A mathematician at heart, Andrea Sellars wanted to become an aeronautical engineer. However, before graduating from high school, she spoke with her cousin, a recent Georgia State graduate, who convinced her to pursue a degree in actuarial science, something she hadn’t even heard of until then. As she explored the field, she quickly understood that it would give her boundless opportunities to apply her mathematical skills to the science of risk.
With six children in the family, Andrea knew that she had to work her way through school and it didn’t hurt that Georgia State was among the more affordable in the area. A commuter school like Georgia State was extremely positive for her as she could attend the college of her choice, stay home to study and work at the same time.
In the mid-60s, Georgia State was one of only 4 schools in the country that offered an actuarial science program, and GSU offered it as part of the business school, unlike the other schools that offered it in their mathematics departments. All her core requirements were business classes instead of math classes, which gave her an advantage; she explained, “When I came out of Georgia State, I had a solid understanding of how businesses operated.”
She was the only woman among the 13 students enrolled for the actuarial science program at that time. However, that didn’t discourage her from chasing her dreams. Rather, she seized the opportunity and took full advantage of it by learning as much from her classmates as she did from her professors. She credits her mother for imprinting the importance of education from childhood and instilling in her the drive to accomplish her goals.
Upon graduation, Sellars immediately started her career in the insurance industry. As she matured in her career, Sellars realized she was a people person. “I have a passion for people. I enjoy watching people grow and develop to have solid careers of their own,” she said. In order to better help people, she moved into consulting in the retirement planning field. As she had the business knowledge under her belt, doors opened in the consulting field.
Sellars found her passion as she began assisting companies that encourage their employees to think about retirement and accumulate adequate retirement savings. She found it tremendously satisfying to make a difference in people’s lives through corporate consulting. Because she enjoyed working with others to help them accomplish their goals, she involved herself in mentoring programs in the companies where she worked. She particularly enjoyed watching her mentees become full-blown consultants or managers in their roles. “It’s a personal benefit to know that you have contributed to that in your own way. It’s a reward that you can’t otherwise obtain,” she said.
Sellars continues to give back to GSU, and two years ago, she served as the chairperson of the Risk Management and Insurance (RMI) foundation. As a young, impressionable student, Andrea had the chance to learn from Kenneth Black, founder of RMI Foundation. Black had a passion for developing new fields for students at Georgia State and structured the curriculum for the actuarial sciences program. He was responsible for bringing in a talented group of professors to teach in the new program, and the RMI foundation paved the way to fund advancements for the program. In addition, the foundation helped students who needed financial assistance, and ultimately grew the RMI program into one of the best in the country.
When Sellars was a recent graduate, Black personally visited her; Sellars states that “Georgia State gave me so much as a young student and as a professional over my life,” and Black helped her to realize that. One of the ways she continues his good work is by chairing the foundation, helping to guide it in the coming decade. “My goal, at this stage in my life and career, is to give back. That’s what I’m really challenging myself to do,” said Andrea.
Now, recently retired, Sellars is excited to continue to help the RMI board move the program to the next level, and she also volunteers as a mentor for the GSU Presidential Scholars and for several task forces through the Society of Actuaries and the American Academy of Actuaries.
Thinking back on her career, Andrea encourages students to pursue a passion. “Fall in love with what you do; then it doesn’t feel like work!” she said.
Sellars encourages everyone to make every moment in life a learning opportunity, and to continue to strive and to seek knowledge. “Every experience you have is going to accumulate in your head, in your knowledge, and you are going to be able to use that knowledge some way, somehow, someday,” she said.