Trois Hart was searching for a way to explain the career possibilities associated with a new University of Saint Francis degree program.
"Would you like to follow the PGA tour around the country, walking each hole of each course?" she asked the son of her husband’s golfing buddy.
With a degree in risk management and insurance, Hart told him, he could examine each golf course and point out to officials the places where the spectators’ gallery is a little too close to the action. The goal, she said, is to reduce the risk that someone will get hurt – whether it’s at a golf course, a racetrack or an amusement park.
That’s just one of many jobs the university’s graduates will be qualified for with the new bachelor’s degree, said Hart, University of Saint Francis spokeswoman.
Sister Elise Kriss, the university’s president, and Joseph Svitek, Ash Brokerage’s chief financial officer, unveiled the risk management and insurance degree Wednesday. Svitek is also co-chairman of Northeast Indiana Specialty Insurers, an industry group known as NISI.
"This is a big deal for NISI, but also a very big deal for our community," Svitek said.
Specialty insurers write policies that cover much more exotic things than cars, boats and houses. Specialties include sporting events, entertainment venues and amusement parks.
The local industry group was formed last November to create awareness of the local concentration of specialty insurers and develop talent to enter the field, which employs more than 4,000 professionals in the area. The overall insurance industry employs more than 11,000 in northeast Indiana, officials said.
Average annual salary for insurance industry jobs is $63,000, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. In 2014, average annual income for northeast Indiana residents was $38,348, according to preliminary data from the Community Research Institute at IPFW.
Economic development officials have made increasing average income one of their primary goals. Creating more insurance industry jobs fits into that strategy.
"It’s responding to employers’ needs, which is what we should be doing," said John Urbahns, Greater Fort Wayne Inc.’s executive vice president for economic development. The nonprofit is the city and county’s primary economic development organization.
"We look to strengthen the industry here locally and look to build it as best we can," he added about specialty insurance.
Greater Fort Wayne officials also work with area employers in the manufacturing and defense contracting industries to identify and address issues, including skills gaps in the workforce, Urbahns said.
The University of Saint Francis received a $1 million grant from the Lilly Endowment Fund to support various projects that will expand employment opportunities for students, Kriss said. Officials spent about half the grant to develop this degree program, which has been in the planning stages for about two years.
Extensive research was done to make sure the need for risk management professionals exists, Svitek said.
Similar programs exist at Ball State, Butler and Indiana State universities, but they are far enough away that it can be difficult for northeast Indiana specialty insurers to recruit those graduates, he said.
Svitek estimated that employers in his industry offer 20 to 25 paid internships every year in this region.
The risk management and insurance degree program, which launches in the fall, will be within the Keith Busse School of Business and Entrepreneurial Leadership.
Saint Francis plans to move its business school into the former chamber of commerce building at 826 Ewing St. The downtown location will be convenient for students who get paid internships with local insurers, Urbahns said.
Eve-Lynn Clarke, director of the risk management and insurance program at Saint Francis, said she plans to invite specialty insurance professionals into the classroom to work directly with students.
Classroom work includes real-world scenarios, such as the stage collapse at the 2011 Indiana State Fair, when seven people were killed and about 100 were injured.
Medical malpractice, computer hacking and severe weather events are among the risks that clients seek policies to cover.
Brad Hartman is a 21-year-old junior majoring in accounting and finance at Saint Francis. The central Indiana native attends classes and works at Ash Brokerage as part of a two-year co-op experience.
Although Hartman didn’t originally set out to work in insurance, his positive experience at Ash has sold him on the industry.
"It’s really easy to relate what you’re doing to someone’s life," he said.
Hartman, who plays on the university’s mens basketball team, said many students on campus are involved in athletics. The overlap between specialty insurance and sporting events, he said, could make risk management and insurance an attractive career choice for fellow students.