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Firms, The Council, UM Commit to Grow Larger, More Diverse Talent Pipeline
Stakeholders in the new Insurance Certificate Program gathered recently at the University of Mississippi. Pictured here are, front row, from left, Angela Brown, senior director of development, School of Business Administration; Andre Liebenberg, Robertson Chair of Insurance and director of the Center for Insurance Transformation; Steve Fier, associate professor and associate director of the Center for Insurance Transformation; and Shawnboda Mead, vice chancellor for diversity and community engagement; second row, from left, Jeff Rodriguez, president and CEO, Brown & Riding; David McDivitt, regional operations executive, McGriff Insurance Services; Aimee Kilpatrick, COO and executive vice president, Cadence Insurance; Scott Howard, regional operations executive, McGriff Insurance Services; Steve Shelton, director of operations, Ross & Yerger; Hughes Miller, director of industry engagement; third row, from left, Mike Meyer, senior executive vice president, Cadence Insurance; Stephen Fountain, regional executive vice president, Arthur J. Gallagher; Markham McKnight, president and CEO, Cadence Insurance; Chris Boone, president, corporate and group solutions, Cadence Insurance; and Ken Crerar, president and CEO, The Council of Insurance Agents & Brokers.

The University of Mississippi has launched a new Insurance Certificate Program to provide students from historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) in Mississippi with the training, networks and experience to enter an insurance industry ripe with job opportunities, thanks to a partnership with industry and The Council of Insurance Agents & Brokers (The Council).

Housed within the School of Business Administration Risk Management and Insurance (RMI) program’s newly created Center for Insurance Transformation (CIT), the 10-week online Insurance Certificate Program and subsequent internships have the potential to change the industry and the lives of participants. Funding from the founding industry partners will support the insurance industry’s need to raise awareness around careers in insurance and grow a larger, more diverse workplace pipeline that better represents its customer base, said UM Chancellor Glenn Boyce.

“Our Risk Management and Insurance program has rightly earned a strong reputation for developing a pipeline of future industry leaders,” Boyce said. “We now are focusing on our new Center for Insurance Transformation to produce solutions that address the growing talent shortage in this vital industry while introducing excellent career opportunities to HBCU students.

“We are grateful for the support of founding partners and The Council, who have provided the generous resources necessary to offer this rigorous program at no cost to participants. Students will be educated and mentored to take advantage of rewarding jobs available in the insurance industry,” the chancellor said.

The Council of Insurance Agents & Brokers leaders Elizabeth McDaid, center, and Julia Ruiz, and Jeff Rodriguez, president and CEO of Brown and Riding, right, visit with Ken Cyree, dean of the School of Business Administration, from left, and Andre Liebenberg, Robertson Chair of Insurance and director of the Center for Insurance Transformation, in fall 2021 to discuss planning efforts for the Insurance Certificate Program at a meeting on the Ole Miss campus.

The founding partners include Arthur Gallagher & Co. of Rolling Meadows, Illinois; Brown & Riding Insurance Services Co. of Dallas, TX; Cadence Insurance of Tupelo, Mississippi; McGriff Insurance Services of Charlotte, North Carolina; and Ross & Yerger Inc. of Jackson, Mississippi. The Council worked with UM faculty over the past year to format the program, and The Council Foundation and founding partners have collectively provided $1 million in funding to launch this initiative.

The Council Foundation is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit created by The Council to attract diverse talent to the insurance industry.

“The Certificate in Risk Management and Insurance makes the wonderful career opportunities in risk management and insurance available to a more diverse group of students,” Andre Liebenberg, the Gwenette P. and Jack W. Robertson Chair of Insurance and professor of finance, said. “Our founding partners are essential to the success of this program and to the Center for Insurance Transformation, which was created to coordinate the certificate program and several other new initiatives.

“The mission of the CIT is to transform lives and the insurance industry. As a result of the founding partners’ financial commitments, we can remove all barriers for students to take the certificate program, attend professional development events and experience life-changing internship opportunities.”

Liebenberg continued, “In addition to financing the startup period for the certificate program and providing paid internships for certificate graduates, these companies are providing mentorship and support for the certificate students and will be involved in recruiting certificate students and participating as guest speakers.”

Ole Miss and its industry partners have plans to fully fund the participation of 60 students, or 20 annually, as the initial cohorts of the three-year startup program. The course will be hosted during the fall semester, with students attending class two hours per week (one hour on demand and one hour live virtually). Partner firms will have the opportunity to engage with students during the live virtual meetings, and students will attend an exclusive on-campus event for founding partners to network with and recruit the students.

