Tobin GSRM Student Blends Career Building with Serving Others

Katherine Ross
March 2, 2020

By the time she walks in Commencement exercises this May to claim her Bachelor of Science degree, Katherine Ross will be ready to embrace her future, buoyed by success she earned when St. John’s University flung open doors to opportunities that challenged any limits on her imagination.

“The thing I like best about St. John’s is being equipped with the ability to make my own path because of the many different options the University offers. No two students at St. John’s will have the same exact experience. I really love that,” said Katherine, who majors in Quantitative Risk Management and Insurance, with minors in Social Justice Theory and Business Analytics, at the University’s Maurice R. Greenberg School of Risk Management, Insurance and Actuarial Science (GSRM).

Located on the Manhattan, NY, campus, the school is part of The Peter J. Tobin College of Business.

Favorite highlights of Katherine’s life as a Johnny include her travels to three continents and several nations such as Ecuador, Ghana, and France. In Ecuador, she dug six-foot ditches, mixed concrete, and used her muscle to help dislodge river boulders to make way for a much-needed second pavilion as a gathering place for a financially struggling community.

“I never traveled outside the US before coming to St. John’s,” said Katherine, who grew up in Thomaston, a small town in Connecticut of roughly 8,000. “These service trips have turned me into a global citizen, which is something I never even knew I could be.”

Katherine took part in these international excursions as a member of the Ozanam Scholars Program, which provides a platform for students to critically examine the systems that perpetuate poverty and take action to advance social justice through academic scholarship, Vincentian service, and global citizenship throughout college and beyond.

Ozanam Scholars are encouraged to apply the knowledge and career skills they are honing through their studies to help populations identify and devise solutions to a specific need. For example, through discussions with members of the Ecuador community, said Katherine, “Our biggest takeaway was their desire for economic growth. Many of them run small businesses—as hair stylists, artists, and food sellers—and they want to grow those businesses so the entire community can benefit from attracting tourists.”

After conducting research, Katherine and her fellow students developed a proposal for vendors to draw tourists by establishing stalls along a busy thoroughfare near the pavilion to display their products in their own dedicated space. She was thrilled to learn later that the community successfully incorporated their recommendation.

Katherine’s passion for volunteering for service work since her high school days, as well as the Ozanam Scholars Program and the GSRM, attracted her to St. John’s. The scholarships she was awarded from Ozanam and St. John’s Scholastic Excellence Scholarship helped make it possible for her to attend.

During her undergraduate years, she expanded her understanding of what constitutes social justice efforts. “Social justice does not have to be only about taking actions,” said Katherine. “It can be related to academic work and research.”

Katherine made this connection while working toward completion of her independent research Capstone Project, designed to deepen the public’s understanding of adolescent suicide and fatal drug overdose, with a focus on mental health, substance abuse, addiction, and bullying. She is developing a website with content written specifically for adolescents seeking help and information. The deaths of three individuals she knew to suicide or overdose spurred her to tackle the project.

She is collaborating with the St. John’s Center for Counseling and Consultation (CCC) to potentially make the website a permanent part of the resources the CCC offers to students facing obstacles that may interfere with their ability to live well and flourish in the academic arena.

Katherine has enhanced her leadership skills through a wide range of activities at St. John’s that include serving as Student Ambassador and President of the Alpha Iota chapter of Gamma Iota Sigma, which aims to lead sustainable growth of the insurance industry’s student talent pipeline. In October, Katherine was among 21 students from GSRM to capture nine awards at the 48th Annual International Conference of Gamma Iota Sigma, including the Edison L. Bowers Award, the highest recognition a chapter can receive.

“Katherine takes her leadership role for Gamma Iota Sigma personally, vowing to take the Alpha Iota chapter to higher ground, keeping the chapter and its members engaged with professional and community activities,” said Melodee Harper-Fields, Development Coordinator, Assistant to the GSRM Director, and Gamma Iota Sigma Advisor. “Working closely with her Executive and Associate Board Members, not only does she talk the talk, but she also walks the walk by example, treating members with respect and encouraging others who she serves.”  
She also pursued professional development opportunities that resulted in two internships—as Financial Risk Management Intern in the Armonk, NY, offices of the Swiss Reinsurance Company Ltd., commonly known as Swiss Re, the world’s second largest reinsurer; and as Loss Control Intern with the GNY Mutual Insurance Company.

After Commencement, Katherine will work at Swiss Re as an Associate in Strategic Partnerships Development, as part of the Property and Casualty Solutions team. “I will work with clients, in part, to better insure natural catastrophes,” she explained. 

Her advice to students? “Make the absolute most of your four years here, because you will never have this amount of time again in your life to explore the possibilities for your future.”

“Take advantage of all you can to make yourself the person you think you want to be four years from now,” Katherine added. “Even if you are scheduled to go to a conference that may not seem all that exciting, go anyway and meet people.”

She has no regrets about choosing St. John’s for her undergraduate work.

“Whenever someone asks me, ‘If you could go back to four years ago, would you do anything differently?’, I say, ‘Absolutely not!’ The decision to attend St. John’s was the very best one for me.”