Rising Insurance Star Executives announces the 2022 35 Under 35 RISE Award winners and Mentor of the Year finalists!

The Annual RISE Awards recognizes top rising talent in the insurance industry. Every year we receive dozens of nominations of deserving young professionals who are making an impact in their company, community, and the industry as a whole. To be eligible, nominees must work in the insurance industry and be under 35 years of age.





Alana Letourneau, MD, MBA, Carisk Partners

Alivia Cooper, Amerisure Insurance Company

Amin Touahri, Hartford Steam Boiler Insurance

Andrew Schwartz, Oliver Wyman/Celent

Annie Ryan, NEXT Insurance

Awais Farooq, ActiveOps

Caitlin McPhillips, Vela Insurance Services

Cassie Larson, Bindable

Chris Wright, The Cincinnati Insurance Companies

Cole Horton, Merchants Bonding Company

Cynthia Scott, Tower Hill Insurance Group

Ema Roloff, Naviant

Eric Brown, MMG Insurance

Erica Russell, Canal Insurance

Jennifer Holbrook, Harford Mutual Insurance Group

Jon Perrillo, Lockton Companies

Joseph Terpening, Kingstone Insurance Company

Josh Carmona, Nationwide E&S/Specialty

Lauren Fernandez, Insure National

Mackenzie Gilkey, Kemper Property & Casualty

Mark Coppa, Falvey Cargo Underwriting

Mary Calmer, Crum & Forster

Meaghan Stephenson, FRISS

Megan Hoffman, Producers National Corporation

Megan Nelson, Gallagher Bassett

Owie Lei Agbontaen, Sompo International

Rachel Jenkins, Founder Shield

Rosalia Cortes, Liberty Mutual Insurance

Ryan Santacrose, Artex Risk Solutions

Scott Francis, ISG

Shipra Mehta, Costello Ginex & Wideikis

Tandeka Nomvete, Questpro Consultants

Tania Sanfiel, Assurant

Walter Davenport, Allianz Global Corporate & Specialty

Zach Brown, Modern Reign Insurance Brokers


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Mentor of the Year is awarded to an outstanding mentor who has made a difference to the next generation. The winner will be announced June 1st at the RISE Leadership Summit & Awards Gala.

The 2022 Mentor of the Year finalists are:

  • Halley Cruz, PhD, MBus, Insure National
  • Stephen J. Henning, Wood Smith Henning & Berman LLP
  • Tim Roberts, Everest Insurance
  • Tony Chimera, Westfield Specialty





The winners will be recognized at the 2022 RISE Leadership Summit & Awards Gala on June 1st in Fort Lauderdale, Fl. The RISE Award publication will also be available at the event and in digital on June 1st. Learn more here


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Gracemarie Mende

Senior Technical Claims Account Manager of Watford US, Arch Insurance Group

In a past life, I was a special education teacher. I spent years looking to help develop others and I’ve always had a passion for personal growth and development. Regardless of how long you’ve been in a position, its always important to continue education, keep your skills sharp, and learn something new. Even in the most entry level training can prove to be valuable, providing reminders or quick tips to perform to the best of your ability.

This year we are looking to launch regular webinars, some of which will provide opportunities for CE/CLE credits. The committee is dedicated to providing growth opportunities across all career levels and business units. Whether you are in underwriting, risk management, a budding attorney, or developing claims professional, education is the cornerstone to a successful career. We are looking to provide opportunities to learn more about your current role as well as other areas of the industry; a well rounded professional is a valued professional.

Joining the education committee gives you the voice to cultivate your own education needs and contribute to the needs of others. Personal development is not limited to taking a class, reading an article, or participating in a webinar. Helping direct, present, and create education content opens the door to leadership skills. Young professionals can learn projection management, expand presentation skills, and network with other industry professionals. Participating in the committee means exposure to opportunities you would not typically have in your day to day roles.

