Updates from the Program Director
December 1, 2022
Holiday Greetings to you all from the Program of Mortuary Science. It has been an incredibly
busy semester for us here at the U, and I am very excited to share with you the following news
Enrollment: As many of you know, we began admitting a spring semester cohort a few years
ago, so that incoming students might have more flexibility as to when they matriculate into the
program. This past January, nine new students joined the spring cohort, and later in September
29 new students enrolled in the fall cohort. Overall enrollment for this calendar year, inclusive
of May 2022 graduates, is 98 students. We received a robust pool of applicants for spring
admission 2023 and are waiting now on our newly admitted students to confirm their
acceptance into the January cohort.
Professional Networking Events: As part of New Student Orientation this past September, we
held an on-campus networking event at Coffman Memorial Union. We had 25 funeral service
practitioners sign up for this event, and everyone said they enjoyed both the new format and
venue. We are planning to host another in-person on-campus event in early January
(tentatively set for the afternoon of Friday, January 13). Details will be emailed out soon, but
in the meantime, please do not hesitate to contact our office (firstname.lastname@example.org) with any
questions you may have.
Out and About: Our instructors have been “out and about” participating in various events here
in Minnesota, and across the country. In August, I participated in the annual National Funeral
Directors and Morticians Association convention. Funeral practice instructor Carrie Rowell
participated in CANA’s Fall Green Funeral Conference, and Kelley Romanowski, who teaches
Restorative Art attended one of Vernie Fountain’s reconstructive surgery seminars. Closer to
home, and with the help of local funeral directors, I participated in High School career events in
Worthington and Marshall. At these regional events we were able to discuss our profession
with nearly 2000 high school students! It was a pleasure to travel across Minnesota in the fall
and give program updates at each of the MFDA District Meetings.
New Faces: We have welcomed new colleagues this semester as we continue to expand our
teaching efforts. Tim Koch has been helping us by teaching students about the FTC / Funeral
Rule, and MN 149a; Dr. Bruce Martin, biochemist associate with the Medical Laboratory
Sciences Program, is teaching chemistry. Martha Thayer is teaching our online microbiology
and pathology course, a class which Kelley Romanowski will be taking over in January.
Mortician and business professional Janet McGee is joining us to teach accounting. Other new
instructor appointments are being finalized, to be announced shortly.
Program Expansion: As we work to expand our program offerings, we are in discussions with
leadership at our Crookston Campus for the goal of developing an articulation agreement to
facilitate new student enrollment opportunities. As some of you may know, Crookston offers
many online courses. I had the pleasure of traveling to Crookston in September to meet with
the Chancellor and several faculty members. During our meetings, we discussed ways for
collaboration in support distance learning opportunities. We are also working to create a
flexible bachelor’s degree completion track for students who have earned their associates
degree in mortuary science.
Looking to the Future: As you can see, our program is continuing to thrive! We are proactively
working to embrace change and create new opportunities for growth. We likewise remain
steadfast in our commitment to graduate students who are prepared to enter the workforce
and serve their communities in a manner that is proficient, dignified, and caring.
As always, I welcome your messages and inquiries. Please do not hesitate to reach out at any
time – I look forward to hearing from you!
With best wishes for a wonderful holiday season,
PS: If you did not receive my letter requesting support for our annual Scholarship Fund and
operating appeal, you can learn more about giving options here:
https://med.umn.edu/mortuaryscience/give This past year, we were able to award over
$80,000 in program scholarships to our students, thanks to your generosity. Please consider a
making a gift of support as an investment in our students and the future of our program. Thank
MFDA Bulletin article / Program Update 3/28/22
Greetings to you all from the Program of Mortuary Science here at the U! As the days get longer and the temperatures begin to warm up, we are excited to share with you many updates and news items relating to our Program.
Commencement Ceremony: For the first time in two years, we will once again be back on campus for graduation! As you may recall, in 2020, as a result of COVID we had to host our commencement gathering online. The event included a small “gift giving” ceremony with students and faculty (and led by faculty member Judge Doug Meslow), held remotely via Zoom. Last year, we were able to hold an outdoor ceremony at beautiful Lakewood Cemetery, which allowed families to gather in-person with graduates. Members of the classes of 2020 and 2021 were able to attend the Lakewood ceremony, and it was great to have graduates from both classes together for that special day. This year, we will once again return to the Coffman Memorial Union for our ceremony and reception events honoring the Class of 2022. We look forward to welcoming graduates and their families to campus for what we know will be a beautiful and memorable ceremony and day for celebration.
