by: Tandeka Nomvete, External Engagement Director for Spencer Educational Foundation

In my senior year of college, I decided to switch my major from Actuarial Science to Risk Management and Insurance (RMI) and I desperately wanted an RMI internship! I knew the Actuarial Science career path and understood the exam process, but I didn’t know what the actual “job” was when one obtains a degree in RMI. I needed an internship to build out my resume and help position me for a full-time role upon graduation. Below was my process and lessons learned during this time – Hoping that this will help you along your journey of finding an RMI internship:

Revise Your Resume

Even if you have revised your resume 100 times, keep editing and upgrading it! Put your resume in front of as many people as possible and understand that each person who reviews it is going to give you a slightly different perspective and opinion. Not only should your family, friends, and professors review it but try to get your resume in front of working professionals and recruiting experts. I had revised my resume so many times and thought it was perfect, but one day my RIMS mentor took me to a lunch with his boss, and he had the foresight to print out my resume and bring it to the lunch that day. During our lunch meeting, my mentor’s boss grabbed a pen and started making tons of edits and scribbles all over my resume. I was shook! If you find yourself in this type of situation, you need to keep an open mind and be open to receiving constructive criticism. Without constructive criticism, you cannot progress. Those edits that he made to my resume on that fateful day transformed the resume from good to excellent. He provided so much insight that was specific to the Risk Management & Insurance industry and he helped me tailor my resume to make it stand out. That networking lunch literally changed my life and it would not have been possible without a mentor.  

Apply Everywhere

Armed with my newly updated resume which had been reviewed by an industry professional, I was ready to apply for internships! I kept hearing certain company names over and over again, so I knew I wanted to apply to those companies first. I searched the internet for a comprehensive list of RMI companies to apply to, but could not find anything. I ended up going with google searches such as top 100 insurance companies, top 50 brokerages, etc. Thank goodness for RISE, who in 2020 started providing a list of the top 50 RMI internships to apply to – This valuable resource will hopefully save many of you a lot of time. As a student, I created a tracking spreadsheet and started listing details of the companies that I was applying to. Columns I would suggest using are: Company, Job Title, Location, Website, Applied? Y/N, Date Applied, Resume Type, Contact Name, Contact Email Address, Next Steps. If you’re tailoring the objective or summary section on your resume, or if you have different versions of your resume, it’s important to keep track of which resume you send to which company – Which is why the “Resume Type” column is important. Now that your tracking sheet is ready to go – Apply everywhere! Start by making a list of 50-100 companies in our industry that offer internships. It will also help if you add a column for “Industry Sector” so that you can also keep track if the company is a Brokerage, Insurance Company, Third Party Administrator, Risk Management department, Consulting firm, etc.

Network, Network, Network!

Applying for an internship online is all good and well, but one thing that will enhance your success is networking. I found myself in a situation where after applying, I would receive emails and calls to do either an informational interview or a 1st-round interview. I would often progress to the final round of the interview process but was not receiving internship offers. It was very frustrating because I did not know what I was doing wrong. Networking is how I ended up getting my internship! After I emailed my updated resume to my RIMS mentor and his boss, they were both kind enough to share my resume with their networks. My mentor’s boss was a broker and he sent my resume to a Risk Manager in Florida, who happened to be South African. Guess what – I am South African! The Risk Manager encouraged me to connect with her and we set up an introductory phone call. We immediately connected and she then sent my resume to all of her contacts that offer internship programs in both Florida and Georgia. One of those contacts was a broker at Marsh in Florida who then sent my resume to Marsh New York and it wound up on the desk of the recruiter who was managing the national internship program. He gave me a call, and a few days later I was doing a four-hour interview at Marsh in Atlanta. A couple of weeks later I received my internship offer – Just in time for the summer!

