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WVU math senior awarded first Milliman Opportunity Scholarship


A desire to combine math and business in her future career led West Virginia University senior and McNair Scholar Maleesha Ebanks to receive the first Milliman Opportunity Scholarship, a scholarship for minority students who are underrepresented in the field of actuarial science.

Milliman is one of the world’s largest providers of actuarial and related products and services.

Ebanks, a senior from Glen Cove, N.Y., plans to pursue a career in actuarial science after graduating in spring 2018 with a degree in mathematics with an emphasis in actuarial science and a minor in business administration.

“I love math,” Ebanks said. “But I also love being able to develop interpersonal connection, so I wanted to pursue a job that allowed me to do math and business. Being an actuary combines everything I want in a career.”

Ebanks said she was surprised to discover that she was awarded the scholarship, which is valued at $5,000.

“Milliman is an international insurance company, and I knew a lot of students would be applying for it. I thought it was a long shot,” she said. “When I got the email, it felt like all my hard work paid off.” 

Traditionally, an actuary uses mathematics and statistics to measure and manage risk and uncertainty for businesses. Actuarial science is currently evolving as new threats have developed for companies.

“Actuarial science is changing based on the company’s needs,” said Fang Yang, teaching assistant professor of math and advisor of the Actuarial Club. “In the past, it has been heavily dependent on mathematics skills. Right now, because of terrorist threats and cyberbullies, the actuary field has broadened significantly. Actuaries now do a lot, from risk management to data analytics.” 

To meet businesses’ exponentially increasing demand for actuaries, an area of emphasis in mathematical actuarial science has been created at WVU. 

Students studying actuarial science that pass at least one exam, the first of which has about a 37 percent pass rate, are more likely to get internships and therefore get a full-time job

“I was here studying all last summer for the first test, and I was determined to pass it,” Ebanks said. “Once I passed, I thought it would open more opportunities, but I didn’t get an internship this summer, and I was discouraged.”

According to Yang, it is rare for students to take an actuarial exam in the summer.

“Many students don’t take the exams in the summer because they are on vacation and don’t want to take the time to prepare for it,” Yang said. “But (Ebanks) did it, which really differentiates herself from everyone else. No one forced her to do it or kept her on track. You have to be very self-disciplined to do that. “

Being awarded the Opportunity Scholarship after passing her first actuarial exam motivated Ebanks and helped her realize she would be successful in her career.

“It’s important to believe in yourself and not to have doubts. I was really hesitant with doing an actuary career, especially going into my first test. Once I passed, I knew I could do this.”