Community Outreach and Professional Development: We continue in our efforts to provide high-quality continuing education to our alumni and practitioners working in funeral service. As many of you know, last year, in partnership with MFDA, I conducted a research study on issues relating to licensure and professional practice in Minnesota. The results of that research were presented to practitioners this past February as part of a 2-CEU webinar. We had over 200 attendees who participated via Zoom. In addition to my presentation, MFDA representatives discussed implications of the research for public policy, in the context of 149a. Currently, the results of this research are being used to create new laws and policies that will help funeral directors in their daily work serving families across Minnesota. Our goal is to offer more continuing education presentations (remotely, via Zoom) every one to two months, so please reach out to me (email@example.com) if you have any questions and/or ideas for topics you would like to see as part of our CEU events. And if you miss an event, fear not! We post them online on our website, and you can find them here: https://med.umn.edu/mortuaryscience/professional-resources (look under “Past Webinars)
Transfer Care Specialist Training: At the time of this writing, it looks like MN 149a will be revised later this year to allow for unlicensed individuals to perform removals. Assuming there are no changes to the draft language of the current bill (and also that the bill passes and is signed into law), a requirement for becoming a transfer care specialist (TCS) will involve seven hours of training, through an educational program to be approved by the Commissioner of Health. I have been working closely with MFDA, faculty, staff, the Medical School, and other stakeholders to ensure that the Program of Mortuary Science here at the U is able to create and offer training of the highest quality to meet the needs of funeral service professionals. We envision an online training class that will be delivered asynchronously (i.e., to be available whenever someone wants to take it), and built to include, at a minimum, all required subjects to be presented in the proposed revisions to 149a. Work has already begun on creating this course, and we welcome any questions and/or suggestions you may have! More information will be presented via our website (www.mortuaryscience.umn.edu) and also sent out to practitioners via email. (Note: If you are not currently receiving emails from us, please let us know and we will be sure to add you to our mailing list - just send a note to firstname.lastname@example.org) And as always, please reach out to me with any questions you may have!
We look forward to seeing many of you at the upcoming MFDA Convention in May at Treasure Island. Be well, and have a wonderful spring!
Director - Program of Mortuary Science
University of Minnesota
Greetings from the Program of Mortuary Science at the University of Minnesota! As I write the lines, it’s a “balmy” -15 outside. I suspect that most of you, like me, are looking forward to spring and the return to warmer temperatures. In the meantime, I am enjoying the beauty of the winter landscape and brisk walks outdoors (most days, but not today!).
We have had a number of happenings here in the Program that I want to share updates with you about:
Virtual Student-Practitioner Networking Events
During the month of February we have 24 firms that signed up to participate in 20-minute student “Meet & Greet” sessions we are hosting online via Zoom. The meetings have been scheduled for alternating Fridays and Saturdays, and invitation information was e-mailed out last month to over 1,000 practitioners, program supporters, and Minnesota licensees. During these meetings, funeral directors are discussing with students their businesses and the communities they serve. In turn, students have been asking questions about the funeral homes and also potential work opportunities following graduation. The flow is relaxed and informal, but it does keep moving: We schedule six 20-minute sessions back-to-back, over a period of two hours.
So far, the feedback I have received from both funeral directors and students has been positive. In contrast to the “speed interviews” we have hosted in recent years, these events provide more time to talk and get to know one another (i.e., 20 minutes per firm, as compared to five minutes with “speed” interviews). Likewise, students sign up in advance to attend, so the sessions are more intimate with students participating in those sessions that are of the greatest interest to them. Additionally, all sessions are recorded so that students who might not be able to attend on a particular day can watch online at a later time. Please be sure to contact our office if you would like to receive more information and/or participate in future events.
Whereas our lecture classes continue to be delivered online remotely (via Zoom, as a result of COVID), we are teaching our lab courses on campus, and clinical rotations continue to be offered at funeral homes. As was the case last semester, Mike Mathews, Doug Meslow, Carrie McGhee and I are teaching lecture classes via Zoom. On-campus classes include embalming, restorative art, and human anatomy labs. Currently, 15 students are working in the field at rotation sites, and about half our students are on campus for lab courses at least one day a week. With respect to our on-campus lab work, this semester Carrie McGhee and Trista Kosiba are co-teaching our embalming labs; Louise Wojchik is teaching our human anatomy lab; and myself, Louise Wojchik and Chelsea Smolenski are team-teaching restorative art labs. We are now planning for May Term and Summer Session clinical rotations, which will enroll about 22 students over the late spring and early summer months. Student placements are pending, and will occur both in the Twin-Cities Metro area, and throughout the state.
Curiously, I am often asked if students get clinical experience at out-state funeral homes. And the answer is a definite YES! In fact, about two-thirds of our students are placed on rotation at firms outside the Metro area. Indeed, we have students on rotation all across Minnesota. One of the things I enjoy most about my work is making the mandatory site inspection visits which must occur prior to placement, per accreditation Standards. Those of you who know me know that I drive a 2001 Buick LeSabre with 378,000 miles on it (yes, it has that incredible, indestructible 3.8L engine) – most of which were logged doing clinical placements, preceptor trainings, and inspections. It’s great to connect with Program alumni and supporters, and I enjoy providing feedback to directors that can be of help as they prepare for state inspections. (Helpful Hint/suggestion: Check your drench showers and eye wash stations regularly. These two pieces of equipment are the ones I find have the greatest likelihood of malfunctioning when I do my inspections.)
