Empowering Work

Written by January 25, 2024

In the United States, men typically pay more for life insurance because of one simple statistic: Women live longer.

While gender does impact policy premiums, many life insurance applications don’t account for individuals who identify as nonbinary, which creates a challenge for both the insurance company that sets rates and the insured who pay them. But a project in this year’s Summer Undergraduate Research Program (SURP) is exploring how the industry will need to adapt its risk calculations to better reflect the nation’s changing demographics.

“Probably most interesting of my findings has been the variability and fluidity of attitudes toward the protection of gender nondiscrimination in insurance law,” said accounting student Noah Cours, one of two business administration students working on the project for faculty advisor Bradford Anderson.

Students present their research findings at the (SURP), Fall 2022.

Students present their research findings at the Student Undergrad Research Project (SURP) Symposium during the fall of 2022. (Photo: Andy Sherar)

In the past three years, roughly 100 Orfalea College of Business students have participated in SURP, a university-wide program which pairs undergraduates with faculty mentors on real-world research.  This year, there were 14 SURP projects in the college, involving 23 students.

“I think the program is gaining momentum among faculty members, and we are seeing an increase in the number of students interested in participating,” said Bruce Greenbaum, associate dean for programs and learning. “The program presents students with the opportunity to conduct meaningful research in a supportive environment.”

Many students continue to work with faculty on these research projects after the completion of the SURP program, Greenbaum added, and some of the projects progress to papers that are submitted for publication in high quality academic journals.

This year’s projects in the Orfalea College of Business entailed a range of disciplines exploring a variety of topics, including the effect of military service on veterans’ long-term health, marketing for a local domestic violence shelter, and internet addiction, among others.

While few might know there’s a science of awe, one Orfalea SURP project set out to discover how the workplace was influenced by awe — an overwhelming, self-transcendent sense of wonder and reverence in which you feel a part of something vast and larger than you that transcends your understanding.

David Caughlin, an assistant professor in the HR, Management and Information Systems Area

David Caughlin, an assistant professor in the HR, Management and Information Systems Area, discusses a SURP project with student Kimberly Bigi. (Courtesy photo)

“Being a transcendent emotion, awe redirects focus away from oneself and fosters a greater emphasis on others,” said  Kimberly Bigi, a psychology student working with faculty mentor David Caughlin. “We want to understand how this sense of connectedness, and experiences of awe as a whole, may carry over into the workplace in the form of organizational citizenship, ethical and prosocial behav iors.”

SURP projects represent experiential learning in several ways, Greenbaum said.

“First, students get hands-on experience working on real research projects,” he said. “These projects require students to manage their time, communicate frequently with their faculty mentor, and develop, execute and present research findings associated with their projects.”

The students also have to present their findings at the SURP + Symposium during the fall, where fellow students, faculty and others can question their work.

“This face-to-face interaction challenges students to compose answers in real time and to be an advocate for their work in front of a variety of interested parties,” Greenbaum said.

This year’s symposium is scheduled for Oct. 13, from 1:30-3:30 in the Engineering Plaza.

While students will discuss their work during the symposium, the research also gives students an edge in their future careers.

For Anderson’s life insurance project, accountong student Stephanie Chan is applying data analytics skills on what is a current issue.

Anderson, who served as Cal Poly’s interim vice president of research and economic development from January 2013 to August 2019, says those skills and others will pay off for SURP students.

“Working with our students on legal and business policy research empowers them in understanding how to develop, investigate, and test a hypothesis, so that they will be inquisitive and evidence-driven business leaders,” Anderson said.

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