-Gracemarie Mende, 2022 Education Committee Chair

Gracemarie is a born and raised Jersey Girl and Arch Insurance Senior Claims Account Manager who spends her free time chasing her toddler around in his bat mobile, baking and trying new recipes, and traveling with her loving husband. With a background in Education prior to her tenure in insurance, Gracemarie brings a passion for teaching to her career and encourages her adjusters to keep learning to be their best.

By: Austin Tucker, Sr. Underwriting Product Manager – Verisk

Do you remember learning multiplication in grade school?  It was probably a challenging experience, and it may have taken you a while to figure out that dreaded multiplication table.  Yet, you didn’t fret because the teachers gave tools to help you learn this new skill.  While some teachers taught skip counting or to find patterns in the numbers, we were all given flashcards. 

Even the words flashcards can send chills up the spine of some adults to this day. 

We sat there for an eternity flipping through these cards with a multiplication problem on the front and the answer on the back.  Guess, look at the back, see if you were right, and divide into a pile of “got right” and “got wrong” and then go back through the wrong stack till it joined its brethren in a single mini tower of frustration. 

For machine learning (ML), labeled examples are their version of flashcards.  The standard technique teaches a machine to accurately recognize an object, picture, video, words, or any other sort of information you must provide labeled data to the machine until it can make better predictions.  The more data feed into the machine, the better the prediction. 

While this method works and has proven itself, it takes a significant toll on resources of computational time, staff cost, funding, and other resources that have made it impracticable on a large scale.  A company can deploy a method called few-shot (FSL) learning can be used to reduce the burden on resources as well as create more robust predictions.

What makes FSL so important to ML is that it not only reduces the effort of data collection, data labeling, and computational costs but it also allows the computer to learn about rare cases (the computer can classify, i.e., a rare animal species that is rarely photographed with only a handful of prior information).  The best (and most frightening) way to describe FSL’s capabilities is to say that it can learn like a human.    Humans can spot differences in a data set (i.e., handwriting, pictures of dogs) with only a few examples, whereas the traditional ML approach required large amounts of data to spot any differences; with FSL, this learning time is reduced drastically, and a machine can learn from only a few examples to spot discrepancies.

FSL is considered a meta-learning model, which means the model learns how to learn to solve a given problem or “learning the learner.”  This method improves a model’s results by changing the learning algorithm via experimental results.  This meta-learning model helps researchers know which algorithms make the best predictions in a dataset. 

FSL can be found in several applications that solve problems:

  • Computer vision- image classification, character recognition, object tracking, and others
  • Natural Language Processing- sentence completion (Gmail and Outlook email), text classification, and translations
  • Audio Processing- voice cloning (Siri, Alexa, GPS voices, etc.), voice conversions across different languages
  • Robotics- movement learning, visual navigation, etc.
  • Healthcare- drug discovery, disease diagnosis
  • IOT analytics and mathematical reasoning

This may seem a bit out of scope for insurance but consider the rise in smartphone apps that have taken over a role that was once a job for someone in the insurance space.  We can now use our phones to take photos of the damage to our homes, cars, places of business and upload them to our insurance carrier’s claim app to start the claims process or even settle some claims in seconds.  Trying to teach these ML models to spot all kinds of damages, verify the integrity of the photos, and make essential decisions would be an IT lift that would stagger most companies. 

The advent of FSL has helped shorten the time to market for these capabilities and will continue to do so newer models such as one-shot and no-shot learning comes more common.  While the increasing complexity of the insurance world becomes more and more digitized, the applications for these and other ML and artificial intelligence-based assistants will continue to grow to previously unimaginable heights in insurance and our lives. 

Entry-level Underwriter $45-55k

As an underwriter, you’ll provide credit decisions as well as review medical, legal, financial, and occupational information to determine insurance rates. You’ll also review risk management plans and procedures, and deal with applications and renewals, acceptance, and rejections. You’ll be expected to have a deep understanding of risk, insurance policy coverage, and financial responsibility. Ultimately, an underwriter is the individual who decides if a company should offer insurance to a particular risk.

