Edward "Jed" Frees

photo of Jed Frees

  • BS in Mathematics (1975)
  • Hickman Larson Chair of Actuarial Science at the University of Wisconsin (retired, May 2018)
  • Fellow of Society of Actuaries and the American Statistical Association (only individual to have both)
  • experienced draft lottery and student protests against Vietnam War (as Miami freshman)

My Profession

"After I graduated from Miami in 1975, I got my masters degree in actuarial science from the University of Wisconsin. I then worked for three years in Seattle at an actuarial consulting firm, then a year at another actuarial consulting firm in Wellington, New Zealand, finally followed by a similar job in London, England. Finally, I attended the University of North Carolina to complete my PhD, got a teaching job at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, and have remained there for the past 35 years. I retired just this past spring!

"I'm a Fellow of both the Society of Actuaries (SOA) and the American Statistical Association (ASA). When I first got into academia, there was a lot of interest in businesses using data, which was part of widespread efforts in quality improvement. These days, there is still a lot of interest in data, but it's much different. In the past, companies used small, very well-defined data sets to develop manufacturing processes — but now the data is coming in from everywhere: the internet and social media, smart technology, and so on. Data impacts how we drive, how we access information, and how we make decisions.

"By and large, actuarial science and data science are disciplines with key differences that not a lot of people really understand or appreciate. It's kind of funny, because they started out as one, then separated, and now they're getting back together.

"The SOA is a traditional insurance organization focused on actuarial science, while the ASA is focused on data. I feel that my unique interaction with both of these groups has given me an opportunity to do important and timely things. There's tremendous cohesion between actuarial science and data science, as represented by the SOA and ASA, but it used to be that not everybody would say that. However, in recent years data science has become more prominent — we see how people use it to predict elections, manage football teams, and lots more.

"Data is a lot more accessible and available nowadays. It's used more in the engines that drive us, such as Siri and Google Maps. The algorithms these products use, created from the data affecting our daily lives that we don't always think about, is fundamentally changing how we live. I'd say it's changing in a good way, but not always. Ultimately, data is becoming a bigger and bigger part of how we make decisions on a daily basis."

Best Miami Experiences

"When I first came to Miami as an undergrad, I was exploring physics, computer science, and mathematics. I tested all three and I wound up in mathematics, which is now all I do. It was such an integral part of my training that it has provided the foundation for everything that I've done since.

"During that period of my life, which was the early and mid-70s, there were also a lot of things going on outside of class that had a profound effect. There were protests going on against the administration, against the federal government. There were all kinds of life-building things that pulled you away from your traditional social networks, from your family. For me, those kinds of experiences were life-changing.

"It was the era of Vietnam, and the Kent State incident of 1970 was still fresh in the news when I came to Miami as a freshman in 1971. I remember sitting with others in my dorm, Anderson Hall, waiting for the draft numbers to come in. All of us were hoping that our numbers were high enough so that we didn't get drafted into the Vietnam War. There were a lot of happy faces and sad faces — days I will never forget.

"I remember camping out with other student protesters by the Slant Walk. Activism and protests were very much a presence here in Oxford, just like they were all over the country, and just being part of a national movement shaped a lot of young people.

"That's one of the wonderful things about college, both here and around the world — it provides a nice, easy way for 17- or 18-year-old kids to break away from the household and discover their own identity. This is a really important reason to go away to college, for that social aspect. And certainly, when you're wearing hair longer than your parents approve and protesting against the government, it really does help form who you are!"

Miami and the Liberal Arts

"Liberal arts education is critical because it teaches you how to think. It's important to have foundations in the arts, the humanities, and the sciences, and knitting them all together is the most important thing. It's not really what you learn but how you learn, and that's what I think a liberal arts education provides.

"As a professor for all these years, it's been my job to keep learning, and that's why I love it. I've never really stopped being a student. It's a great gig you guys have here!"

Advice to Students

"Pay attention to the international opportunities of your education, such as those provided by study abroad. After you graduate from Miami and come back to visit this place, you will see it very differently. I notice now how Miami has an awful lot of uniformity in its buildings, how spread out they are, how clean the campus is. While most universities are islands, Miami can feel more of an island even than most others, so while you're here make sure you take advantage of international opportunities to broaden your perspective.

"It's really nice to come back to a place like Miami and have an opportunity to have a new focus on things, to really look and dig deeply, reminding yourself that you are part of something bigger. Try to look beyond your normal view."

[March 2018]