Lessons Learned

What I didn’t know at the application stage was that obtaining an internship (or entry-level job) can be a long and arduous process that can sometimes take months. It’s not as simple as apply today and you’ll get the job tomorrow (no matter how fantastic of a student you are)! After the recruiter reviews your resume, they have to decide if you’re going to progress to the 1st-round interview stage. Then there is a 2nd-round, and often a 3rd and 4th round. The company might even call it an “informational discussion” or say they want to set up some time to “chat” with you, but you must recognize that any conversation with the company is an interview, so you should treat it as such. The earlier you start your application process the better, to allow more time for interviewing. Before I received my internship offer, I was low-key freaking out because I was applying to tons of companies online, but I was not receiving any internship offers. I didn’t know how fierce the competition was for internships. Had I understood the importance of networking earlier on, I would have spent just as much time joining RMI groups and associations and seeking ways to network with working professionals.


Not sure where to start? Several organizations and professional associations within the RMI industry would be happy to review your resume and assist you along your journey as you seek an internship. Some recruiters serve as career coaches that can point you in the right direction. Get involved with your local RMI community and start networking. These days, you can network virtually just as effectively as in person. Keep in mind that these opportunities will not just come to you – You have to seek virtual meetings that you can join and turn on your camera & speak up to meet new people. The nice thing about virtual networking is that it takes up less time and you can connect with people from all across the country. Examples include joining virtual RIMS chapter meetings in various locations and joining the Spencer Educational Foundation’s monthly networking sessions for students. Tell your professors that you are interested in traveling to attend regional and national RMI-related conferences. Raise your hand to volunteer with a nonprofit organization. Do what you can to secure face-time with RMI professionals and have your elevator pitch ready, so you can share your story. Don’t be shy to let them know that you’re seeking an internship and would appreciate any assistance that they can offer (including an introduction to other contacts).

Wishing you all the best with your journey to finding an internship. Feel free to connect with me and I’d be happy to point you in the right direction. Don’t give up – You got this!

By: Alatta Lawrence, Actuarial Science Major at Georgia State University

Q: What do you look for when choosing an internship program to apply for?

A: There are several factors that I consider when choosing an internship: the type of work the company does and whether there are areas of focus to launch my career, the corporate culture, the growth opportunities, and flexibility given to employees to discover their niches, and the overall values that the company deems essential to their existence (community involvement, employee programs, clientele centered, etc.).

Q: What is most important to you about a company when considering interning/employment?

A: A company’s willingness not just in word, but in action, to provide the best resources possible for me to succeed and in turn bring value back to the workplace.

Q: What things stand out to you about a company?

A: A company’s involvement in the community stands out to me. I am a firm believer in paying it forward, and companies that take time to step outside the corporate bubble to lend a hand and develop the surrounding communities gain true admiration and consideration as a potential place to start a career.

Q: When you start looking for your full-time job what factors will you take into consideration? (Location, benefits, time off, remote etc.)

A: Some of the factors that are considered are the benefits, time off, location, compensation, personal development training, mentorship, and the potential of working remote.

Q: What responsibilities do you want when interning?

A: The responsibilities that I prefer when interning are impactful/meaningful work and a workload comparable to what it would be working as a full-time employee. I desire to know that what I will be spending my time to learn and develop won’t be locked in the closest when my internship ends.

Q: What type of impact do you want to make in an intern program?

A: The type of impact that I want to make in an internship program is to absorb all that has been taught and turn it into value, so that I can be a part of the solutions to problems within my team that will be in use long after I have left.

Q: You have had a few intern experiences, what differed? 

A: I did one in person and the others virtually. During my internships, I was involved in meaningful work, however, completing an in-person internship gave a better feel for permanency. I was able to connect with more people at the company and get a primary feel for the culture. Additionally, nothing beats walking over to my manager’s desk and working out solutions together.

Q: You have experience in the military, how do you feel that contributed to your working experience as an intern?

A: Being in the military has contributed to how I see the world and interact with people. During my military tenure, I learned a lot about myself, how I learn and interpret information, how to effectively communicate with people of different backgrounds, making effective plans, prioritizing my schedule, and the list goes on. That experience was transferable to my role as an intern because they helped me discover how to handle certain situations and what worked and didn’t.

Q: Do you plan on doing another internship?

A: I don’t plan on doing another internship because I have already lined up my full-time employment upon graduation.

Q: How do you think a company could support interns?