At the present time, we have over 60 students enrolled in the Program, with seven new students matriculating this past spring semester. We anticipate graduating 25 students this coming May. Unfortunately, with COVID-related restrictions still in place, it is unlikely we will be able to host an on-campus commencement ceremony at Coffman Memorial Union. Rest assured we will, however, host an on-campus ceremony as soon as it is once again safe to do so. In the meantime, we will hold a virtual gift-opening ceremony for our 2021 graduates via Zoom in May, similar to what we did for our graduates last year. It was a very meaningful time for us all to be together, and last year’s graduates said they appreciated being able to gather with one another and wish each other well as they prepared to go their separate ways.
The Program will again offer virtual continuing education events online, via Zoom, starting later this spring. These events will include presentations and updates from the Minnesota Department of Health, Mortuary Science Section; preceptor training and information about working with students on clinical rotations; and other topics of general interest. Please keep an eye out in your email for more information to be coming soon.
As always, I invite your questions and comments. We hope to be able to see you later this summer as soon as it is safe to travel once again to conventions and other events. In the meantime, be well and know that we very much appreciate all you do to support our program, our profession, and the families we are called to serve during these challenging times.
On behalf of all of us here in mortuary science at the University of Minnesota, we send to you our warmest wishes for a wonderful holiday season! It’s been a very busy fall for us and I am excited to share with you news of recent happenings this past semester.
Return to Campus:
We were thrilled to welcome back our students to campus this fall for their lecture courses. As you may be aware, students had to move to remote learning back in spring of 2020 as a result of COVID. Whereas we were able to maintain on-campus labs and funeral home-based clinical experiences over the past year and a half, all lecture work was delivered remotely, via Zoom. It’s been wonderful having students back on campus once again for all their courses.
Research into Licensure Policy Issues:
In collaboration with the MFDA Legislative Committee (of which I am a member), I began a research project in November to gather feedback from funeral service professionals about a number of policy issues related to the practice of mortuary science in Minnesota. As part of my research, I created a policy issue survey with input from MFDA Legislative Committee members. The survey was sent electronically, via email, to nearly 1,500 funeral service professionals. Over 400 people completed the survey, which is an excellent response rate! I am currently working on analyzing the data, and I will be hosting a webinar soon in which the results are presented to the public. If you participated in this research, thank you very much! I know MFDA will be working hard to use the data to advance mortuary science in Minnesota for the benefit of all funeral directors and the families we serve.
In November we hosted our annual autumn on-campus networking event, which drew funeral service and allied professionals from across Minnesota and neighboring states. We hosted the event in our program classrooms, and over the course of half a day, both current students and alumni had a chance to meet one another and make connections with funeral directors and allied colleagues that will help them as they move forward in their professional endeavors. Please be advised that we are planning to host another networking event, to be held virtually via Zoom, in early 2022 so that folks who could not make it to campus in November will have the opportunity to meet one another remotely. More information will be emailed out to folks soon. Likewise, information about the event will also be posted on the Program’s website.
We continue to engage in outreach activities to prospective students, both on campus, as well as at local high schools and other career exploration events. In late November, I - along with Miki Tufto and two program students - gave a presentation at Hopkins High School to a health science career explorations class. The students there had really great questions for us, and we were able to promote the profession of funeral service to them. Please reach out to me with any questions you may have about presenting to your local high school students. It’s incredibly important that we work together to share with high school students information about a career in funeral service. When we speak with students at these events, we find that many have never attended a funeral, and most do not know what mortuary science is. It’s so important that we work together to provide information to students about funeral service as they work to discern their career paths - especially while they are still in high school and actively exploring options for a college major.
We are pleased to announce the addition of two new adjunct teaching specialists to our faculty. Denise Gochenouer will be teaching coursework in marketing and management, and Kendell Poch will be teaching accounting and finance related to funeral home business operations. Dr. Gochenouer is an Associate Professor of Marketing and MBA Director at Southwest State University (Marshall, MN) with demonstrated experience in higher education, research and the banking industry. Skilled in Brand Name development and Identity, Market Research, Segmentation, Consumption and Cultural Research, Advertising, Experiential Learning and Management. She earned her PhD in Sociology (Demography & Social Organization) from South Dakota State University, and also holds both a Masters in Management and a Bachelor's degree in Marketing.
Kendell Poch is a Senior Lecturer at the Carlson School of Management, and previously
served in various roles within the consulting industry, most recently in public accounting
at KPMG. She received both her MBA and MBT from the Carlson School. Kendell
shifted to a full-time faculty role in 2017 teaching undergraduate, MBA, and executive
education courses at the Carlson School, and she also serves as the undergraduate
coordinator for the accounting department. Kendell was a recipient of the outstanding
teaching award in 2019, the undergraduate faculty of the year award in 2020, and the
part-time and online MBA faculty of the year awards in 2021.
We welcome Denise and Kendell to the Medical School and Program of Mortuary
In closing, please know that all of us here in mortuary science send you our warmest greetings for a wonderful holiday season and Happy New Year. As always, we encourage you to visit our website for more information about program happenings: www/mortuaryscience.umn.edu. I welcome your questions, comments and feedback - I can be reached at email@example.com.
