VSU Mathematics and Economics student breaking barriers
First VSU Student to land an internship with Markel Corporation
Virginia State University, VA– One of the best kept secrets at Virginia State University is hidden within the College of Engineering’s Department of Mathematics and Economics. It’s a Concentration called Actuarial Science. Most people don’t even know what that is, but at VSU, we prepare students for very challenging careers as actuaries in the insurance industry, investment companies, banking, financial management and consulting firms. Actuaries apply their deep understanding of statistics and other mathematical principles to analyze risk for insurance companies and other financial organizations. Their work usually determines the rates we pay to insure our cars, homes, and health. Actuaries are a highly respected profession, and people who are able to progress through a rigorous series of industry-standard examinations can earn salaries in excess of $100,000 per year.
Early in the spring semester, VSU hosted an informational session on actuarial careers by Markel Corporation, a giant in the insurance industry whose roots are right here in Central Virginia. That led to Markel interviewing three outstanding VSU candidates for a summer internship, and ultimately resulted in them offering a role to Miss Sha’Kirra Brown, a freshman student and Army ROTC Cadet.
This is the first internship opportunity for Miss Brown, who comes to VSU from Mississippi. It is also the first internship that Markel Corporation has sponsored at VSU, despite having a long-standing scholarship endowment at the University. The Markel team commented that they had a difficult time choosing from the three students they interviewed, as each offered high energy, curiosity, and a passion for their major.
Sha’Kirra is working in Markel’s Fixed Income Investment group, which decides where Markel should invest assets so that they earn money at the lowest risk possible. She is supporting a team of three people – all with different backgrounds and experience levels. On a daily basis, Sha’Kirra does research to analyze Markel’s portfolio of bond holdings, and provides data to be used by the team in their decision making. This is large-scale work, and the investment portfolio’s value is just under $10 billion!
Sha’Kirra says that she “learns something new every day” and her supervisor, Ms. Sandra Chase – Senior Director of Fixed income Investments commented on how thoughtful and very eager to learn the business that Sha’Kirra is. “She is catching on to what we are teaching her, very quickly. What’s more, she is making great contributions to the group intern education sessions, asking well thought out questions and participating in discussions.” After just one week on the job, word of Sha’Kirra’s can-do approach reached Markel Corporation’s CEO Tom Gayner, who stopped into the office to meet her.
For her part, Sha’Kirra is impressed with Markel’s commitment to Diversity and Inclusion, and how they demonstrate this commitment through their “Town Hall” meetings and other venues. What’s equally impressive is that Sha’Kirra’s voice is being heard, and that she is already having an influence and impact on Markel’s process.
Like everything else today, Sha’Kirra’s internship was heavily impacted by COVID-19. For starters, Markel had to work through whether they would be able to host interns at all this summer. Then, availability of student housing became the next challenge, but Dr. Yongjin Lu, Interim Chair of the Department of Mathematics and Economics, Dr. Cheryl Adeyemi, Professor of Mathematics and Ms. Regina Barnett-Tyler, Interim Associate Vice President & Chief Student Officer, Student Success And Engagement, stepped in to help broker an off-campus housing solution. Sha’Kirra’s assignment actually began with her working from Mississippi. She was able to transition to Richmond at the beginning of June and now works onsite at Markel three days per week and remotely the other two days.
For VSU and Markel Corporation, this is a first step on what both entities hope will be a mutually beneficial journey. VSU aims to present even more high-quality students to Markel, and this has the potential to result in more internships, and ultimately to high-income, long-term roles for VSU graduates. For Sha’Kirra, right now she’s just appreciative for the current opportunity to work at something so challenging and enjoyable.