In 1976, when Steve Kolk graduated from Calvin with honors in mathematics, the actuary profession was just starting to take shape. At the time, not many people had heard of actuarial science. It was his high school math teacher, John Warners, who told him that he should go into an actuarial career. Because he knew the word “actuary” when he went into Foremost Insurance and mentioned the word, they offered him a job. He worked there part time while attending Calvin.
After graduation, the Career Center at Calvin suggested he visit professors at the University of Michigan and Michigan State University to discover what companies were hiring actuaries. Through those connections, he landed at Hartford Insurance in Hartford, Connecticut, where he stayed for nine years. His career then took him to St. Paul, Minnesota; Seattle, Washington; Madison, Wisconsin; Tampa Bay, Florida; and now, Brighton, Michigan.
In an effort to push himself past his selfdescribed introverted self, he became active in several professional associations to allow for more active and natural networking. He became treasurer of the Casualty Actuaries of the Northwest, and on Leap Day 2008, he had to pay the keynote speaker, Nobel Prize winner Evan Mills, for his talk to the group.
In handing over the check for the speech, the two talked and exchanged business cards. After their meeting, Kolk switched from focusing his work on cars and trucks to studying data pertaining to property issues with homes and buildings. Kolk said, “An international committee of casualty actuaries was formed and challenged to build a unique climate index, to measure the extreme effects of climate. Because the Nobel Prize winner I met in 2008 recommended me to the committee chair, I had the God-fortune to get in on the ground floor of creating the Actuaries’ Climate Index.”
For three years the committee curated data that could go global, and then for the next three years they selected the data they would use in the index. In 2016, the Actuaries’ Climate Index (ACI) went live. The index puts together climate indices that measure temperature, rainfall change, drought, and sea level rise. It was during this time that he was living in Florida and saw firsthand the changing sea levels in Tampa Bay.
“In coming years and decades the ACI is a tool that will enable actuaries and many others to quantify many risk multiplier effects,” Kolk said. “These climate-extreme indices are aimed at improving risk analysis of hurricanes, flood, sea level rise, and much more. This index has been launched with data for a dozen climatological regions for all of North America and will eventually go global.”
His work on the ACI has changed his life and his career trajectory. He has given numerous public talks about the index, and it has helped him form a global network of actuaries.
Just as his career has changed greatly in recent years, the field of actuarial science has also changed and developed since Kolk graduated from Calvin. While there is not one specific degree that is required for actuaries, Calvin has developed an actuarial science major to help students who want to enter the field better prepared. Kolk feels called to use his career-crowning achievement work with the ACI to help teach other actuaries understand this new field.