A: The best way to support interns is to strategically place them in areas that they will be the most impactful and assigning projects that not only pulls on what they have learned in the classroom but throughout the duration of their internships. Additionally, giving them enough room to fail and learn from those mistakes.

Marlen Sanchez
Regional Sales Manager
AmTrust Financial Services, Inc.
Veronica Ferro
Claims Manager
Joshua Carmona
Underwriting Consultant
Zoila Urbani
Account Manager, Distribution & Service
Helmsman Management Services

What in your career really prepared you to be in the position you are now?

Marlen: Definitely my communication skills. I have always enjoyed speaking to people to help my knowledge grow. I use communication to help the business owners and agents I work with. Communication is a must in strengthening our partnership.

Veronica: There are so many things to pick from! But for me, I believe outstanding mentorship and structured training programs were critical in preparing me to thrive in my career. I have been very fortunate to be a part of a great company that values mentorship and effectively training employees. 

Josh: After graduating college with a Nutrition degree, I bounced around from temp job to temp job.  It wasn’t until I started working for Nationwide’s bank that I realized I had a real opportunity in corporate America.  As I progressed at the bank, I made the choice to move from Ohio to Arizona to pursue my insurance career.  At the time I didn’t know this decision would change my life for the better.  I took a chance and it’s been the best decision I could have made for myself. Over the next few years, I spent countless hours studying insurance and earning designations, but the most effective tool was mentorship.  I was lucky enough to be placed with a mentor, Brian Meulemans. Without his guidance early in my career I would not be where I am today. 

Zoila: Adaptability has really prepared and helped me excel in my career; being open to new ideas had led me down career paths I wouldn’t have otherwise known I’d have interest in. I came from a technical background. Moving into insurance and more specifically claims was not on my initial radar for careers. This career path has created many learning opportunities for me and meeting many wonderful people along with way.

What would you say is the biggest defining moment in your career?

Marlen: When I was hired by AmTrust and became their Transportation Specialist. This gave me the opportunity to work nationally to help grow the trucking programs to writing in more states. With the support of my manager, I realized this could be a chance for me to grow. In the following year, I was awarded the Specialist of the Year Award.  I truly enjoyed working with agencies in many state and traveling to meet them in person.

Veronica: This is a tricky question. But, for me, the most significant defining movements occur when you overcome your fears. There is always a moment of hesitation when you are presented with a new opportunity. Whether it’s a new role, moving to a new division, or a new company. When I say “yes” and challenge myself, I have learned that these have become the most significant defining moments in my career that have allowed me to grow and refine my skill set. 

Josh: When I first started in Arizona, I was in the New Loss Claims department.  I didn’t have any direction on what my next steps were or how I could advance to the next level. A leader of mine suggested I start taking the exams to get my insurance designations.  Within 3 years I had earned 6 designations, including my CPCU.  These courses and exams gave me a basic knowledge of insurance and prepared me to advance to the next level.

Zoila: I do not think I have held my biggest defining career moment yet. To date, the most rewarding choice I have made with my career is joining my current department 6 years ago: Helmsman, a third-party administration within Liberty Mutual. I enjoy the customer & colleague relationships built, along with knowledge growth from the challenges the TPA service sector has to offer.

As a Latino/Latina, what advice do you have for other Latinos/Latinas interested in an insurance industry career?

Marlen: This is an industry that can give you a chance for personal & financial growth. Also, there are many opportunities within the industry. I usually, give the analogy that this industry is like “A Tree which has Many Branches”. So there are many different ways of succeeding in this industry.

Veronica: First, jump in! This is an industry that genuinely positively impacts people and transforms lives. I cannot tell you how many times in my career I have heard, “thank you so much, you are a lifesaver!” Or something to that effect. I will also say challenge yourself and get out of your comfort zone. Create a plan that helps you intentionally build your skill set and create more value for your company and our industry. And work hard each day to truly become an expert in your field. 

Josh: Knowledge, mentorships, and networking are 3 ideas to keep in the back of your head as you advance in your career.  Learn something new every day. Find a mentor and later become a mentor. Network with other insurance professionals. 