Entry level Claims Adjuster $45-55k

As a claims adjuster, you are the one to fulfill the company’s promise to pay for a loss when something bad happens. You’ll be responsible for strategic processing and payment of claims while keeping abreast of regulations and legislation in regards to insurance claims. You’ll be in charge of strategies, developing budgets, and overall supporting the operational infrastructure. Most importantly, you interface with the policyholder when they’re going through a bad time and help them restore their life.

Marketing Associate $45-55k

Insurance is competitive and each year companies spend Billions on marketing. Marketing and branding go beyond TV commercials, extending to social media, YouTube, internal communications, and more. As a Marketing Associate, duties can range from arranging proposals and presentations using marketing resource materials to coordinating client communications to internal marketing.

Actuarial Associate (Actuary 1) $65-70k

Using pricing and risk assessment, an actuarial associate is a support role that focuses on projects of limited complexity. They may work in conjunction with more experienced actuaries to develop probability tables that estimate the probability and cost of certain events—death, illness, injury, disability, or loss of property. However, it’s important to note that an actuary has quite a bit of education. 

Risk Management Analyst $70-80k

As a risk management analyst, your job will be to protect your organization’s assets. You’ll forecast potential losses, work on solutions to eliminate or reduce risk, and monitor and report on controls. You’ll also work on risk model construction.

Junior Data Scientist $77-97k

As a Junior Data Scientist, you work on projects that change the fundamental roles of traditional insurance professionals by applying machine learning, statistics and business applications to models. You will prepare tables, graphics or software tool components using statistical/biostatistical/machine learning capabilities. You also will assist in the interpretation of results and writing of small sections of technical reports/presentations, and support Senior Data Scientists in data cleaning, coding and validation.

InsureTech Connect did not disappoint with the energy and buzz of everything new and exciting in insurance.  From insurtechs to technology companies, from AI to traditional insurers.  Everyone who is anyone in insurtech gathered in Las Vegas this week.

In Wednesday morning’s interview with Chubb CEO, Evan Greenberg, we covered a broad range of topics. Here are my top takeaways:

  1. Technology: Our best growth years are yet to come. Digitization of insurance isn’t the hard part. We’re challenged with the need for new skillsets, reworking organizational structure, and a shift in culture.
  2. Fundamental Culture Shift:  “We used to consider ourselves an underwriting company. Now we are an underwriting and engineering company. It sounds simple, but it means so much more.”
  3. Cyber Risk: Having the right people who understand the security and vulnerabilities of systems are key to underwriting cyber risks properly. What we lack (and need to create) is a governing body, which sets standards to which systems and software can be measured against.
  4. Modeling: Models are just predictions – not truth. They are the basis for risk taking, but things are changing constantly.
  5. Global stage: Like with competition in business, we (the US) need to focus on running a better race.  Completely untangling from China is unrealistic, and there have been benefits on both sides.  If we were to focus on our strengths and bettering ourselves, we will do a better job protecting our own interests.

We’d like to hear from you!

What skillsets do you think we need to source or train more of as we progress in our digital journey?

From a carrier perspective, what do you think it means to now be an underwriting AND engineering company?

Do you agree with Mr. Greenberg on global trade?

James Emming, Senior Claims Auditor at The Cincinnati Insurance Companies

James chose a career in insurance because it gives him the opportunity to help people when they need it most, along with the chance to solve complex problems.

James expresses, “As a claims representative, you show up knowing that you can’t replace the memories or sentimental value, but insurance means we can put a roof back over their heads and help get them back on their feet. Insurance is a noble profession with a growing number of career opportunities. I tell everyone, if you like helping people, insurance might be the right career for you.”

“I tell everyone, if you like helping people, insurance might be the right career for you.”

James Emming, Cincinnati Insurance, RISE Award Recipient

RISE to the Occasion: James is a problem solver, regularly assisting others to help them more efficiently complete their work. When he doesn’t know something, he proactively seeks out instruction or training. He’s not happy with the status quo and is always interested in upping the game and finding better ways to complete audits. James is working to innovate audit processes with the use of artificial intelligence and text mining so that he and coworkers can apply their expertise and knowledge where it’s most needed.

