USC’s New Risk Management Program Draws Students Looking for Mentors

February 18, 2019

Kristen Jaconi can hardly contain her excitement when discussing the topic of risk management.

It’s clearly a passion for Jaconi, who spends much of her time passing on her knowledge to students in the new Risk Management Program at University of Southern California’s Marshall School of Business.

The program is only two years old, but it has grown from only a handful of students declaring their minor in the program to 28 students currently enrolled, according to Jaconi, who was appointed the program’s director in 2018.

The program was kickstarted with support from Steve Wilder, vice president of risk management for the Walt Disney Co., and John Barrett, an executive vice president at Aon. The program is also supported by an advisory council of over 15 companies, including insurers, brokerage firms and public companies.

The council is packed with well-recognized names in the insurance industry, such as Alliant, Allianz, Berkshire Hathaway, Integro, Arthur J. Gallagher, R-T Specialty, Lockton, Worldwide Facilities and Marsh.

Lindsay Moore, a broker with Worldwide Facilities LLC, is one of those involved with the program.

She said USC’s new program not only fills “a significant geographic need for our industry” in the Western region, but it seeds new risk management graduates from a leading, nationally recognized university.

“This is a win-win opportunity for USC graduates and for organizations like Worldwide Facilities,” Moore said.

The stated goal of the program is to educate the next generation of risk management leaders for an increasingly complex business environment through a curriculum focused on stimulating critical thinking and sharpening analytical skills..’

The minor requires 20 units of course work. Two required courses are Introduction to Enterprise Risk Management, and Introduction to Risk Management and Insurance.

Electives are available to be taken in a number of disciplines within USC’s various schools. Over a dozen available electives include courses like cyber law, behavioral economics, project management, digital forensics, financial derivatives and games and economics.

“We are taking the view that risk management is multidisciplinary,” Jaconi explained.

Jaconi teaches the Introduction to Enterprise Risk Management course, and Ward Ching, a managing director for Aon’s Western region, teaches Introduction to Risk Management and Insurance.

Jaconi, who also teaches a new elective in the minor, Risk Management in Entertainment, Sports, and the Arts, has a background as a securities attorney. She also formerly worked for Promontory Financial Group, an IBM company, and was a senior policy adviser with the U.S. Department of Treasury from 2007 to 2009.

In her Introduction to Enterprise Risk Management course, she has students follow public companies and examine the risk factor section in their 10K filings. Students are also asked to draft mock risk assessments for the companies.

“We teach them the first step in the risk management process, which is identifying risk,” she said.

There have been no graduates yet since the program is so young, but the school expects to graduate its first Risk Management minors in May 2020.

According to Jaconi, the majority of those enrolled in the program are business majors. Other majors enrolled in the Risk Management program include majors in international relations, economics, mathematics, urban studies and planning.

The program is designed for enrolled USC students, so it’s not currently open to professionals seeking continuing education courses, however, Jaconi does encourage those in the industry who want to be involved in the program to contact her to discuss being part of the council. Her email is kjaconi@marshall.usc.edu.

“We would welcome new members,” Jaconi added.

The program emphasizes professional development through internships and mentorships.

Mentorships is one aspect of the program that Jaconi believes is driving student interest.

“We promised to those minoring in Risk Management a mentor from the risk management profession,” she said. “The appeal of the Risk Management minor is due in significant part to that mentorship program.”

Mentors have signed up for the program from many of the advisory council members, including Aon, USI, Chubb, Marsh, Worldwide and Keenan.

The mentorship program pairs students with risk management professionals for the academic year. It requires students to create an independent development plan with goals and action steps, and it requires mentors and mentees to meet at least twice a semester, as well as to participate in a shadowing day at the mentor’s firm.

Jaconi believes the Risk Management program will provide a boost to the industry by funneling qualified people into an aging sector where numerous leaders are poised to retire.

And, as stated on the program’s website, managing risk is of paramount importance to the business community as a whole:

“To be successful, businesses must be able to manage their risks, that is, identify, analyze, mitigate, and communicate their risks. Risk management enables businesses to protect their balance sheets, income, employees, customers, and society from adverse events, such as natural disasters and product failures.”

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