I am very pleased to share with you news that we were able to gather in-person this past May to celebrate the accomplishments of the graduates of the Classes of 2020 and 2021. As many of you know, last year all in-person commencement ceremonies had to be cancelled as a result of COVID-19. For our 2020 graduates, last May we held a virtual “gift-giving” ceremony via Zoom. Our plan, of course, was to have an in-person ceremony as soon as it was once again safe to do so. Thankfully, there were options this year for in-person gatherings, as long as they were conducted in compliance with State and University health-safety guidelines.
As part of the planning process for commencement ceremonies this year, our program applied for permission to have an in-person ceremony for our graduates and their families. To make this happen, it would be necessary for us to hold the ceremony outdoors. In meeting with students and faculty members to discuss ideas for our ceremony, we were all in agreement that if it could happen, we would very much like to hold our ceremony at Lakewood Cemetery. I reached out to Lakewood President (and Program of Mortuary Science Advisory Board member) Chris Makowske, to discuss our desire to hold our commencement ceremony at Lakewood. Chris was most receptive to our request, and he worked with his Board to ensure that we might access to the lawn space in front of the Memorial Mausoleum, and also the Historic Chapel, for our special event.
As a result of all our planning work, we had an commencement ceremony experience unlike any other in our Program’s history! The Memorial Mausoleum served as an ideal background for our ceremony. The weather was picture-perfect, and the numerous trees that surround the Mausoleum just happened to be sprouting maroon and gold blossoms. Mother Nature could not have been more cooperative! Graduates’ family members and friends brought chairs and set them up in the lawn space that surrounds the reflecting pool. And as fate would have it, the mandatory masking requirement expired just three hours before the start of the ceremony, meaning that graduates could process without a mask if they felt comfortable doing so. Everyone was together, the weather was perfect, and we were able to celebrate graduation at one of the most beautiful memorial spaces in Minnesota.
Prior to the start of the ceremony, our graduates had their photos taken by MFDA Past President at photographer extraordinaire Ken Peterson, both inside and in front of the Historic Chapel. Local harpist Rachel Brandwein provided half an hour of harp music as our prelude during the time of gathering. At 3:00 PM sharp, our graduates, faculty, and Regent McMillan gathered in front of the chapel, and with Michael Breidenbach playing bagpipes and Hunter Gullickson on drums to lead us, we solemnly processed the length of the greenway, along the reflecting pool, to our seats in front the Memorial Mausoleum.
Our ceremony included a number of personal greetings and messages of congratulations to our graduates, invited guests, and special honorees. To start the ceremony, Chris Makowske warmly welcomed us all on behalf of Lakewood Cemetery and its Board of Directors. Judge Doug Meslow spoke on behalf of the faculty, and graduates Grace Hartley (Co-President, Class of 2020) and Cristina Cherubini (President, Class of 2021) spoke on behalf of their graduating classes. Teaching Specialist Carrie McGhee announced the Preceptor of the Year Awards, as selected by our students, to Jordan Seitz (2020) and Anne Christ (2021). Both Jordan and Anne were presented with plaques by Carrie in honor of their service to the University, and their work mentoring our students. Graduates who were recipients of Program Scholarships were announced and invited to come forward to receive framed certificates noting their awards and accomplishments. MFDA Executive Director Darlyne Erickson presented a special MFDA Award of Merit scholarship to a graduate from each class. The Program honored Bill and Kay McReavy as recipients of 2021 University of Minnesota Regents Award, and also Tom Anderson, for his six-year term of service as member of the Board of Regents. We are grateful that Bill and Kay and their family, and also Tom and his wife Angie, could be present for the ceremony. During the Conferring of the Degrees, faculty member Michael Mathews presented graduates with maroon and gold roses in honor of their achievements. The ceremony concluded with a message of gratitude to all those who helped to make this very special day possible for us all.
We are now looking forward to the start of fall semester courses, which will resume on campus in early September. We are so excited to be returning to campus so that we might once again gather in-person and teach in our classroom spaces. Despite the heatwave we are experiencing at the time of the writing, we know that soon gopher games, tailgating parties, and festive gatherings on campus will once again be back in full swing. We want to thank everyone who has supported our program and students during the pandemic in our work with remote learning. We all came together to support one another during these challenging times in the true spirit of Gopher Pride, and we are the stronger for it! Here’s to being together again in the coming months! Ski-U-Mah!
Greetings from the Program of Mortuary Science at the University of Minnesota! We hope that this message finds you and your families safe and doing well. As I am sure you can imagine, the pandemic has impacted the lives of our students, faculty, and staff in many different ways. And yet despite the challenges that have come our way as a result of COVID, I am pleased to let you know that our program remains strong, even during these difficult times.
I am very excited to share with you that our enrollment has increased significantly from trends we observed over the past several years. This year, 36 new students entered the program. Our total enrollment is now approximately 60 students.
We believe that a number of policy changes we implemented over the past year, including now offering Spring Semester admission, have helped us to increase our numbers. Very high job placements rates for our graduates are also seen as contributing to an increase in enrollment trends.
