May 4, 2018

Can a fast food job, the Navy and Wikipedia lead to your ideal career?

That’s what led Arizona State University graduate Christopher Cameron to his actuarial sciences degree.

Like many people, Cameron left high school with only one sure thought in mind — he hated homework and disliked studying — which pushed college from his radar. Without a clear idea for his future he took a fast-food service job, which he did not love but that he credits with sending him straight into the U.S. Navy. He found himself studying again, this time nuclear plant systems and casualty procedures, as he served in Virginia and Japan.

“It was a good move because it gave me a lot of practical training for the future and it set me up to come to school without any debt, really,” said Cameron.

After Cameron completed his service, he chose Arizona State University, for its veteran-friendly policies and the proximity of his parents who had retired in Arizona. He selected engineering but felt it wasn’t the right fit for his personality.

One day he leapfrogged between different Wikipedia pages on a favorite subject — military history — and stumbled upon Esprit Jouffret, a 19th-century artillery officer with a love of geometry and a job as an insurance actuary. Cameron had never heard of the profession and after researching further found the combination of mathematics, business and programming was exactly what he had been looking for.  

After three years at ASU, Cameron is ready to graduate and leave studying behind, finally. While some things have changed since his high school years, his desire to leave behind homework has not.

“I hated homework; I still do,” said Cameron.

Question: What’s something you learned while at ASU — in the classroom or otherwise — that surprised you, that changed your perspective?

Answer: The way to study. After high school, I thought I figured out how to study and then I got to the military and realized I had no idea how to study. Instead of memorization it's more practice, more theoretical stuff and abstract that you have to understand. You have to understand the concepts instead of just committing them to memory.

Q: Why did you choose ASU?

A: If you register to vote and you’re a veteran you get instant in-state tuition, and my parents had just moved down here and it was just nice to be closer to them.

Q: What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to those still in school?

A: Get involved more. The first couple of years I was just trying to get the hang of everything, but I would tell myself, “Hey, get involved now instead of waiting.” Apply for internships now, get involved with clubs now, do activities and meet people now because it pays dividends with an earlier start.

Q: What was your favorite spot on campus, whether for studying, meeting friends or just thinking about life?

A: Hayden Library — that would be the one spot where I’ve done a lot of studying over the past two years. It’s nice and quiet.

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: I’m working part time at an insurance company and basically just going to go to full time after that. I’m going to start the week after graduation.

Q: If someone gave you $40 million to solve one problem on our planet, what would you tackle?

A: For the planet? Any problem on the planet for $40 million? I don’t think anything really can be solved for $40 million, that’s the sad part. Maybe get everyone clean drinking water in the United States, maybe?

Top photo: Actuarial sciences graduate Christopher Cameron poses for a portrait outside the Virginia G. Piper House on April 17. Photo by Deanna Dent/ASU Now