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Class Teaches Risk Management for Life

Bill Van Ess ’86 has been a familiar face on campus for decades as a member of the board of trustees and the President’s Task Force, a singer in the Dudley Birder Chorale and a participant in other volunteer activities.

But to teach an actual class? As an adjunct professor? That had never crossed his mind.

“Eliot Elfner [Business Administration] caught me one day as I was walking across campus and said, ‘I have a project for you. We want you to teach an insurance class,’ ” recalls Van Ess, an independent financial adviser and insurance agent with Spectrum Insurance Group in Green Bay. “I had taught continuing education courses for my industry, but I never taught out of a textbook before.”

With the help of professors around the country and contacts within his industry, Van Ess developed a two-semester, 400-level course that covers the basics of risk management. Subjects range from personal property and casualty insurance, through investment tools such as IRAs and Roth IRAs, and employee benefits such as 401(k) plans. Church Mutual Insurance Company sponsors the class.

“I’m completing my third full year of teaching this course, and I love it,” Van Ess says. “It’s a blast. They didn’t have to twist my arm too hard. I love doing whatever I can do at St. Norbert.”

An introduction to real life
In addition to stepping his students through the basics of risk management, Van Ess also wants to open their eyes to the career opportunities within the insurance and investment industries.

“Insurance is an industry that nobody thinks about for a career, but there are so many job opportunities,” Van Ess says. “I teach 22 or 23 kids per semester, and quite a few have gotten into the insurance world in one form or another.”

Justin Trepes ’15 got a head start in understanding the world of insurance and investments when he inherited an IRA from his father and served an internship with Northwestern Mutual. It was enough to attract him to the industry, and he has a full-time job waiting for him at Spectrum Insurance. 

“Insurance is what I wanted to do when I started in college,” Trepes says. “The only other thing I’d like to see from this class is the ability to take the insurance exams and pass them.”

Trepes states the course’s subject matter is appropriate for every student, regardless of academic major.

“A lot of the information is things kids need to know,” he says. “Otherwise, they will have a rude awakening when [their benefits package] gets thrown at them when they get their first full-time job.” 

Mom and Dad won’t always be there
Van Ess focuses on making the material understandable for students, knowing in most cases parents have handled insurance decisions to this point in their lives.

“I’ve had many students say everyone should take this class, and I agree with them,” he says. “This might be the first time they actually shop for car insurance, because mom and dad usually take care of that. These are life lessons, and not just about insurance.”

Van Ess leverages his industry contacts to bring in guest speakers who are experts in a variety of subjects, including group benefits, business risk management and actuarial science.

“I love what I do,” he says. “Every day is a new adventure. I still learn new things every day.”


June 2, 2015