summer and I am grateful for her participation in this interview.

About the Student:

My name is Cheri Morris. I am a sophomore, mathematics major at Hampton University in Hampton, VA. I have enjoyed math since I was in middle school and it has always been my favorite subject. I am involved in INROADS, an internship program providing full-time work experience to minority students as well as year-round conferences with advisors, participation in 24 hours of community service, and keeping an appropriate GPA. Last summer, I participated in an internship with Actuarial Services at Kaiser and, next summer, I will be interning in with the finance department. Later, I plan on getting my master’s degree and, ultimately, getting hired to work in Kaiser’s finance department full-time.