This story originally appeared in the 2017 issue of Math Matters
A passion for problem solving
Story by Jess Guess
In Carver Hall, Aimee Rodin fills her days with differential equations, complex variables and combinatorics.
That is, when she’s not working on projects focused on profitability and growth at her internship with Nationwide Insurance in Des Moines, Iowa.
Or researching her Honors Program project with renowned economics professor Peter Orazam.
Or helping to turn Iowa State’s young Actuarial Science Club into a bona fide fraternity.
Rodin (’18 mathematics) has enjoyed the problem-solving aspect of math since she first learned the subject. There was no question about what she would choose to major in at Iowa State University; she knew math would open many doors upon graduating. Her early objective was identifying how she wanted to shape her major to fit her potential career goals.
“Math is a good outlet for taking different approaches to a problem,” she said. “It’s not just theoretical, it’s a different perspective for thinking about things.”
Rodin knew she wanted to pursue a career that would encourage her to think analytically. She wanted a job where she could talk to people. Be creative. Make an impact on a company.
“I had the opportunity to talk to women actuaries while I was in high school,” she said. “They got to do math, and then they had to sell their findings to executives who would use that information to make important decisions for their company. It sounded like a great fit for me.”
Finding her niche
Rodin stormed onto campus as a freshman in the fall of 2015, immediately getting involved in all she could. She joined clubs and student organizations ranging from the Math and Statistics Learning Community to student government. She added minors in economics and statistics. And she started tailoring her class schedule to prepare for preliminary exams required for actuarial scientists.
“Everyone in the math department has been incredibly supportive to help me reach my goals,” she said. “My first-year adviser, Dawn Walker-Chalmers, has been my personal cheerleader, even after I changed to my full-time academic adviser, Kris Lee. Kris has been so helpful – you can go to his office to chat anytime you need to. He and Dawn would do anything to help me if I needed it.”
Rodin said the support within the department has been the foundation for her success. Her professors encouraged her to take a few programming classes to deepen her technical background, in turn building her confidence in applying for actuarial internships and jobs. During class, they would go out of their way to answer questions about preliminary exams that were beyond the scope of the class.
“My advisers and professors are always helping me see the ‘why’ behind what I’m doing and the classes I’m taking. That guidance has been incredibly valuable.”
Learning to network
Rodin has not been shy about pursuing her goals. With an eye on an actuarial internship at Nationwide her freshman year, she made it to the second round of interviews for the position. Ultimately, she didn’t have enough experience to join the company’s actuarial department just yet. Still determined, she dressed the part and, with a lean resume in hand, sought out Nationwide representatives at ISU’s Career Fair, asking what she could do to intern at the company in any department. Impressed with her tenacity and the amount of work she’d already completed as a freshman, they encouraged her to apply for an underwriting position. In a month, she was hired.
Rodin, the youngest intern at the company, worked with staff and other interns to change policies and codes of insurance claims. The most rewarding part of her summer came from setting up job shadows in other departments, leading to a second internship in the products department, which she completed this summer.
“It’s not a huge department, but it’s on the analytical side of things,” she said. “I was able to develop my skills under great mentorship. I had several mentors who were not much older than me, which was super helpful. They had a lot of real advice.”
“It IS a lot of math”
Tacking on minors in statistics and economics to her math degree was a no-brainer for Rodin.
“It IS a lot of math,” she said. “I like all the different applications of using it. Using math to solve an economics problem is a whole different ballgame from using math to solve a calculus problem. But you don’t have to think about it as ‘math.’ Just think about it as ‘problem solving.’”
Now in her senior year of college, Rodin is making her final preparations to graduate, and leaving her mark on Iowa State and its Department of Mathematics. She has already completed two preliminary actuarial exams. She is the director of scholarships for ISU’s Delta Gamma sorority. She is the vice president of finance for the new Gamma Iota Sigma fraternity – previously the Actuarial Sciences Club. She continues to make the LAS Dean’s List.
Her commitment to her major and her impact on ISU are just two reasons why she was selected as the first recipient of the Ellen Diedrichsen Scholarship in Mathematics.
“I was proud that she felt so proud of her education in math at Iowa State to make a scholarship,” Rodin said. “The scholarship makes it very reassuring that I’m going into a rewarding field.”
When speaking with Aimee Rodin, you get the feeling you’re talking with a driven young professional who finds true joy in the problem solving that fills her day. In a few short months, she will be a young professional. Until then, she will continue to forge her path at ISU, with the help of supportive advisers and professors, and of course, the perfect degree.
“ISU is a large school, but you can make it as small as you want. My major has set me up for anything I want to pursue, which is the best thing any student could ask for.”