Jeff Rodriguez, president and CEO of Brown & Riding, initially proposed the idea of teaching risk management and insurance courses to students at HBCUs and helped connect Liebenberg to The Council and other industry leaders he felt would be interested in supporting this partnership. He said his company’s support stemmed from the belief that the initiative holds great potential to help participants gain rewarding careers.

“When my kids were very little, I would take them to the park, and they would see the older kids on the swings and want to join in. They couldn’t quite get the momentum going at that age but if I gave them just a little push or help, they would get rolling and do it on their own,” he said.

“Sometimes somebody just needs a little boost and you’d be surprised at what people are capable of achieving.”

Over the next 15 years, 50% of the current insurance workforce will retire, leaving more than 400,000 open positions unfilled, while less than 25% of the industry is under the age of 35, according to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s “The America Works Report.”

“We are committed to growing and supporting a diverse talent pool for the insurance industry,” said Aimee Kilpatrick, chief operating officer and executive vice president of Cadence Insurance. “As the first program of its kind, and one that delivers best-in-class insurance education to students in their home universities, Ole Miss is taking an important and much-needed step in sharing the story of our industry and its opportunities with students across Mississippi’s strong network of HBCUs and community colleges.

“By supporting the Ole Miss Center for Insurance Transformation, we are able to invest in students in Mississippi and introduce them to this thriving industry,” Kilpatrick added.

Currently, risk management and insurance programs at universities are meeting just 10-15% of the industry’s needs.

“The goal is not to recruit students away from their universities but to empower them to continue their current education plans while being prepared for careers in insurance”, said Liebenberg. “The program is targeting sophomores and juniors pursuing any academic major at HBCUs that do not have insurance programs.”

“We’re proud to be a founding partner of the Ole Miss RMI Program’s Center for Insurance Transformation,” said Dudley D. Wooley, CEO and COO of Ross & Yerger, the first organization to commit to funding this initiative. “This is important work not only for us at Ross & Yerger but also for the entire state of Mississippi. One of the biggest challenges we face, and we’re certainly not alone, is talent: identifying, recruiting and developing people.

“This initiative will raise awareness about careers in insurance and diversify the talent pool. It’s no secret that minorities are under-represented in the insurance industry. We want our workforce to better reflect our community, and the work of the CIT will help us all achieve that goal,” Wooley said.

“The next step is to permanently fund the center and expand the certificate program once we have demonstrated its success,” Liebenberg said. “The idea of the certificate program was an answer to prayer, and I believe that it will make a real impact on students’ lives. I hope that the graduates of our program will go on to be industry leaders and that our program will serve as a blueprint for others throughout the country.”

Each student will complete a paid summer internship opportunity with an industry employer to allow students to increase their insurance industry exposure and further develop skill sets, said Hughes Miller, the university’s director of industry engagement. Depending on the location of the internship, a travel and relocation stipend may be provided.

“In addition, a mentor will be assigned to each student during his or her internship to promote and ensure a positive work experience,” said Miller.

“To cover the talent gap, we need to hire three young insurance professionals for each one that is currently employed, but only 4% of millennials have an interest in working in our industry,” said Ken Crerar, president and CEO of The Council. “Internships are a vital recruitment tool and we’re honored to be a part of an initiative that will clear obstacles for students at HBCUs and give them the well-deserved opportunity to pursue insurance careers.”

Upon accepting a job offer with an employer partner, students are guaranteed enrollment in The Council’s Insurance Professional School, a comprehensive nine-month curriculum that leads to the Accredited Professional in Risk & Insurance (APRI®) — an early career designation demonstrating mastery of the foundational knowledge and skills needed for success in the industry.

UM’s RMI program is one of the oldest in the U.S. and has been recognized as a Global Center of Insurance Excellence.

“We are extremely grateful to these industry partners who have invested in our RMI program, immersing our students in real-world experiences and connecting them with prospective employers,” said Ken Cyree, dean of the School of Business Administration. “The program’s faculty are award-winning teachers and researchers and are committed to preparing students for career success.

“The university is very much committed to this endeavor, as evidenced by facilitating agreements with HBCUs in the state and investing in an additional professor for the RMI program.”

The university strives to be a resource and partner for industry though mutually beneficial relationships. To learn more about the university’s industry engagement initiative, contact Hughes Miller at and 662-915-2885 or visit

By Tina H. Hahn, UM Development


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