Scott College of Business celebrates 25 years of success for the insurance and risk management program

April 28, 2014

First-generation college student Brandon Nettrouer came to Indiana State University two years ago in search of a major.

He found much more than that, thanks to the insurance and risk management program, where he is an example of the tremendous talent the program has produced in the last quarter of a century.

For one of the Scott College of Business' premier undergraduate programs - insurance and risk management -- the road to national recognition began in 1988 through the development of a rigorous curriculum, significant partnerships with industry leaders and a strong commitment to experiential learning beyond the classroom.

"I realize that the opportunities that I, along with so many other students in this program have had, have been life changing. The networking, the connections, the mentors, the internship opportunities, the education-all have given our scholars a priceless knowledge of the insurance and risk management industry," Nettrouer said.

"We have value in this program," he added. "We have a close connection with industry professionals and an even closer connection with our professors. We are given the tools to succeed not only in college, but in the working world as well. We get the experience of the unknown working world before we are forced to enter it. As Sycamore insurance students, we have a leg up on our competition."

Fresh ideas and nuanced thinkers, like Nettrouer, are just what the insurance industry needs in the 21st century, said Kim Oliphant Smith, CEO and president of Indiana Farmers Mutual Insurance Company of Indianapolis and keynote speaker for Indiana State's Insurance and Risk Management 25th anniversary celebration.

Smith, who earned her bachelor's degree from Indiana State in 1977 and later a law degree from Indiana University, began her insurance career in 1980 with Indiana Insurance Company as a claims attorney. She later joined Indiana Farmers Mutual Insurance Company in 2000 as vice president of human resources and general counsel and was named executive vice president of general counsel in 2012 and more recently, president and CEO.

"For an industry that bases its very foundation on risk, we're pretty risk averse," said Smith, who also serves as chair of the Indiana State University Foundation board of directors. "We need to take small, incrementally measured risks. We need to measure how we're doing as an industry, not just with our financial ratios, but we need to do a good job of measuring how we're doing in the eyes of the customer. I think we can do better. I know we can.

"Look at the work this school has been doing for 25 years and the talent that is put out. Our industry has the resources, the capital, the people. There's no reason our industry can't be out front leading the way. Let's put our resources and talent to work, and let's make our industry a leader in exceeding the expectations of the 21st century consumer."

It's a task the insurance and risk management program started working toward under the leadership of Larry Coleman, who began his career at Indiana State in 1971. He became coordinator of academic insurance programs in 1989 and served as the first chairperson of the department of insurance and risk management.

"The donors we had often asked me, if they gave their support, how were we going to use the resources and how would they know how the support was going to be used?" he said. "My answer was always very sincere. I said that we would make every effort to establish and maintain a quality program in insurance and risk management and, hopefully, we have fulfilled that promise."

Coleman is credited with starting the program's advisory council and creating strong partnerships with industry leaders from all around the country. Those company leaders have helped promote the program and provide students with valuable experiences and support through summer internships and more named and company-supported scholarships than any other program in the Scott College of Business.

After Coleman retired in 1995, the program was directed for 13 years by Dr. Mary Ann Boose Kent, now retired coordinator and professor of the program. She served as the program's second coordinator.

"Under her leadership, the insurance program continued to grow and flourish, increasing both enrollment and industry participation," according to Dr. Brien Smith, dean of the Scott College of Business. "Dr. Boose Kent is credited with starting the insurance and risk management golf outing, which today raises more than $25,000 annually for student professional development initiatives. She was instrumental in advocating for the insurance and risk management program to be named a Program of National Distinction by Indiana State in 2007."

Others recognized at the ceremony celebrating the insurance program's 25 years were Don Gongaware and Pete Hudson.

Gongaware, a former insurance executive with then Indianapolis insurance giant Conseco, was recognized for his support and guidance as a past insurance advisory council member and Gongaware Center benefactor.

He had a vision to establish a center to support the program and start a scholarship program to recruit young talent into the insurance and financial services industries. The gift from Don and his wife Pat was then the largest personal donation in Indiana State's history.

"In 1998, after a $5 million gift from Don and Patricia Gongaware, the Gongaware Center was created," Dean Smith said, adding that around 32 students have graduated from the Gongaware Scholarship Program and 13 students are currently enrolled. "The establishment of the Gongaware Center has assisted in the continued development of the insurance and risk management program and has drawn high-achieving high school students into the insurance program. What a difference (Gongaware) has made for so many young men and women in the state of Indiana."

Hudson, a founding member of the college's Insurance Advisory Council was recognized for his unwavering support of the program, especially his ability to build industry support and enthusiasm for program initiatives. Hudson ended up serving on the council for several years, including as council president.

"In late 1988, Terre Haute agent Ed Wormser called to inform Hudson that Dr. Coleman had put together an insurance major degree program at Indiana State and asked if I would join his advisory council. I declined," Hudson said. "I was, with four other CEO's, trying to launch a minor in insurance and risk management degree at another Indiana university. Shortly, thereafter, Dr. Coleman asked if I would review his planned curriculum. I agreed and was overwhelmed with his proposal, his vision and his contagious passion, and I promptly joined as a member and resigned from the other council."

It was the vision and dedication of the program's early leaders that set the firm foundation for students like Tim Leman, a 1997 Indiana State graduate and president and CEO of Gibson insurance company in South Bend. Leman also received ISU's G.O.L.D. (Graduate Of Last Decade) Award in 2004 and is a current member of the Scott College of Business Dean's Executive Council and former member of its Insurance Advisory Council.

"Today, as a CEO of a 100-employee organization, Indiana State makes my business better," Leman said. "It has a huge impact on my organization because of being such a great talent pipeline. This year, we have hired three Indiana State graduates who we call No. 1 draft picks.

"Today, it's about an opportunity to fulfill my duty to help others just as I was helped early on and to help students decide to get into this great business."

Writer: Betsy Simon, media relations assistant director, Office of Communications and Marketing, Indiana State University, 812-237-7972 or betsy.simon@indstate.edu