“James has been instrumental in the rollout of our new File Review program for field claims representatives. He designed and helped implement an electronic workbook we use to compile information used in the annual review process for field claims associates. His contributions helped us improve the consistency of the file review process, enabling more accurate comparisons.” Kenneth Kerby, The Cincinnati Insurance Company

James was nominated by his supervisors and peers. The annual RISE Awards is a showcase of the Insurance Industry’s top rising talent. Each year we receive dozens of nominations and the RISE Advisory Board votes to narrow down to the top. Among the winners are young professionals from all areas of the industry, from claims to brokers to SIU and TPAs. The winners all have one thing in common: They are making a big impact in their company and to the industry as a whole. They are role models and examples of what someone can do with the amazing opportunity of a career in insurance.

The 2020 RISE Award Nominations are now open through April 30th

Nominate a deserving young professional today!

#FlashbackFriday to last year’s ACE conference where we got an exclusive interview with Kenneth Tolson, US President of Claims Solutions at Crawford & Company. Listen in to his story of how he got started in insurance, some of the opportunities he is creating at Crawford & Co, his career advice, and what they look for when promoting. He also discusses innovating around the biggest pain points carriers face and integrating robotic process automation.

RISE interview with Brian Pozzi, Vice President, Office of General Counsel & Corporate Claims Officer for AAA-The Auto Club Group at the 2019 ACE Conference in Las Vegas, NV. From court room to board room, Pozzi shares his take on the industry and advice on advancing your career.

Connected Claims 2019 is over, and what a conference it was!  Our experience this year was that the conference had great energy, relevant content, cool technology vendors, and plenty of excellent speakers.  Highlights of the conference were definitely the panel content, the rooftop party, and the booming exhibit hall.

We loved the speaker set up with individual short presentations followed by a panel with the same speakers interacting together and answering the audience’s questions. Our favorite panels were “Accelerate Claims Transformation Through #ClaimsTech,” “Achieve Data-Driven Efficiency,” and “Deconstruct Culture, Tech and Customer Needs to Achieve a New Future for Claims.”

It was a change to hear tech-speak at an insurance conference and there were several conversations around the agile development method, straight though processing, and minimum viable product.  The biggest buzz words were RPA (robotic process automation), AI, and empathy.  It’s an exciting time to be a part of the insurance industry!

RISE was on site interviewing speakers, executives, and attendees.  Check out our video for highlights of the interviews and a taste of what it was like to be at Connected Claims USA. Full interviews will be available on the RISE YouTube channel

Your heart is racing and your palms are clammy. You take deep breaths and resist the urge to wipe your hands on your stain-free suit. It’s interview day, and you’re stressed. It’s almost impossible to avoid—nerves and interviews go hand-in-hand, but going in armed with these helpful tips could save your suit and help you land that job.

Preparation Makes Perfect

Do your research. Channel your inner student and study like it’s finals week. Do not underestimate the value of putting in serious preparation time before the big day. Gather useful information about the company or client and the interviewers, and don’t be afraid to use LinkedIn as a tool to help you. They may see that you viewed their profile, but this doesn’t make you a stalker—in this case, it can only serve to show that you’re taking the time to learn about them and the company for whom you hope to work.

Know Yourself

Remind yourself of your achievements; exude confidence with a healthy dose of humility. If you’re interviewing for a claims-specific job, be certain of how many claims you have handled at any given time. If you’re interviewing for a position outside of claims, re-familiarize yourself with your sales numbers if necessary, and be sure of the amount of time you have been with each company. Ensure that you have concrete examples of your accomplishments, and how those accomplishments have helped the company. Furthermore, if a hiring manager asks about your knowledge of a specific tool or software program—such as Xactimate—you should be able to provide real life examples of your experience with it and how it has helped you in your previous positions.