Zoila: I was very fortunate to make a Latina friend when I started out in insurance 11+ years ago. We were both new to the industry and starting out in our careers. This relatable learning experience was very fulfilling to have someone go through this together even though we were in different departments. We are still close friends in & outside of work today.

Insurance is a broad industry that offers many opportunities for career growth for many interests, not just managing claims.  There is a niche for what interests you, with rewarding and interesting work.

What advice do you wish somebody would have told you early in your career?

Marlen: To Dream Big then Focus on Setting Personal Goals which will help in growing within the insurance industry.

Veronica: I wish someone had told me sooner to immerse myself into my career and become an expert fully. I believe there is a lot of intentionality to developing expertise. I don’t think this happens overnight and requires professionals to build a plan on how to grow expertise, including seeking out mentors, reading the most current literature, and attending professional development opportunities. I believe our clients and coworkers NEED us to be experts, and as young professionals, I don’t think that obligation is instilled in us enough.

Zoila: Don’t be afraid to speak up and take chances; ask the question. Someone else in the room probably has the same question as you and is afraid to ask it.


Image by Freepik

By: Stephanie Hawkins – Production Underwriter, AmFed

Q: What is underwriting?

A: In short, underwriting is a thorough analysis of a risk and the type(s) of exposure(s) connected with that risk for insurance pricing purposes.

Q: What role do underwriters play in insurance? Why are they important?

A: Underwriters play a very important role in insurance as we are the first ones to set eyes on incoming risks. It is our duty to establish and nurture our working relationships with our agents to maintain a steady flow of incoming submissions and determine if that business fits our company’s business portfolio and risk appetite. It is also our role to provide the utmost service to our insureds over the lifecycle of an account – from processing endorsements in a timely manner and assisting with loss control coordination to bi-annual stewardship meetings and day-to-day policy servicing.

Q: What are the steps in the underwriting process?

A: For a typical account, the underwriter must review the risk, its historical loss history, projected losses, risk management capabilities and ability to comply with recommendations, financials, and so much more. It’s like getting a puzzle and putting all the pieces together without having the box/picture to reference – but that is what I love about the underwriting process! You will be equipped with countless tools to assist in the process, and again, cultivating great working relationships with your agents is key to keep the line of communication open and to obtain additional information to further review each risk.

Q: How does an underwriter decide whether to approve an application or deny?

A: Whether an application is ultimately approved or denied is generally determined by the insurance carrier’s appetite. If you have a solid knowledge of the types of risks that your company will and will not take on, that part comes easily.

Q: How do underwriters classify risk? How do underwriters determine appetite?

A: We can usually classify and determine if a risk is a fit for our company fairly quickly by looking at class codes, historical losses and how well it matches up with our company’s established appetite. However, I have learned in this industry that appetite can shift from time to time based on the individual risk.

Q: What experience did you have prior to becoming an underwriter?

A: I have now been in the workers’ compensation industry for 15 years! Prior to my role in workers’ compensation underwriting, I worked for a workers’ compensation insurance defense law firm doing legal secretarial work and marketing coordination.

Q: How did you get into underwriting?

A: I was very fortunate that a local carrier with an amazing reputation, AmFed (now an Ascot Group company), had an opening in their underwriting department. I did not have a day of experience in underwriting prior to starting at AmFed, but over the last 7 years, I have learned a lot and loved every single day of my job. I was driven to learn and blessed with supervisors who had the extensive knowledge and patience to provide me with the tools I needed to excel.

Paul Bi
Director, New Product Innovation
GRS global Insights & Innovation
Liberty Mutual Insurance
Jung Wong
VP & Region Manager
Workers Compensation Claims
Bert Dizon
Senior Client Services Manager Gallagher Bassett

What is the best career advice you’ve ever received?

Paul Bi: Just because you can’t measure the ROI of something, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it. What’s the ROI of hugging your mom?”. This thought comes from the late Tony Hsieh, former Zappos CEO. While this piece of advice wasn’t directly given to me, it is something that has had a big impact ever since I first learned about it in Tony’s book “Delivering Happiness.” Often times work that we do cannot be easily quantified in define figures…particularly if it’s exploring and innovating in brand new spaces. Return and a level of accountability will always be an important aspect in determining if something was successful or not, but it should absolutely not be the barrier that prevents you from getting started.  

