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A young man hugging a German shepherd dog.

Math alumnus fast-tracks degree to actuarial success

By Grace Peterman

A good job and a big yard keep James Hansen and his canine pal happy.

James Hansen (Mathematics ’20, Actuarial Science Minor) was in 8th grade when his aunt foretold his future career. “She said, ‘you’re good at math, you should be an actuary,’” he recalls. “I was like, ‘Oh, what’s that?’”

Less than a decade later, Hansen has found a niche as a full-time Actuarial Analyst at GovInvest, aiding government agencies in their fiscal planning. He credits his success to determination and decisiveness: “I stuck to the schedule and hammered it out,” he said of getting an education.

When Hansen entered Oregon State, he was already well on his way to achieving that goal. He earned an associate’s degree at Clackamas Community College while still in high school, taking over 100 credits of general education and advanced math coursework.

Oregon State welcomes and encourages students to earn college credit prior to enrollment and accepts credit earned through a wide variety of options. Our Degree Partnership Program also allows students to enroll at both OSU and any Oregon community college concurrently, minimizing overall college costs and allowing for more flexibility in course scheduling.

For Hansen, this early investment of time and energy allowed him to jump into 300-400 level courses when he came to Oregon State, finishing his B.S. in just two years.

Plugging in to actuarial science

Hansen attended Canby High School outside Portland, where his soccer coach happened to be friends with Oregon State’s Actuary in Residence Manny Hur. Hansen was able to meet Hur for a job shadow and career counseling session. They chatted for a couple hours, “and that was basically the decision right there,” he said of choosing Oregon State.

Once at the College, Hansen found his instructors helpful, accommodating and inspiring — even when it came to graduating during the pandemic.

Mina Ossiander was just very real with it,” Hansen said of the Professor of Mathematics’s probability courses. “I loved her. I think that there are some professors out there that act like their course was your whole life, but Mina was not that person.” When classes went remote due to COVID, Hansen said Ossiander was respectful of students’ changing needs and challenges in a time of unprecedented instability.

He was also impressed by how Assistant Professor of Statistics James Molyneux handled the transition to remote coursework. “I had him the only term I took online, he was amazing, again just super down to earth, really good speaker, great at teaching, and encouraged conversation between students," Hansen said. “I’d say that online class [Statistics 413] was the best-set-up of any class I took.”

Finishing his degree in two years kept Hansen busy, and biking to class allowed him to build exercise into his schedule. Corvallis and Oregon State are ranked nationally for bike-friendliness, and 30% of Oregon State students opt to bike to campus.

Finding a niche in a small startup

Through participation in the College’s Actuarial Science Club, Hansen found an internship with a large health insurance company right after graduation. While the predictability of working there was convenient, Hansen likes the flexibility and variety of his current position. At software startup GovInvest, “I get to have a lot more impact and say than I would at a larger company,” he said.

Based in Portland, GovInvest advises public institutions and private companies in their pension and benefits planning. “It’s very niche,” said Hansen of his work helping government agencies interface with their employees. “Say a firefighter wants a health benefit when they retire. The city’s not going to know right off the top of their head, ‘oh this is the amount of money we need to have saved up by the time they retire to meet that liability.’ Our work makes it so that there can be a conversation there without just guessing. It provides certainty in very uncertain circumstances.”

Hansen said he likes the non-traditional nature of his work, and the leadership opportunities afforded by running with a small team. “It’s a rewarding accomplishment to see how everything kind of lines up in the end,” he said.

Embracing stability and commitment

What Hansen finds most fulfilling about his work is the freedom it gives him to live a life he loves. Hansen and his wife met in high school, got married in college and recently bought a house together in Molalla. Having their own space with a yard for their dog is a dream that was worth the time and hard work it took to make it happen.

One of the resources that was integral to their success as a young couple in college was the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) offered through the Department of Human Services. Hansen said the decision to apply was a game-changer: “we were living off, like, ramen before,” he joked. “And then suddenly we could afford real food!” He encourages students who qualify to take advantage of this program. Assistance with eligibility questions can be found through the OSU Human Services Resource Center.

All along, finding the path to success for Hansen took trust, discipline and a series of decisions — from taking those advanced math classes back in high school, to getting married at 19 and beyond. Hansen said a love for certainty and stability have motivated him along the way.

Yet sometimes college students get stuck in trying to make decisions that will bring them the perfect future they picture — especially when choosing a major. Hansen said getting a degree is sometimes less about making the perfect choice and “more about showing you can just commit to finishing something.” For students wavering between two great options, “just pick something,” he said. “Make a decision, and if that decision turns out not to be the right one, then switch it up.”