Program News - Fall 2020

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.

Enrollment:

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.

Faculty:

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

Teaching Modalities:

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.  

Closing Thoughts:

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.

Go Gophers!

Sincerely,
Michael LuBrant
Program Director

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