Jung Wong: Strive for continuous improvement – there is always room to grow and become better no matter what role you are in. The key to this is self-awareness of your skill gaps, opportunities and being open to advice/help.

Bert Dizon: Be an advocate for yourself!

Throughout my career, I have always operated on the mindset of doing you best in all that you do and promotions and raises will follow.  My family instilled the concept that you will ultimately be rewarded by your hard work and perseverance.  Keeping your nose to the grindstone was the best way to do your work and your supervisors will reward you appropriately. 

While this is absolutely true to a degree, it was not until I met my industry mentor, who also taught me the value advocating for yourself.  It was no longer just about expecting talent and worth to be recognized and rewarded but putting yourself out there to advocate and ensure that your talents and efforts are not going unnoticed.  Being an advocate for yourself does not mean to be cocky or overconfident.  It has a lot to do with building a rapport and level of mutual respect with your management that you can openly and often talk about your successes and goals, but also candidly about your challenges in an effort to steer yourself in the right direction.  The best way to advocate for yourself is candidly, as no one is perfect.

Advocating for yourself must also have a high degree of self-reflection and active listening.  You cannot put blinders on when it comes to your weakness, nor can you just put a magnifying glass on your strengths.  You must be willing to take feedback and make the effort reduce and eliminate deficiencies while continuing to build upon your strengths. 

While this is not easy and it requires a manager who operates more in a leadership style, it is important to make that effort to ensure the growth and results you are seeking.  

Members of the AAPI community are often viewed as the “model minority” – smart, hardworking, team-players but state that they are not always sought out for leadership roles. What, if any challenges have you faced because of this perception and how have you overcome those challenges?

Paul Bi: The broader implications are that the ‘model minority’ exists but the issue comes down to how it is understood and perceived. Often, the Pan-Asian community is viewed in the context of a monolith and applied in a way that praises the community as whole for the apparent success they experience. However, this is misguided as there’s an ugly history to the term and done in contrast to other underrepresented and marginalized groups acting as wedge to divide communities and bring attention away from the core issues at hand. The reality is having the ‘model minority’ applied in this way ignores the real challenges, biases and discrimination that exist in the community. Additionally, it takes-away from the unique experiences, stories and diversity that the broader Pan-Asian community brings as we represent multiple nationalities, languages and cultures. To address these issues, I was one of the founding members of an employee resource group for Pan-Asians and led the group as the National Co-Chair for several years. Our goal was to bring greater awareness surrounding the inequities being experienced and shift the conversational paradigms back into the hands of the community. From here, we’ve been able to open new lines of dialogue and have real honest conversations with company leaders of what needs to be done to create change. Whether it is my own experience dealing with ‘model minority’ dynamics to colleagues going through ones of their own. Each one is unique in its own right and is important to continue bringing these experiences to the forefront to create the kind of culture change that would benefit everyone.

Jung Wong: The ‘model minority’ persona is what I experienced in my first job out of college. I worked hard, long hours and had exceeded expectations year-over-year but was never a candidate for a leadership role when I applied – most times did not even get an interview. After a few years, I transitioned to a new role and company. It was there that I observed multiple AAPI senior leaders that motivated me to strive for that next step. At that point, I knew I had to own my development to address certain fears/opportunities – taking public speaking courses, conflict resolution training, being a leader within my peer group.

In your opinion, what needs to happen in order to break the corporate glass ceiling and expand the presence of Asian Americans in executive suites?