We are encouraged by the strong interest in our program and continue to work hard with fellow funeral directors to recruit the very brightest and best students into our profession.
This fall we welcomed several new instructors to the Program. Louise Wojchik is now teaching our human anatomy lab coursework. A 2012 graduate of our program, Louise is a licensed mortician with extensive experience in funeral directing, embalming, and restorative art.
For the past several years Louise has worked "next door" at M-Health Fairview University of Minnesota Medical Center in the autopsy suite. At M-Health Fairview, her work involves overseeing decedent affairs and teaching medical school students who observe her perform autopsies during their rotations.
Louise also continues to support funeral homes with difficult case embalming and restorative art work.
Lynne Schriver-Sheedy and Patrick Sheedy: The daughter of a funeral director and program alumnus, Lynne graduated from our program in 2000; she is a licensed mortician and has worked with our students as a preceptor for the past 20 years. Lynne has extensive experience making funeral arrangements and conducting funeral services.
Lynne’s husband Pat holds both a Ph.D. degree in religion from Marquette University, and also a JD (law) degree. Pat has extensive knowledge of religious traditions and has taught at several colleges and universities.
Lynne and Pat will be co-teaching our Death and Dying Across Cultures and Religions course this year, as Rev. Gloria Roach Thomas has taken leave for health reasons.
Michael Mathews continues in his 44th year with the program teaching coursework in the sciences, mortuary rules and regulations, and funeral practice.
Also continuing in their work with us: Judge Douglas Meslow is teaching business and mortuary law, and Carrie McGhee serves as our instructor for our business and funeral arrangements coursework. Carrie is also assisting me with the operation of our clinical rotation program. In support of on-campus clinical instruction, Tim Tarmann is teaching our embalming and restorative art labs.
I am very excited to be teaching embalming and restorative art theory this semester, and continue to serve as director of our clinical rotation program.
For more information about all our faculty, please visit: https://med.umn.edu/mortuaryscience/faculty
As many of you may know, as a result of COVID much of our teaching work is being conducted via distance education at this time. We are grateful to have access to technology including Zoom, Canvas, and other software that allows us to teach remotely.
Given the importance of “hands on” learning activities, we continue to teach embalming, restorative art, and human anatomy labs on campus. Likewise, we have received permission to run our clinical education coursework at funeral homes, and have several students out on rotation at this time.
Our faculty, staff, and students have all been working together closely to ensure that our learning this fall will be a positive experience for everyone.
Student Financial Aid – National Board Exam (NBE) Scholarships:
As you are probably aware, each year I write our friends and alumni asking for their financial support of our program. As you can understand, COVID has placed incredible financial stress upon our students and their families. For many students, this year there were unexpected financial barriers in coming up with funds to pay for the NBE, which as you know is required for licensure.
In discussing with students how we could help them, I was asked if there might be a way of supporting the $570 cost of the NBE. In consultation with students, faculty, staff, the Medical School Dean’s Office, and the University of Minnesota Foundation, I am very pleased to share with you that this year we were able to fund the entire costof the NBE foreach one of our graduating students.
We see this investment – which was in excess of $10,000 and paid for entirely with financial gifts to our program – as being the best way we could help students transition from their status as a graduate to an intern during these challenging times.
Soon I will be once again writing for your financial support. I ask that you please give generously so that we may continue to help students achieve their goal of becoming a funeral director, in support of our profession and the families whom we serve.
Kudos to Ashley Mishek:
I would like to take a moment to offer a special “thank you” to Ashley Mishek, our office manager and student services professional, for all she has done to help our program grow and remain strong as we face challenges posed by COVID.
Over the past several months, Ashley has worked tirelessly (remotely, from home, with two little ones!) to develop uniform Canvas (i.e., course management) websites for each of our classes. She has helped onboard all our new instructors and has taught them how to use technology to teach remotely. Ashley also created a standardized course syllabus template for all our classes, and has expanded and integrated systems for doing work with greater accuracy, efficiency, and simplicity.
In addition to this work, Ashley also serves as the primary academic adviser to all our students, responds to our email and telephone inquiries, handles ordering, maintains our website, and the list goes on… (and on!)
In sum, Ashley is highly dedicated to our program and all the stakeholders we serve, and without exception ensures that our office operates in a professional, productive manner at all times.
Next time you have need to write or call our office, please offer Ashley your greeting and extend to her a word of thanks for all she does for mortuary science. Her hard work, professionalism, and dedication to our program, students, and faculty has been incredibly helpful for the goal of advancing our profession.
In spite of the challenges brought forth by COVID, we here in the mortuary science program remain strong and steadfast in our mission to provide the very best funeral service education possible to our students. We are also committed to our service mission of supporting funeral directors as they actively work to serve grieving families.
(Note: there will be discussion of our Continuing Education outreach efforts in my next update article). Thank you to each one of you for all you do to help us achieve this vision!
In closing, please know that I will miss seeing you “in person” at those recurring annual events where we would normally share time together during the fall months – mainly the MFDA District Meetings, and the NFDA Convention. I look forward with a sense of optimism to the days when we will once again be able to be with one another. Let us hope these days are soon.
