Published: Nov. 16, 2021
Rachel Klein Headshot

Rachel Klein (ApMath’07) has been a dedicated volunteer to the College of Engineering and Applied Science for over two years. She received her degree from a relatively small program – Applied Mathematics – and has provided countless alumni and students with a unique and inspiring perspective on what it means to be an Engineering Buff. 

Shortly after receiving her degree from CU, Klein took a role in investment banking before pivoting her career into health care. After receiving an MBA from Harvard University, she landed a job with Kaiser Permanente. 

We recently sat down with Klein to learn more about her career path and what motivates her to volunteer for the college.

You received your degree in applied math and have had a bit of a non-traditional engineering career path. Can you tell us about how you decided on this degree and why it was the right choice for you? Did you explore other majors before picking applied math?

I landed on applied math for a few reasons:

  • I wanted to major within the College of Engineering and Applied Science because I’m a tactile learner and was interested in a major that focused on hands-on, real-world problem solving
  • I enjoy mathematics because it’s a tool to understand and explore how things work – from dynamics within a biologic system to fractal formations within clouds. Math has always been a passion of mine
  • Most importantly, I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to major in. After speaking with Professor Anne Dougherty, I realized applied math was a great choice for me because it encourages one to explore. Of course, you dive deep on math, but then you need to pick a focus for your applied math degree. I took a variety of courses my freshman year and ultimately decided to focus on finance and economics. I chose this focus because I found the application of mathematics to understand how people use resources and respond to incentives to be very engaging. 

Through my major, I learned formulas and models that had me exploring things like the stock prices, inflation, global trade, etc. Directly following graduation, I landed in investment banking, where I had a front row seat to the Great Recession of 2008. It was eye opening to see how, despite all the complex models and artful predictions, a financial system as complex as ours can still surprise even the most seasoned players in the industry. 

It was also a wake-up call to me – was finance my direct calling, or were there other industries that would better suit my interests and personal mission? Ultimately, I pivoted from investment banking to health economics – applying my math skills to support biotechnology companies with novel, life-saving therapies in reimbursement conversations with governments and insurance companies around the globe.

You have also received your MBA on top of your BS from CU. Can you talk a bit more about your current job and how you use both degrees to be successful in your role?

In my current role at Kaiser Permanente, I’m responsible for strategies and operational performance for the Medicare line of business here in Colorado. The way health care is paid for in the United States is undergoing a dramatic shift: we are moving away from fee-for-service, where doctors and other health care providers are paid for each service performed, to value-based care, where providers are paid based on patient health outcomes. 

The skills and experiences garnered from my BS and MBA play very well together. Within Medicare, we are building and refining a system of incentives that encourages people to live healthier lives in an evidence-based way. I rely on the skills I honed while at CU – reasoning, logic, and data questioning and manipulation. My MBA emphasized big-picture strategy skills, as well as leadership and team management. In a large, multi-disciplinary organization with doctors, nurses, sales leaders, operational gurus, IT programmers, actuaries, and the like, the ability to synthesize and understand the big picture, work across departments to get everyone on the same page, outline a roadmap, and then inspire people to move forward together is crucial. (Speaking of actuaries, I receive major kudos for being able to sit side-by-side with them and understand all the technical nuances and model mechanics, I credit this fully to my BS.)

It’s my experience, that in health care, the nitty-gritty details found within the data and the big picture strategy and implementation of that strategy are critical to get right. The marriage of detail-oriented data interpretation skills with big picture visioning serves me well.

 Why has it been important for you to volunteer your time and give back to the College of Engineering and Applied Science since graduating?

First and foremost, because I enjoy it. It’s great to connect with current students, hear their questions and concerns, and share my experiences and some of the guidance I’ve received throughout my career. I fondly remember a few key people who I encountered during my undergrad and masters studies who took the time to talk about life post-graduation and the path they took to get to where they were. In particular, one alumnus, after recounting their career trajectory, paused to quote Steve Jobs: “You can't connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something — your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.”  I always like to pass on this wisdom to others, that we don’t know how things will unfold, what opportunities or setbacks may come our way, but that things will work out – and that the dots will connect.

Do you have any highlights from your time serving as an alumni volunteer?

A few weeks back I had the opportunity to speak on a panel with two other alumnae for the Society of Women in Engineering. It was a fairly intimate group with a broad range of career goals and interests. Hearing both the students and my fellow alumnae speak to their experiences and where they were going was really energizing. We hit on everything from course selection, internship strategies, post-graduation whether to go straight to grad school or work for bit, and how to think about and prioritize job opportunities and grad school applications. Even though the event was intended for current students, the conversation also inspired me, giving me the space and time to step back and reflect on where I am and where I am going. It’s important to give yourself space to reflect on where you are going throughout your life.

What would say to encourage engineering and applied science alumni who are considering whether to volunteer with their alma mater?

If it’s important to you, it’s worth making it a priority and carving out the time. Life gets busy. And then when you think life might level off, it gets busier. That said, making the time to reconnect to your alma mater and fostering relationships with current students, faculty, and staff is a great way to stay connected with those organizations that helped form who you are today.

Want to get involved as an alumni volunteer? Fill out our volunteer interest form or update your contact information to be notified of future CU Engineering alumni events. You can also donate to the College of Engineering and Applied Science, department, or program of your choice online