New degree course aims to prepare students for catastrophe reinsurance business

  • Professor Dennis Hansell

    Professor Dennis Hansell

A former Bermuda scientist aims to link the academic world and Island business to better predict disasters.

And a new course at the University of Miami — the brainchild of ex-Bermuda Institute for Ocean Science (BIOS) researcher Professor Dennis Hansell — could provide a jobs boost for Bermudians trained to assess the risk of natural disasters.

Prof Hansell, who worked at the former Bio Station in St George’s throughout the 1990s, said he got the idea for the Master of Professional Sciences degree after talking to friends in Bermuda involved in the risk business and reinsurance.

He said: “The intention is to provide a skilled workforce for the private and public sectors that can deal with risk modelling — catastrophe risk.”

Prof Hansell, who is still a member of the BIOS board of trustees, added: “In reinsurance, what they are covering in natural disaster and they need to know what the exposure is to that risk.”

He explained that the new master’s degree combined the science of the earth and ocean with analytical and statistical skills to prepare students to help predict disasters and move into reinsurance and put their skills to practical use in the industry.

Prof Hansell said he and university colleague Prof Igor Kamenkovich are due to visit the Island later this week in a recruitment drive for the Master’s programme in Natural Hazard and Catastrophe Analytics.

Prof Hansell added: “My hope is to get to the people it’s designed for so they become aware of it and know the opportunity is out there for them.”

He said: “What we’re trying to do is give post-graduate students these fundamental skills that give the access to these companies and the public sector — throughout North America as well.

He added: “Society is moving beyond the question of climate change and looking at how to adapt to it and deal with it.

“Things are changing and some of this climate change is going to be very damaging — people need to be skilled in how to prepare for it.”

Prof Hansell said that friends in Bermuda reinsurance had said it was hard to find people with appropriate training in risk and that they generally took on staff and trained them in house.

He added: “We have got the scientists who are doing the science and have the analytical skills — we can teach students these basic skills and let the individual sectors give them everything else they need.

“I’m trying to fill the gap between the kind of students we produce and the knowledge they have and the needs of the public and private sectors.

“I saw the need and the opportunity to educate people with a very targeted education to fill these jobs which appear very hard to fill.”

He added: “A lot of sectors are talking about big data — it’s about who can access, manipulate and manage the data so people can ask questions relevant to their position as a reinsurance company or government responsible for its people.”

Prof Hansell added: “Government has an interest in getting Bermudians hired in reinsurance — that doesn’t just happen. We have to target it with an education which is appropriate.”

He added that he saw the new course as an ideal fit for students with backgrounds including business, science, engineering, public health and architecture.

And Prof Hansell said that — unlike other master’s degrees — a thesis was not required, although students would have to undertake an internship.

He added: “Students will be out there networking and learning what the specific skills are in their sector.”

The University of Miami is one of the largest private research institutes in the southeastern US and the Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences is among the top research institutions of its kind in the world.

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Published Sep 23, 2014 at 8:00 am (Updated Sep 22, 2014 at 8:50 pm)

New degree course aims to prepare students for catastrophe reinsurance business

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