In the meantime, please be well, remain safe, and never hesitate to contact us if we can be of any help to you.
Program Director Michael LuBrant's article "Planning for Your School Year in Unprecedented Times" was published in the Summer 2020 edition of The Director.edu, a publication of the National Funeral Directors Association.
As many of you may be aware, the University recently transitioned to virtual learning in response to COVID-19. And although this situation has led to modifications in how we approach our teaching work, one constant that has not changed is our steadfast commitment to continued excellence in funeral service education.
By quickly adopting new teaching and learning strategies to our work in the context of this pandemic, our students, faculty, and staff are boldly living our mission in spite of challenging times. What follows are updates concerning our program that we hope you will find both informative and helpful.
Zoom and Canvas
By now, I suspect many of you have had some experience using Zoom, or at least have heard about Zoom and how it is being used to help keep people connected. Simply explained, Zoom is a software program that allows people to video conference with one another using their computers, a camera, and a microphone. Applied to the University setting, faculty now hold class “virtually” with their students, host “webinar” meetings, and interact with others “live” in a manner that ensures safety through social distancing.
An interesting note is that the University adopted Zoom as a communication tool last year. In fact, prior to COVID-19, many of us were already using Zoom for virtual meetings when it was either not possible or inconvenient to meet in-person. Faculty member Michael Mathews, for example, began using Zoom as a means of teaching from a distance his Microbiology, Pathology, and Chemistry coursework back in January!
Since moving all courses over to virtual learning in late March, our program faculty have been using Zoom to meet with students during normally-scheduled class times, as well as for virtual “office hours” and other meetings. Although we miss seeing our students on campus, Zoom has proven to be a helpful tool for us to remain connected to one another.
Canvas, on the other hand, is a software-based learning management platform. Each class we offer has its own Canvas site. Faculty members post course content in Canvas, including assignments, grades, and supplemental learning activities, and students can access this information at any time.
Faculty are also able to create quizzes, tests, and exams in Canvas. As part of Canvas, there is a software application called “Proctorio” which is a test proctoring tool. When a student takes a test in Canvas, their computer’s camera and microphone are used to virtually proctor (hence the name “Proctorio”) the student for the goal of ensuring the integrity and validity of the exam. Again, Professor Mathews was using these tools for some of his courses prior to the movement to virtual learning. All faculty are using Canvas and Proctorio to assess student learning in their courses.
Outreach and Community Connections
Zoom is allowing us to connect with our colleagues in their service to families affected by COVID-19. On Wednesday, April 15th, lab Teaching Specialist Trista Sharkey will present a one-hour CEU event to practitioners discussing ways of serving families who have experienced a death resulting from COVID-19. As of this writing, over 200 individuals have signed up to attend her Zoom presentation. The presentation will be recorded and offered at a future date and time for those not able to attend on the 15th. The Program offers this education free of charge as part of our outreach to the funeral service community.
Another Zoom learning event planned for April 15th is a presentation by Lacy Robinson, who as many of you know is a nationally recognized speaker on funeral arranger training. Lacy has prepared a presentation specifically for mortuary science students, entitled: You Got This! Practical Ways to Serve Families During COVID-19. This event is being co-hosted by myself and my colleague Martha Thayer, who serves as the Director of the Mortuary Science Program at Arapahoe Community College in Denver. Students from both our programs are invited to attend, with the presentation being hosted using the University’s Zoom learning tool. This is one way that we are collaborating with colleagues across the country to advance student learning in mortuary science.
And at our students’ request, we are hosting two additional Zoom seminars to take us through the end of the semester. One event will consist of a panel of practitioners talking about ways their funeral homes are serving families in the context of COVID-19. This event will also be co-hosted with Martha Thayer and will include practitioners from both Minnesota and Colorado. The final student seminar will involve a discussion of financial literacy. Our guest presenter will be our very own Tom Anderson, whose blog The Funeral Director Daily is read by hundreds of people from across the country each day. We are excited to bring these learning opportunities to our students, using technology that is relatively new to us.
Other Program Happenings
An unfortunate result of COVID-19 has been the cancellation of graduation ceremonies that were scheduled to take place this May. I have discussed with our Student Leaders how they want to proceed with graduation activities, and they requested we reschedule the ceremony at a future date on campus, once it is safe to do so. I will send out updates once we have more information.
On a different note, please be advised that the University has suspended all clinical rotation activities for the time being. We will be creating a virtual clinical rotation course over May Term that will meet curriculum-related accreditation requirements for those students scheduled to graduate this year. We look forward to resuming our clinical activities and student placement at clinical sites as soon as it is safe to do so.
In closing, please know that we deeply appreciate all that you do to support our great University, the Program of Mortuary Science, and especially the exceptional students who come to us to study mortuary science. We value all of you as program partners and supporters, and stand with you as together we work to serve the needs of the families whom we are called to serve during the most difficult times in their lives.
As we enter a new year in the Program of Mortuary Science, many exciting things are happening here at the U!