Paul Bi: There needs to be a greater acknowledgement and understanding that the ‘bamboo ceiling’ exists in order to address the problem and create change. Often, these problems are given little weight or flat out ignored. This leads to the further perpetuation of the ‘bamboo ceiling’ as there isn’t a belief that something is wrong, Pan-Asians are advancing, and the community is doing well. However, that is the exact opposite of what’s happening. Extensive research and data already exists identifying the perils of the ‘bamboo ceiling’, the misperceptions behind it and the significant gaps that exist regarding upward mobility and Pan-Asians in leadership roles. So many authentic stories and experiences go untold in the community. There must be a greater adoption of a growth mindset to foster an environment where you can listen and learn from the challenges that affect the community. Recognize that there requires a stronger willingness to open-up, be vulnerable, asking and being asked tough questions and transparent that there still remains a lot to improve on. By not acknowledging the disparities within, issues will continue to be ignored and disproportionately harm efforts on bridging gaps to bringing greater diversity, inclusion, equity and belonging in an organization.   

Jung Wong: The first thing that comes to mind is making sure companies are assessing and investing in their AAPI talent. By connecting your AAPI talent with the right mentor/sponsor and other resources to develop their leadership skills early on, you help unlock their full potential. I have been lucky to work for a company that has provided me with positive influencers throughout my career to help me grow personally and professionally – that along with internal and external development trainings have helped me get to where I am today.

As a way to pay-it-forward, I recently took on the role as the National Advancement Program Director within LEAAP – Leading & Empowering Asian & Ally Professionals, which is one of Liberty Mutual’s Employee Resource Groups. Our program purpose is to identify the top talent within the AAPI community and help them get where they want to be via various internal and external training resources.

What do you know now that you wished you knew when you began your career?

Paul Bi: Don’t sweat the small stuff because it really is all small stuff. While simple, it is profound in many ways. Early in my career I spent a great deal of time and effort trying to get every little thing perfect. Part of it is driven by model minority dynamics, having to live up to certain standards and perceptions that have been placed on the broader community. And part of it was driven by proving my worth and seeking validation through others. There is a detriment to that as one can get overwhelmed, place too much importance on it and often lose sight of the bigger picture. It was a lesson that took me some time to learn and realize just how potentially harmful focusing on aspects that really wasn’t worth the energy or just out of my control. Instead of sweating the small stuff, I’ve learned to redirect my focus into things that bring more fulfillment and value. It has help me better prioritize, gain new levels of confidence in myself, and create greater balance particularly as life gets busier with its complexities. 

Jung Wong: That everybody has a voice at the table… Early on in my career, I was always afraid to speak up and voice my opinion, especially when senior leaders were part of the audience. This was partially driven by how I was raised in a traditional Chinese culture of “keeping your head down”. It wasn’t until I connected with an impactful leader/mentor, that consistently made it a point to ask “What do you think Jung?” in front of a broader group that I felted empowered to express my thoughts.

Bert Dizon: When I first started working in insurance, I looked at the industry for the most part as a job and not a career, it was a means to an end and that one day I would find my career.  I had even left the industry a couple of times because of that.  I like most had the story of how I fell into a role in claims as opposed to seeking out a role in it.  While I was told and I felt that that I do my job well, it was not something that I even considered being long term.  I did not see myself being a claims representative for the rest of my life. 

While still unsure about claims as my future, I took a job working for a broker.  While in that role I found that my knowledge and experience of claims helped me to better understand risk.  I also found myself being the person that many of my colleagues came to help them answer claims questions for their customers.  When I left there I started working in the TPA world and discovered yet another side to the industry.  I began to discover the depth of the industry and the opportunities within in it.  I realized that there was a career path in this for me.  I began setting goals and developing a trajectory that I would like to see myself go and today I continue on that journey. 

If I could go back and talk to myself, I would tell me to embrace the insurance industry, as I do now, as a career and start setting my goals with that mindset.  That the world of insurance, while it can be tough, can be very rewarding and provide an outlet to gain and grow knowledge and understanding of something that everyone in the world will need help with at some point in their life. 


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. 

Katie Rossbach
Risk Placement Services, Inc.
Suvarna Ayyagari
Director – Business Intelligence
Gallagher Bassett
Deborah Saunders
Executive Director, Claims Management – Global Risk Management
Comcast NBCUniversal
Kimberly George
Global Innovation and Product Development Officer

How would you describe your leadership style? Do you see it as different from your male counterparts?

