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Alumni profile Marie-Claire Koissi-Kouassi

Alumni Profile: Marie-Claire Koissi-K.

Professor, Actuarial Science Program, University of Wisconsin Eau Claire, WI, USA

Marie-Claire Koissi took her Ph.D. at Åbo Akademi University and is currently Professor of Mathematics at the University of Wisconsin.

While a doctoral student, I also got the opportunity to conduct research at the Smeal College of Business at Penn State University.

Tell us a little bit about yourself. Who are you?
My name is Marie-Claire Koissi. I was born in Ivory Coast, where I spent a major part of my life. In the fall of 1999, I moved to Finland to study at the Department of Mathematics at Åbo Akademi University. I had the opportunity to learn the Finnish culture and discover Finland, a country with great lakes and beautiful nature.

I am currently Professor of Mathematics at the University of Wisconsin, after serving at the Pennsylvania State University and in Illinois. I have lived in the United States for nearly 15 years.

What subjects did you study? And when?
I studied at the Faculty of Mathematics and Natural Sciences at Åbo Akademi.
Between the Fall 1999 and the Spring 2003, I took several advanced math classes in Algebra, Analysis and Probability theory. I particularly enjoyed Professor Staffans’s courses on Hilbert’s space, Fourier analysis, and Special functions. I also took some classes at the Department of Statistics (with Professor Nordberg), and few courses at the Department of Economics.

The quality of the courses was remarkable. I got my Philosophy Licentiate in Mathematics in Dec. 2003. I then continued doing research in mathematics (under the Finnish Graduate School in Stochastics) and got my Ph.D. in June 2006. My Dissertation Topic was “Modeling Mortality Rates: Improvement, Uncertainty and Effect on Life Annuities”. For my Ph.D., I had the privilege to benefit from the knowledge and guidance of two advisors, Professor Göran Högnäs (Åbo Akademi) and Professor Arnold Shapiro (Penn State University). Professor Shapiro was the Director of the Actuarial Sciences and Risk Management program at PennState and helped me gain a strong research background and wider critical thinking.

What made you choose Finland and Åbo Akademi University when there are so many other great countries and universities in the world?
Finland was known for its remarkable educational system. At that time, Nokia had made Finland emerge as a leading nation in innovation and education.

The department of Mathematics at Åbo Akademi had a strong program in pure and applied mathematics. Research was one of the department strengths, with several international collaborations.

I wanted to study Actuarial sciences, a branch of applied mathematics that deals with risk theory, risk management, and insurance mathematics. The consortium of Finnish Universities had a strong probability and risk management group.

Where have your studies taken you? What are you working with now and how did you get there?
My studies at Åbo Akademi opened great doors in my academic life. I got the opportunity to study and conduct research in mathematical modeling of demographic data at the Max Planck Institute in Rostock, Germany. The modeling of population and demographic rates is a key component of life insurance.

While a doctoral student, I also got the opportunity to conduct research at the Smeal College of Business at Penn State University, USA (under the supervision of Professor Arnold Shapiro).

My experience in Finland has allowed me to excel in the use of various mathematical and statistical software. This has been a critical skill in my academic career outside Finland.

After taking your Ph.D. you have been teaching and doing research at several universities in the United States. What has it been like? In what ways is studying and working there different from what it was at Åbo Akademi?
My education at Åbo Akademi gave me a strong mathematical background. Right after my PhD, I got a mathematics instructor position at the Penn State University. I then moved to Illinois then later Wisconsin for a faculty position in Mathematics.

Academic research follows identical processes regardless of the geographic location. But studying at Åbo Akademi gave me an edge when it comes to computer and software.

How do you remember your time at Åbo Akademi? Is there any special memory you would like to share with us?
I have great memories from my time at Åbo Akademi and in Finland. Sauna and weekend on an island (belonging to a dear couple Magga and Sammo) were part of my most memorable get-away souvenir. I also remember taking regularly the train to Helsinki and traveling through this nature between Turku and Helsinki. I used to walk to the city center every Friday after work and buy a good cider. I discovered cider and muesli in Finland, and I am still a big fan of these products, especially the muesli. Finland is a particularly beautiful country.

I also remember that, with students from the department, we used to travel all over Europe for academic conferences.

I was fortunate to have great Professors at the Math department in ÅA, including but not limited to Professors Högnäs, Staffans, and Salminen.

Do you have a message for today’s students, or perhaps for someone planning to study abroad?
To students who can study abroad, I will say “Go for it! Take that opportunity!”. Going to different places and learning about other cultures while getting an education is a lifetime experience.