Students dead serious about program

Mortuary science students and faculty members say they defy the stereotypes people have of them.

Nikki Wee

After five years of working as a radio station announcer, University senior Nathan Caviness decided to completely change career paths.

With that, he enrolled in the University’s mortuary science program because he wanted to do something that would benefit others.

“I just always wanted to do something to help people,” Caviness said. “I felt that this was a way I could help others.”

Caviness’ reason for entering the field of mortuary science is similar to many students enrolled in the program, which has seen increased interest over the past few years.

Mortuary science director Michael LuBrant said that even though the University program does recruit, a majority of its students come to them. Most students, he said, became mortuary science majors because they felt a calling to do so.

“People come to us because a family member of theirs died or because they want to help vulnerable people,” LuBrant said. “They have a sense of being called to this kind of work.”

Unlike most other majors, “It isn’t really something that people think about doing,” LuBrant said.

Caviness personally experienced compassion from a funeral director when his grandmother died.

“When somebody dies, it’s one of the most vulnerable times in their family’s life,” Caviness said. “People sometimes need someone to talk to.”

Caviness said a funeral director was there to do that for his family.

Mortuary science senior Amber Spencer thought about going into nursing, but the death of some family members made her think about becoming a funeral director.

“I was able to witness the dynamics of a funeral home,” she said. “It sparked an interest.”

Mortuary science senior Alexis Thomson knew she wanted to go into mortuary science since she was in eighth grade.

“You deal a lot with families and take a lot of psychology classes,” she said of the program’s curriculum. “All of that I find really interesting.”

Breaking stereotypes

Spencer, who was part of the Army Reserve, was deployed to Iraq last year as a medic.

Because of the fear that sharing her major with the wounded soldiers would scare them, she kept her area of study under wraps.

“I was told never to tell the soldiers what my major was,” she said.

Like other University colleges and majors, stereotypes come with being a mortuary science student.

“People think we’re all very dark, depressed and pessimistic people,” Caviness said. “But everybody I’ve met in the program is really fun and outgoing. We’re all just typical college students.”

Thomson, a petite woman with long, blond hair, grew up on a farm. She said people are surprised and fascinated when they hear she wants to become a funeral director.

“I physically don’t look like what people of my major are thought to look like,” she said. “But it’s more common to have female morticians today.”

Hands-on experience

Students in the program take a broad variety of classes such as anatomy, restorative art and business management. Because many of the mortuary science instructors also work outside of the University, in funeral homes, the classes are once a week.

Three semesters of a mortuary science student’s course study consist of spending a nine-hour clinical shift one day a week at a funeral home. With a temporary license, students will work alongside a funeral director and perform most of the same tasks as they do.

Spencer said she enjoys the hands-on experience the students get through the program.

Embalming and dealing with families and clergy from various religions are just some of the things students experience at the funeral homes.

“(Mortuary science students) go through all of the dynamics of a funeral home,” she said. “It’s a very valuable program, the way they set it up.”

It is one thing to take psychology courses and learn how to apply makeup to cadavers using model faces, but it is very different when these students put their studies to practice.

“You can read about it in a book, but when you actually do it, it’s a completely different world,” Caviness said.