Katie: I have a visionary leadership style, driving results and change by setting my vision and inspiring others to come along on the journey with me. I provided my teams the autonomy and empowerment to drive their own operations forward. I build trust with my teams by personally caring about them and their career development, understanding what motivates them, and fostering a collaborative work environment. As a woman, I do see my leadership style different from some male counterparts, as mine relies more heavily on interpersonal and empathetic skillsets to gain the trust and buy in of others.

Suvarna: I tend to use different styles of leadership based on different situations. I am in a technology leadership role that typically entails a planning exercise to identify the top priorities for our cloud platform in alignment with organization goals. In this scenario, I seek input from the team members to ensure alignment.This approach fosters intrinsic motivation and strong engagement and ownership from the team during execution.  

When it comes to process improvement initiatives, I tend to be both a coach and player. I provide guidance for defining the process, getting the buy-in from stakeholders and following through on roll-out. I lead by example by setting the initial tone and then I let the team self-organize. In most cases, the team masters the process very quickly. 

In a situation when there is a need for quick decision-making or solving something critical, I use a more directive style by assigning responsibilities. I find that my male counterparts also use different styles, but I have found them using the directive style a lot more often than me. Overall, I strongly encourage self-initiative and accountability while creating a collaborative culture to solve problems by working alongside my team thereby building trust. 

Deborah: I hope that my team would say that I lead with trust and respect for their talents.  I support their autonomy to make decisions within the scope of their responsibilities much more than I direct their work, and encourage relationship building with others who can also support them.  I hesitate to generalize or ascribe merit to different leadership styles, but my observation is that my male peers prefer to exert more control and require more input into routine decision-making.

Kimberly: Through the years I have modified my leadership style to lead by influence. In doing so I have become much more aware of behaviors, attitudes, and opinions and their impact on the team and results. My style is collaborative, and I am focused on creating an inclusive, team-centric, approach. This involves intentionally bringing others into the team that did not have an opportunity previously. I also believe in communicating a clear vision and goal while allowing the team to modify and adjust to ensure success. When each team member feels they belong and understands the vision I find the collective is empowered and driven to succeed. As I evolved my leadership style and influencing others became part of my personal brand, my career trajectory advanced and more importantly people sought me out to join my teams and projects.

I find most leaders are less focused on leading by influence and more broadly focused on leading by authority. My male counterparts are more likely to have their “go-to” team to get things done. With that mindset the same people are called upon repeatedly and others lack opportunities and new experiences which broaden their skills. Whether women or men, I find many leaders fail to provide a clear and concise vision. Without the vision team members flounder and inevitably one person or a couple of people on the team will run with the project instead of the collective. Both scenarios result in slower decisioning, less innovation, lack of creativity, and a narrow view of the project.

How do you bring your authentic self to the workplace? How has that changed throughout your career?

Katie: I bring my authentic self to the workplace by having fun! My mantra says that if we are spending 8+ hours a day at work, we better have fun doing it! Opening up meetings with laughs, story sharing, or simply asking how someone’s weekend was, goes a long way. I am an active participant during collaborative sessions and I am not afraid to be myself and speak my opinion, a confidence that took time to develop in the earlier years of my career.

Suvarna: I bring my authentic self by acting on what I believe is the right thing.  When I started off my career, there was a lot of learning, I was honest about what I already knew and what I didn’t. I was transparent about where my deliverables stand. As I grew in my career, being authentic translated to being a trusted advisor to my business partners. I earned a reputation of always stating the risks, issues, and mitigation strategies in a timely manner. I backed up deliverables with factual data and openly asked for feedback. In my current role, authenticity also translates to being empathetic and humble when working with peers and senior management as I am cognizant of the dynamics of relationships. 

Deborah: I’ve always shared a fair amount of my personal thoughts and experiences with my colleagues during small talk and informal encounters, but I’ve also maintained a clear distinction between my work and family lives. In fact, I use different versions of my first name depending on whether the conversation is work-related or personal to remind myself to switch modes.  It wasn’t until the pandemic forced a blurring of the lines between home and work that I fully realized the importance and value of authenticity at work.  Maybe, because I tend to over-share, the transition was a bit easier for me to make, but I was humbled and grateful to witness members of my team open up in very personal ways that I’m sure made them feel uncomfortable. I definitely learned far more about the team-building power of trust, authenticity, and humility from my team than I could possibly offer them in return.