You should also be prepared to address your weaknesses as well as your strengths. When discussing your weaknesses, however, avoid portraying yourself in a negative light. Focus on “faux weaknesses” that could have a positive result for the company, such as working too hard or being a perfectionist. Lastly, think of a few hobbies to share with the interviewer(s) that show them you are the dynamic, well-rounded individual they are looking to hire, not someone whose only hobby is binge-watching their favorite show every night (even if that is the case!).

Suit and Tie

You’ve done all of your research and refreshed your memory with regards to your performance metrics. You’re almost ready. Almost. In order to truly impress the interviewer(s), you need to look the part. It is always safer to overdress—wearing a suit despite the company’s lax dress code shows professionalism. Underdressing in a formal environment sends the wrong message. Make sure what you’re wearing is appropriate for the situation, which means no B’s. Don’t wear an outfit that shows your Boobs, Butt, Back or Bellies. Save the flashy number for a night out on the town after the interview is over. Unless you’re interviewing for a fashion-focused position, keep it simple. It’s hard to go wrong with a clean blue or charcoal/grey suit for men and blue or black suit for women. Avoid brown or tan suits, as these colors don’t tend to inspire confidence.

In addition, avoid distracting the potential employer from your accomplishments and skills with extreme odors at both ends of the spectrum; arrive fresh and clean, but there’s no need to bathe in Chanel No. 5 beforehand, either. Today is about you and your qualifications, not your perfume.

Go Time

The time has finally come. You’re well-equipped with information about the company, your interviewer(s), and yourself, and you’re looking fresh. Now, you need to be certain you have all of the necessary materials to help you. Print and bring multiple copies of your resume, just in case there are more people in your interview than you anticipated. It’s a simple gesture that proves your level of preparation. In addition to your resume, you should also bring a pen and a notebook with a few questions to ask. Even if your questions get answered during the course of your interview, a quick flick through at the end to check that all of your questions have been answered will show the interviewer that you came fully prepared. If you happen to arrive early, instead of sitting while you wait, stay standing. This helps you maintain decent posture, and means you’re ready for a handshake as soon as they come out to greet you. If you’re kept waiting long enough, have a look around the lobby. Take stock of your surroundings and try to use them to your advantage. You might find some information on the wall such as a recent award or staff announcement, or even just the age of the business, which could give you an edge in the eyes of your interviewer(s).

During the interview, don’t ask about benefits or PTO. Think of the first round of interviewing as a first date—you wouldn’t ask your date how many kids they want when you shake hands, so don’t ask your interviewer what the company intends to do for you when you first meet. Save those questions for when you know you like each other.

The End is Nigh

The interview is coming to a close and you’ve done just about as much as you can to show them you’re the right person for the job. But it’s not over yet! Before you leave the room and breathe a sigh of relief, ask the interviewer(s) if they have any reservations about your application, your resume, or yourself as a candidate. Let them know you’re happy to address any concerns they may have. Addressing any doubts that the interviewer(s) may have in person means that you can leave safe in the knowledge that you’ve shown them your best self and all that’s left is for them to decide. Before you run through the goodbye handshakes, be sure to ask about the next steps. This reaffirms your interest in the job, shows that you are proactive, and brings the interview to a natural but firm close. Lastly, remember to ask for the interviewer’s business card or contact information so you can easily follow up with them after the interview.

Don’t You Forget About Me

Show how much you care about the job by following up with a thank you note for every interviewer within 24 hours of your interview. Make sure each note is specific to the person you met, not just a generic note that you’ve copied and pasted for the whole team. If you really love the job, send an email and follow up with a hand-written note. Writing the note by hand adds a personal touch and helps you to stand out in a crowd over-saturated with technology.

Remember that people hire people they like, so go in with a friendly, positive attitude and let your awesome self shine. Follow these tips, take a deep breath, and go get ‘em. You’re destined for success.

These tips are from Chelsea Buzer, Head of Recruitment at Insure National Staffing, and written by Rebecca Kirkpatrick. For more information please contact Chelsea Buzer at or go to