Looking to 2020, we are planning an ambitious agenda for the goal of continuing to build and strengthen our work in funeral service education. Last year, we offered our first on-line course to our students: Microbiology and Pathology. We were able to make this course available on-line thanks to the University’s recent adoption of Zoom and Canvas software technology. This technology allows us to present coursework online in both synchronous and asynchronous formats, for the convenience of our students. Michael Mathews, who for 43 years has served as an outstanding faculty member, took the lead in making this course available completely online for the first time this past summer. Michael is now finalizing work with his chemistry course, which will go on-line this upcoming spring semester. And in the near future, his Rules and Regulations course will also be offered on-line.
Our Program is working closely with both the University and UPCEA (the University Professional and Continuing Education Association) to create on-line learning opportunities so that our Program can be accessible to a greater number of students, both here in Minnesota, and across the country (and the world!). As we see the number of prospective mortuary science students who seek to pursue on-line learning opportunities grow, we are actively planning to create opportunities here at the U for world-class on-line mortuary science coursework. Additionally, we are investigating options for the creation of an American Board of Funeral Service Education-accredited certificate program that will meet the needs of prospective students who wish to practice funeral service in states that have educational licensure requirements that are different than those we have here in Minnesota. It is truly an exciting time to be in higher education because the opportunities to expand our coursework offerings using distance learning technology mean that more students than ever before will be able to access a funeral service education here at the U. Now that’s something to celebrate in the New Year!
We are also pleased to share news that we are expanding our teaching staff. We welcome Carrie McGhee, who is joining us to teach coursework in funeral service business, marketing, management, and funeral arrangements. Other individuals who are joining us this spring include several licensed morticians actively working in funeral service, who will teach in the areas of embalming, restorative art, and clinical rotation education. These appointments will be finalized soon, and we will announce the names of our new teaching staff once all of our onboarding work is complete. We are especially excited to welcome instructors who continue to work actively within our profession. The experience they will share with our students, rooted in their current clinical practice, will continue to strengthen our educational efforts for the goal of ensuring a relevant, practical learning experience for mortuary science students here at the U.
As always, we encourage you to visit both our website and Facebook page often for news of upcoming events, activities, and other happenings. We look forward to seeing you at state association conventions this spring, and, as always, invite your e-mails, phone calls, and visits at any time.
With all best wishes for a very Happy New Year to you and yours!
Fall season has finally arrived, and all of us here in the Program of Mortuary Science are energized by the work that comes with the start of a new academic year. Fall also means I once again have the opportunity to travel across Minnesota and participate in the annual MFDA District Meetings. It’s always great to meet with attendees, give a Program update presentation, and share materials that promote both a career in funeral service, and also our Program here at the U. It is my hope that I will be able to see you at these important meetings as I travel the state over the next two months.
I am pleased to share with you news that we recently welcomed an incoming class of 28 students into our Program. As is typically the case, the majority of our new students are from Minnesota (17). We also welcomed students from Wisconsin (4), Iowa (3), Michigan (2), South Dakota (1), and New Jersey (1). With respect to enrollment by gender, the proportion of female students in our Program continues to increase: This year, 22 (79%) members of the incoming class are women. Of note, nationally approximately two-thirds of all new mortuary science students are women. This trend will likely continue as more women pursue higher education, and fewer men enroll in funeral service education programs overall.
Speaking of the start of classes, we were very excited to have a special guest with us for New Student Orientation Day. As you may have heard, the University has a new President: Joan Gabel. Program alumnus and University Regent Thomas Anderson extended an invitation to President Gabel to join us for orientation, and she graciously accepted the offer! Significantly, President Gabel took time to speak with the incoming class about the importance of the work they will do in funeral service, sharing an example of how a funeral director (and Program alumnus) in her hometown recently cared for her family at their time of loss. President Gabel also actively participated in a panel discussion in which professional colleagues answered students’ questions. The day ended with a trolley bus tour of campus and downtown Minneapolis, followed by an “after-glow” meet-and-greet at Surly Brewing company. A great time was had by all!
Another important piece of news I want to share with you concerns updates to our Program’s website, and new opportunities to post jobs and meet with students seeking employment. We recently created an on-line job-posting form, so that employers can easily submit information for jobs they would like to have placed on our website. The formatting for postings is now standardized, allowing for greater ease both when submitting, and searching, information related to job opportunities. You can find more information here.
We continue to explore new ways of facilitating opportunities for employers and students to meet and discuss job opportunities. Feedback from previous networking events indicated a desire for more of a “customized” meeting opportunity – one in which the goal is to connect employers with students who have similar work goals, and which takes into consideration students’ desired geographic work location following graduation. In response to this feedback, we are now accepting reservations for on-campus employer – student meeting opportunities on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 8:00 AM – 9:00 AM in the Program’s Conference Room (A-275-4 Mayo Building). Employers who would like to come to campus are invited to send us information about their job opportunity/ies, and schedule a visit. In turn, we will make this information available to our students, who will be advised to contact the employer directly and schedule a meeting appointment. Opportunities to schedule meetings remotely, via “teleconferencing,” (using Zoom meeting software technology) are also available. For more information, please contact our Program office at 612-624-6464, or e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
And in case you hadn’t heard, we recently created recruitment brochure racks that present information about exploring opportunities for a career in funeral service. Many colleagues are now placing these racks in their funeral home foyer areas, and also bringing them to their local high school guidance counselors. We have received several calls from prospective students who tell us they learned about our Program when they picked up a brochure at a visitation / funeral service.