Kimberly: Bringing your authentic self to work is something I think about a lot and discuss with my peers and those I mentor. Mid-career I found that sharing my personal story inspires others and people relate to me in a more positive way. Prior to being more open about who I am, my career journey, and what drives me people often thought I was aloof or intimidating. Being relatable to others is important to me and partly why I am a nurse and it took me time to find balance with being my authentic self and a successful woman in insurance.

While I flex my approach based on my audience and believe that is likely the case for most women, I stay true to my values and guiding principles. What do I mean by that? My attire for a board meeting in New York is more formal than a board meeting in Los Angeles. My level of engagement will vary if I am the most senior person in the room, or not. I read my audience and may dial up or back my personality, as needed. For me, this is bringing my authentic self to work.

What advice would you give to women who are just starting their careers in the insurance industry?

Katie: Explore, set a plan of how to get where you want to go, and don’t be afraid to take risks!

Insurance is a complex industry employing a multitude of disciplines and skillsets. Take time to explore and understand the industry so you can find a path that excites and motivates you. From there, set a plan of where you want to go and how you’re going to get there, leveraging management feedback, mentorship and networking from those who’ve already paved the way. Don’t be afraid to take risks and go after challenging roles, as this is where you learn the most. And lastly, ALWAYS be your own advocate!

Suvarna: I would emphasize being self-confident and believing in oneself. Have a problem-solving mindset and be part of the solution. Raise your hand often to take on additional assignments to push yourself. Be persistent. The industry is constantly evolving, so stay curious and always keep learning so you can innovate. Be kind and respectful, but at the same time, stand up for yourself. Find a mentor whom you trust and who will coach you through your career. I constantly give the same pieces of advice to my young daughter who is a freshman at college, and I find that they apply regardless of where you are in your career.

Deborah: First, I’d congratulate them for choosing a career that is essential to helping people navigate through adversity and offers endless opportunities for lifelong learning and career growth. I’d tell them that they’re part of an industry that is undergoing an essential transformation to being far more diverse and inclusive for women, and in every sense of those terms. Most importantly I’d tell them to seek out the many highly successful women in this field who are inspired to help the next generation, and to make connections early and often.  

Kimberly: Believe in yourself. We all question, can I do this? Know that you can do it, you deserve it, and be flexible to take the next opportunity even if it might not be the opportunity you thought would come your way. Be open to meeting others and seek out opportunities to do so. Networking is important for everyone in the industry and certainly women entering the insurance industry. Find your sponsors, those who will support you when you do not know it, those who will help you learn, grow, and get to the next level. Be open to mentors who will be your cheerleader, give you the tough feedback, and the advisor you need for the given scenario. Always stay inquisitive and learn as insurance is an industry that is continually evolving.

Megan Nelson

Analytics Consultant, Gallagher Bassett 

I am passionate about innovation because it is something anyone can do and it can improve your life and the lives of others. Many have the perception that innovation is coming up with the “next big thing” but there are so many ways be innovative on a smaller scale, like simply finding better ways to do your current role. 

Whether innovation is central to what you do or you are looking for ways to be more innovative, the RISE Innovation Committee is a fun way to explore innovations in the insurance industry while building relationships with some incredible people.

My vision for the committee is to really engage our committee members through our initiatives this year. Our committee is a diverse and talented group of insurance professionals and we have only scratched the surface of what our committee can accomplish by bringing all of these skillsets together.  

-Megan Nelson, 2022 Innovation Committee Chair

Megan is an Analytics Consultant at Gallagher Bassett where her team generates innovative solutions to improve claim outcomes for claimants and clients. She is passionate about building up the skills of others and increasing awareness of opportunities within insurance. Megan lives in Chicago and is a world traveler, a math nerd, a singer, a golfer, a golden retriever lover and a board game enthusiast.