When the Student Becomes the Teacher
Edward W. (Jed) Frees (M.S. ’76), professor of actuarial science, risk management, and insurance at the Wisconsin School of Business, is widely recognized throughout the 60,000-strong professional community of actuaries worldwide. He has produced textbooks for professional organizations, created online learning tools used by students and practitioners around the globe, and partnered with the Wisconsin state government to streamline its operations and provide hands-on learning opportunities for students.
How did Frees channel his talent to become not only a great academic thinker, but also a leader in his profession and at the School? He traces a measure of his success back to his close relationship with Professor Jim Hickman, who retired in 1993 and died in 2006 at the age of 79.
During his tenure, Hickman was much more than a professor—he was a deeply respected and innovative actuary, teacher, and public servant whose contributions to the field of actuarial science included advances in statistics and forecasting, mortality studies, and decision theory.
— Margaret Hickman Jim Hickman’s Wife of 56 Years
To Frees, Hickman was a teacher, mentor, and long-time friend. “Jim supervised my master’s thesis here at Wisconsin and was instrumental in hiring me as a UW faculty member,” says Frees. “I later served under him while he was the Wisconsin School of Business dean from 1985 to 1990, and I continued to work closely with him during his emeritus years. Throughout my career, I could always turn to Jim for advice on issues facing our actuarial profession.”
A pioneer in actuarial science
Hickman joined the Wisconsin School of Business in 1972. Recognized globally as a leader in actuarial science and contributing author to Actuarial Mathematics, he twice received the Halmstad Prize for actuarial research from the Actuarial Foundation. Only Jed Frees has won it more times.)
Hickman is especially well remembered for his lively lectures, which often included examples from philosophy and physics. Music was also part of his classroom repertoire, ranging from classical compositions to Big Ten fight songs. “He was superb in the classroom, with a booming voice and commanding presence,” remembers Frees.
Margaret Hickman, the professor’s wife of 56 years, remembers the strength of the bond between her late husband and his many students. “It was hard for Jim to be dean, but only because he had to give up teaching, which he truly loved,” says Mrs. Hickman. “He was always asking questions, he always wanted to learn, and he truly believed that everyone had something to teach him.”
“Those who did not meet Jim Hickman cannot possibly know what they have missed,” says Professor Joan Schmit (BBA ’78, MBA ’79), Distinguished American Family Insurance Chair of Risk Management and Insurance at the WSB. “He showed a remarkable combination of wisdom, generosity, creativity, humility, integrity, and humor. Whenever Jim Hickman spoke, we were given at least one golden nugget to take with us.”
Preserving a legacy
Last fall, Frees was named Hickman/ Larson Chair in Actuarial Science—a title that has special meaning for Frees because of his close personal and professional ties with Hickman.
The chair was established in 1991, funded by gifts from a broad base of Actuarial Science alumni and friends, created to recognize the important contributions and leadership that both Hickman and Professor Bob Larson brought to the field. Larson helped found the university’s actuarial science program in 1948. He left UW–Madison in 1954 to teach at the University of Nebraska, and then launched a successful 40-year career in the private sector.
The initial round of fundraising for the Hickman/Larson chair created a six–figure endowment, which grew to $300,000 by 2005, and now—thanks to two six–figure leadership gifts— is valued at nearly $2 million. This endowment ensures that the School will maintain its world–class status in actuarial science by supporting faculty research and providing the resources to recruit and retain faculty of distinction.
Still, the best part about this endowed professorship is its first recipient’s special connection to its namesake, and his deep commitment to paying the value of Hickman’s commitment to mentorship forward.
“Wonderfully, we have in Jed Frees the perfect representative of Jim’s contributions as the first holder of the Hickman/Larson Chair in Actuarial Science,” says Schmit. “As department chair, I could not be more fortunate to work with and know the highest caliber faculty, staff, alumni, students, and industry partners. We thank all those who made this chair possible, including Jim Hickman’s amazing family and former students.”
“Jim and Jed started out as faculty and student, but they became close, more like a father and son,” says Mrs. Hickman. “I’m thrilled that he’s going to be the first professor to hold this chair.”
“Jim was more than a visionary leader in our field,” says Frees. “He was a team player who always supported me. Words can’t express how grateful I am to carry his name with me. It’s an honor and a reminder of his legacy.”