Remember: The most common question we receive from prospective students when we attend career fairs is: “What is a funeral?” followed by “What is Mortuary Science?”
If we are to be successful in meeting our current and future workforce needs, we need all funeral directors to be as proactive as possible in promoting both our Program and the profession of funeral service to prospective future funeral directors. Please contact our Program office for more information, and to request brochure racks. The brochure racks are available free of charge.
In closing, I wish you all a very happy Fall season, and invite you to contact me with any questions you may have. We look forward to seeing you soon, and, as always: Go Gophers!
It’s hard for me to imagine that as I write these lines, Spring Break is just a week away. Although Spring Break is supposed to mark the halfway point of the academic term, somehow it seems that with over two feet of snow on the ground (and more coming this weekend) warmer days might never arrive. How can it be possible that graduation is only two months away? Here’s to hoping we won’t be shoveling snow off the terrace at Coffman Student Union on May 10th. We’ll see…
I am excited to share with you a number of exciting things that have been happening here in our program over the past few months. On February 2, student adviser Robyn Meunier gave birth to her second child – a baby girl named Emery – or “Emmy.” We congratulate the Meunier family on their latest addition, and look forward to Robyn’s return to the program in early May, following her maternity leave.
In other news, program students Ean Sinn and Belle Ryberg, along with faculty member Giselle Wynia, recently participated in the “Frunge” frozen lake jump event, the goal of which is to raise money for the Children’s Grief Connection “Hearts of Hope” camp. We are thrilled to report that their participation in the Frunge raised $2,682 towards this important endeavor, which provides much needed support to grieving kids and their families. Thank you so much, Ean, Belle, and Giselle, for doing such a great job for a very important cause.
As I think many of you know, our program went through a comprehensive self-study process last year in preparation for a three-day site visit by representatives of our accrediting agency, the American Board of Funeral Service Education (ABFSE). The Site Visit Team report spoke very highly of the work we are doing here at the U to educate the next generation of funeral service professionals. Significantly, the team noted no concerns with respect to our compliance with accreditation Standards. The next step in the re-accreditation process will be our appearance before the ABFSE “Committee on Accreditation,” (COA) which takes place in early April. At this meeting, I will answer any questions members of the COA might have about our program, and will learn then of their decision regarding our program’s application for Renewal of Accreditation. I will share with you the COA’s decision in April, once it has been finalized.
I am also excited to share information about an upcoming news story that will showcase our program, to be aired on The CW Twin Cities (Digital Channel 22/UHF; www.thectwc.com). Back in February I was contacted by a reporter from CWTC to discuss their interest in doing a story about our program, faculty, and students, and a career in funeral service. After some planning, a media crew from CTWC came on campus and interviewed faculty member Angela Woosley, and students Ean Sinn and Simone Simpson. (Ean even was able to speak a bit about the Children’s Grief Connection!) I had a chance to preview the news story (which runs a little over 11 minutes) and am very pleased with the final result. Angela, Ean, and Simone did a terrific job discussing both our program and the profession of funeral service. I am so proud of this story, and look forward to publishing it on our website after it airs in early March.
(Note: At the time of this writing, the story can be viewed here.)
In an effort to promote our profession to prospective mortuary science students, we now make available to funeral homes “recruiting kits” for placement in their chapels. These kits consist of program and career information brochures that we have placed in an attractive Lucite display rack, branded with the U of M logo. We make these materials available to funeral homes free of charge, and to date have distributed over 200 kits to firms across the state. Since beginning this outreach effort, we have heard from four prospective students who told us they first learned about a career in funeral service by picking up one of our brochures while at a visitation. We all know of the labor shortage in our profession, so I hope many funeral homes will request a kit for each of their chapels. You are welcome to stop by our office anytime to pick one up (or more, as need) – just let us know how many you would like, and we will prepare them for you. Likewise, we will also have kits available for pick-up at our booth at the MFDA convention in May. Some of our local vendors are also helping us by delivering them to funeral homes they call on. Please let us, or your local vendor, know of you interest, and we will be happy to provide these materials to you.
In closing, we look forward to seeing you at the upcoming MFDA Annual Meeting in Rochester in May. Let’s hope by then all the snow will be gone. And in the meantime, please be sure to “like” us on Facebook to keep up-to-date with recent happenings and events. Here’s to hoping that Spring might consider making an early appearance!
In the News
Minneapolis Star Tribune article July 18, 2022
Alumnus Wally Gelecinskyj's story & contributions to the University have been highlighted by University of Minnesota Medical School
Medical School special feature March 10, 2022