Dr. Kevin Ahlgrim will be the new chair of the Department of Finance, Insurance, and Law (FIL), effective July 1.
Dr. Ajay Samant, dean of the Illinois State University College of Business (COB), described Ahlgrim as someone who “cares deeply about students.”
“He has a long record of outstanding service to his department and to the COB,” Samant continued. “His appointment is strongly supported by his colleagues, and I expect he will provide excellent leadership to his department.”
Prior to pursuing a career in academia, the associate professor was a health actuary. Unlike some of his colleagues at the time, Ahlgrim enjoyed the process of studying for actuarial exams. This interest in learning new things was part of the driving force that led him to consider making the move to the realm of education. He came to ISU in 2003 and initially taught finance classes but switched his focus to insurance in 2013. He enjoys working with industry partners through the Katie School of Insurance and Risk Management and is a Member of the American Academy of Actuaries (MAAA) and an Associate of the Society of Actuaries (ASA).
Ahlgrim is particularly looking forward to “trying to come up with a newer, more modern curriculum” that incorporates technology and the 21st-century skills companies are looking for when selecting new employees.
“We have to prepare students for what is coming and what is here right now,” he observed. “There have been a lot of developments in fintech and insuretech. We’re trying to upgrade (the curriculum) to reflect the new needs of the industry.”
In addition to updating the curriculum, one of Ahlgrim’s goals as the incoming department chair is to increase extracurricular opportunities for FIL students. In his new role, he also hopes to increase communication with students through avenues such as social media in order to make them more aware of events and ways to get involved that can enhance their academic experience.
“Many employers look for things beyond the classroom,” he observed before describing how getting involved on campus can serve as a “quasi-internship” that provides students with valuable skills and networking opportunities. “It’s a good thing to put on a resume. It’s an easy thing to talk about, and it makes you sound good to employers. It puts you in the right stack (of resumes).”
He encourages students in the FIL department to participate in student organizations and pursue professional designations, noting that such activities give them “additional skills and hopefully it motivates them to learn more and to continue to be a lifelong learner.”
The incoming chair is a proponent of hands-on learning and pointed to the department’s two student-managed portfolios as valuable resources for bringing classroom topics to life in tangible ways.
“It’s that kind of experiential learning that I think gives students a good idea of what they’re getting into long term, so I want to promote those kind of experiential learning in different areas,” he said. “(Students) get to figure out what they like. It’s better to do it now and figure it out now than in their first job and realize, ‘Why did I get into this?’”
As they navigate academic and career choices, Ahlgrim advises students to get to know their professors.
“I think the department has a great group of people,” he said. “They’re interested in teaching. They’re very welcoming. Their doors are open. Office hours are for (students’) benefit, and they are probably one of the most underused resources that are available to them. By knowing their instructors they can open the doors in a lot of directions based on the interests they have.”
Ahlgrim added he feels the department has “a very positive future” and shared the quality of his FIL colleagues was one of the main reasons he was interested in applying for the chair position.
The faculty member also noted that alumni involvement can have a meaningful impact on the quality of the department. He encourages Redbird graduates to stay in touch with the COB and to look for ways to impact the current generation of ISU students.
“The value of the degree continues to go up as our program gets better and better and better,” he observed. “When (alumni) come back and share stories and career advice, those are things that continue to add value to their degrees even once they’re gone, and it adds value to the current students as well, so it’s kind of a win-win for everyone. It helps instructors. It makes things more relevant. Students can start to tie what they see in class with what people are actually doing in practice.”
When not in the office, Ahlgrim enjoys running and cooking from scratch. He particularly likes experimenting with different styles of pizza. Laughing, he also admitted to being “easily the worst guitar player that owns five guitars, but I try and pretend (to play).”