Jessica Ackley isn’t wasting any time setting herself up for a successful career in the insurance industry.

After finishing her first year at Illinois State, the Texas native spent her first summer break interning with CNA Financial in Chicago—a tough position to land, especially for a freshman.

It’s exactly the kind of experience Ackley hoped to get when she chose Illinois State for its nationally ranked actuarial science program. And even though she was from Texas, Ackley’s academic success in high school earned her Illinois State’s lower in-state tuition rate, plus several merit-based scholarships.

“They really worked with me financially to make it happen,” Ackley said.

Ackley knew she might be leaving the Lone Star State for college, and she said it was weird at first to go to Illinois State “where I literally didn’t know anyone.” But she started making friends right away.

“I found a lot of people—more people than I expected—that I really clicked with,” Ackley said.

Ackley is equally impressed by her academic experience so far at Illinois State, including her professors in actuarial science and in the School of Music, where the piano player picked up a minor. Ackley is also part of the Honors Program, which allowed her to travel to Germany last May as part of a special class.

Meanwhile, she’s taking full advantage of Illinois State’s actuarial science program to advance toward her career. She’s been named a Katie Scholar in the Katie School of Insurance and Financial Services, a Pinnacle Actuarial Resources Scholar, and a Redbird Academic Scholarship winner.

Illinois State’s industry connections have also paid off for Ackley. While Bloomington-Normal is home to insurers like State Farm and Country Financial, Ackley landed the interview for her CNA Financial internship at an on-campus internship fair hosted by Illinois State’s Career Center.

Ackley actually had to choose between two summer internship offers.

“I’ve had some great experiences as a result of coming to ISU,” Ackley said. “I love it here.”

Ryan Denham can be reached at