Bill Ferguson heads up UL's program in Insurance & Risk Management, one of the 10 largest such programs in North America. He is internationally sought after as a speaker and lecturer. ultoday.com spoke with him recently.

Tell us about yourself.

I'm just a professor at the University. I've been teaching in higher education about 29 years; I began teaching in 1989 at UGA. I also taught chemistry labs at UNC as a part time job when I was an undergraduate there. That's where I really got my first teaching experience, that was really cool.

I'm active in the community. I sit on the State Board for Continuing Education. I play trumpet in the Lafayette Concert Band. I play golf, I have season tickets to UL football, basketball, baseball, softball. I'm really a college basketball freak, coming out of UNC.

I'm 48 years old and single. I'm an animal lover. I have a dog and two cats, all strays.

How did you end up teaching at Louisiana?

I came here to build an undergraduate insurance program in 1995. Now we're one of the 10 largest undergraduate risk management and insurance programs in North America.

You get around a lot.

I like to travel. I was a Fulbright Lecturer for 6 months in 2003, at the Vienna University of Business and Economics. They actually wanted me to stay there, and they brought me back for 6 weeks the next year. Krems is another institution on the Danube about an hour north of Vienna, and I was a guest lecturer there for a week in 2006. They want me back next summer. I'm also scheduled to go back to the University of Cologne in Germany next summer.

Oh, I'm also the managing editor of the Journal of Insurance Issues, a peer-reviewed academic publication.

You hold the G. Frank Purvis, Jr. Chair in Insurance & Risk Management.

Mr. Purvis gave us the first $300,000 for the chair. Back in the 1930's and '40's he wrote the original Louisiana Insurance Code. Then he rose up through the ranks to become CEO of Pan American Life in New Orleans. They were the largest mutual insurance company in the South-- I think they still are-- and they have significant operations in Latin America even today.

Mr. Purvis is still very active in his support of the program.

Talk about the program.

The program is a fully-integrated program for insurance, risk, and finance. We offer 5 courses in risk management, and our students also take 4 courses in finance, as well as the core curriculum for business majors.

It was approved by the Board of Regents in 1994, and I was hired the next year. The first semester we had 6 students, and most of those kids are doing well even today. One of them, Ryan Domengeaux, was the Assistant Risk Manager here in Lafayette for close to 10 years. Now he's the Risk Manager for the Schumacher Group here, one of the largest emergency room physician staffing groups in the country. Two of my other graduates work there, too.

We've slowly grown to about 100 declared majors, and graduate 20-30 students per year. We graduated 30 last March.

I've had a number of students win scholarships for study in the US and abroad. For example, one of my students won a scholarship for two courses in Bermuda. She got room & board, a stipend, and free tuition for a month in Bermuda.

I asked if they wanted chaperons, they said they already had enough.

I did get to chaperon a student to San Francisco for The Million Dollar Roundtable, the annual meeting of high-end financial advisors and estate planners. She won a $5,000 scholarship in a national competition.

I've had a number of students study at Lloyd's of London. All of them spent at least a week there, studying and observing at one of the most unusual insurance markets in the world.

The point of our program is to give these kids real world exposure as to the problems that exist for people in business. We also teach and stress the ethical side of the business. Insurance often has a negative image, because so many people have had negative experiences, writing the checks, trying to get reimbursement.

Even after Katrina, the reputation still exists. But in fact, there were something like a million claims, and 99% of them were settled within a year and a half... which is pretty good.

The State of Louisiana is in a real bind with insurance. How do we compete economically with other states? If we had landed that car factory Governor Blanco worked on, where were the employees going to live? Where are they going to get their car and home insurance? We have some of the highest auto rates in the nation. Between Andrew and Katrina, Louisiana went from 160 insurance companies down to 11. Now we're up to 16 or 17 because of the efforts of the Department of Insurance, and because the Legislature put up $100M to attract new business and encourage business expansion in the state. To get that money, insurance companies have to help decrease the state-run Citizens Insurance rolls, to reduce the burden on the state's side. Which is good fundamental economics, and it seems to be working.

Talk about UL.

I think we're a bright star on the Gulf Coast. I think Dr. Authément did a great job with the resources he had to get this University where it is today.

Right now we have a new Dean, a new President, and I'm very optimistic about the University as a player in the economic development of the region. UL has a tremendous economic impact already. I think we can continue to grow and be a major factor in Louisiana and beyond.

Tell us about your students.

When I was in Austria, I was teaching 3 classes. 21 was the maximum enrollment per class, and we had 150 on all the waiting lists. So they asked if I could increase it, I said 'Sure', and we went to 24. Meanwhile I'm teaching a class on-line at UL.

In Austria, I had kids from Russia, Bulgaria, Croatia, China, Italy, Viet Nam. That was what was cool about it, there they were studying in German, but they wanted to take my class in English. So they're fluent in their native language, in German, and obviously in English. And just to get out of their own countries to be accepted in Austria, they had to be top students. So professionally, I had the cream of the crop in these classes.

Our brightest kids, their brightest kids, no difference. Kids I've had here at UL are just as good as those kids. They just have to believe in themselves, and with the knowledge they gain here they can compete internationally.

Our College is internationally accredited by AACSB, the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business. We're one of about 350 schools in the US, and about 550 worldwide. Only about 20% of schools of business are accredited, so it's a big deal.

We can do it. We have the students, we have the faculty. We just need the resources.