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Scholarship Benefits Mathematics Students Studying Probability and Statistics, Actuarial Science

Retired Mathematics Professor and Wife Create James Friel Family Award Endowment
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The probability of future actuary Aaron Kim and retired mathematics professor James O. Friel having a chance encounter were against the odds. 

That is until Friel, chair and professor emeritus of mathematics, and his wife, Betty, a retired 42-year educator who taught K-8, created a new endowment to support Cal State Fullerton students like Kim.

Kim, entering his junior year in the fall and working toward a bachelor’s degree in mathematics with a concentration in actuarial science, is the inaugural recipient of the James Friel Family Award Endowment. The Friels presented him with the $1,000 scholarship award at the College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics’ 41st annual awards reception.

Mathematics major Aaron Kim
Mathematics major and scholarship recipient Aaron Kim (Photo by Greg Andersen)

“Receiving this scholarship is hugely important to me, and I am honored to be the first recipient,” Kim said. “It will greatly help to ease the financial burden and assist me with my educational journey.”

Kim chose Cal State Fullerton because of the university’s highly acclaimed actuarial science program, which guides students into a career as an actuary. Actuaries are professionals who assemble and analyze data to estimate the probability and likely cost of an event such as death, sickness, disability or loss of property. 

The Society of Actuaries has listed CSUF among Universities and Colleges with Actuarial Programs-Advanced Curriculum. This designation means that the university’s program — one of seven programs in California — has courses approved by the Society of Actuaries that target at least four actuarial exams. 

The Friels Gift Helps Students Succeed in Math

After earning his doctorate from the University of New Mexico, Friel began his career at the university in 1973. In 1980, he became chair of the Department of Mathematics and served for 24 years. Friel retired in 2004 but continued to teach part time until 2009.

Over his nearly four-decade career, Friel brought stability, growth and achievement to the mathematics program and department. 

He was instrumental in developing the probability and statistics option for mathematics majors, a master’s program in applied mathematics and new courses. As a scholar in probability and statistics, his research has been published in international and national probability theory and mathematics journals. 

The Friels, who have been married for 62 years, shared that supporting mathematics students is important to them to ensure they land a successful career or pursue a graduate degree. 

“I had a wonderful career at CSUF,” Friel said. “Giving back is one small way to pay it forward and a powerful way to maintain a connection to the university, my past and future generations.”

Marie Johnson, the college’s dean, called Friel a shining example of emeriti faculty members who support the college’s students.

“Emeriti profoundly impacted our students during their time as faculty members and remain engaged with our college after retirement,” Johnson said.

“Dr. Friel had a tremendous career in service to our students, and now, he and his wife have created a scholarship to ensure future students have access to educational pathways.”

Preparing to Analyze Risk and Uncertainties  

Becoming an actuary requires taking several actuarial exams to become certified.

“CSUF offers classes and workshops aimed to help students prepare for these exams, which is an enormous help,” said Kim, who has a 4.0 GPA.

Kim is currently working on a research project under the guidance of Andrew L. Nguyen ’95, ’97 (B.A., M.A. mathematics), lecturer in mathematics. He is investigating methods to model the cost of insurance payments for policies with a deductible option.

His activities outside the classroom include being a member of CSUF’s Gamma Iota Sigma-Beta Gamma chapter, a fraternity for finance and risk management students, and serving as a mathematics Supplemental Instruction leader to his peers.

What appealed to Kim in pursuing a career in actuarial science is using mathematical analysis to assess risk.

“Being an actuary is not just about endlessly entering data into spreadsheets and running numbers on a calculator. It’s about understanding the numbers and what to do with them,” he said.

“It takes reasoning and knowledge to understand what that number means. I want to use numbers to create change in the world — for the better.”

Debra Cano Ramos