Loyola University Chicago

Mathematics and Statistics

Kay Wakeman

Kay Wakeman
Research Analyst
Highway Loss Data Institute, Arlington, VA

Loyola Alumna Kay Wakeman is a Research Analyst at the Highway Loss Data Institute, which is an independent, nonprofit scientific and educational organization dedicated to reducing the losses — deaths, injuries and property damage — from crashes on the nation's roads. Her Masters in Math and experiences at Loyola helped prepare her for her career.

What do you do as a Research Analyst at the Highway Loss Data Institute?

My job title is Research Analyst. I work for the Highway Loss Data Institute (HLDI). HLDI is a sister agency to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). IIHS is an independent, nonprofit scientific and educational organization dedicated to reducing the losses — deaths, injuries and property damage — from crashes on the nation's roads. HLDI shares and supports this mission through scientific studies of insurance data representing the human and economic losses resulting from the ownership and operation of different types of vehicles and by publishing insurance loss results by vehicle make and model. The auto insurance companies that provide data to HLDI represent 84% of the private passenger auto insurance written in the United States and we process more than 3 million data points a month. My role as a Research Analyst is to take that data and analyze it, looking for certain trends. How do hail weather losses vary by geography? Are certain trim levels of Honda Fits more likely to be stolen than others? Do vehicles with forward collision warning have fewer injury losses than vehicles without? Once I've performed the analyses, I create graphs and PowerPoint slides and write a report. I also give presentations to guests at our Vehicle Research Center about the work IIHS and HLDI do, and present our findings.

How did your MATH degree prepare you for your career?

My Math degree helped prepare me for my career in two ways. First, I learned the technical statistical tools I need, like linear regression and using SAS. I use both of those skills every day at work. Secondly, I learned how to think critically and solve problems. There are multiple ways to solve problems, and when I write code in SQL or SAS, it's helpful to be able to think about the problem in different ways. I also need to be able to look at the results I get and evaluate them. Are they viable? Do they make sense? Is there another analysis I can run to help explain the results?

How has a degree from Loyola impacted your career?

I definitely would not have the job I have today without my degree from Loyola. I came into my graduate program at Loyola after working in environmental planning, with a limited math background. After Loyola, I have a math and stats-intensive job that I love. I also learned a lot about myself and what type of work I enjoy doing as a result of the classes I took at Loyola.

Do you think a graduate degree is necessary for your specific job?

I do think a graduate degree is necessary for my job. I use a lot of the skills I learned in my graduate coursework at Loyola on a daily basis, and all the other Research Analysts that I work with have Master's degrees as well.

How do you use math in your day-to-day work?

I use statistics and regression every day at work, whether I am formatting data and writing code or writing reports that explain the results of the analysis.

What were your favorite math classes at Loyola? Which classes helped prepare you most for your career?

The classes that helped me the most in my career are the statistics classes I took, particularly Linear Regression, both for the statistical content and learning to use R, and the SAS programming course I took, since I use SAS on a daily basis. I also use SQL regularly, and while I did not take a class on that at Loyola, the ways that I think about the code that I'm writing is similar to the proofs I was writing in my more purely mathematical coursework. The writing and presentation skills that I learned in the Combinatorics class I took at Loyola have also been invaluable.

What is your favorite thing about being a Research Analyst?

My favorite part about my job is the opportunities I get to to give presentations and tours showing the work being done at the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety and the Highway Loss Data Institute. If people have heard of IIHS or HLDI, it's probably from crash testing and the Top Safety Pick designations we award to vehicles that achieve high scores for safety. I love being a part of an organization with such a strong mission for improving safety, and it's great to be given opportunities to share the results of our work.

What advice would you give students pondering a minor or major in MATH/STAT?

Mathematics and statistics are valuable and applicable in so many different applications, whether you want to continue in academia or go into the work force. I did not know much about vehicle safety before I started working at HLDI, but the strong math/stats background that I got at Loyola has helped me so much, and the other knowledge follows. The paths you can take with a math/stats degree are numerous and varied. I would also tell students take as many classes as you can where you learn to use different software packages like R, SAS, etc. Again, whether you are continuing in academia or going in to the work force, having those technical skills is essential.