A class gets together, enjoys a potluck of homemade jambalaya and cookies, and settles down to watch “How to Die in Oregon.” This isn’t your typical classroom movie, but this isn’t your typical class.
Three and a half years ago, with program director David Hess at the helm, Salt Lake Community College opened the first mortuary science program in the state of Utah, offering students a chance to gain the skills and knowledge required to work and manage a funeral home. The program was successfully accredited by the American Board of Funeral Service Education in its first year.
Hess explains that the funeral home industry and students were pushing to get the program off the ground. Before SLCC created its own mortuary science program, Utahns would often have to attend out-of-state schools to become licensed.
The program contains key courses like embalming, funeral directing and management, and restorative art. Courses include a combination of lectures, labs and clinical visits to local funeral homes.
The Jordan Campus also features an embalming facility licensed by the state of Utah.
“In labs we sometimes work with cadavers, but they can’t be embalmed because they are already embalmed,” says Hess. “We try to do some embalming on campus, since we have an agreement with a local mortuary.”
Many mortuary science students describe their love for science and anatomy and a desire to help people as reasons for entering the program.
Students laugh about their experiences in the restorative art class, where they take a plastic skull and learn to mold human features onto it.
SLCC student Alicia Dreyer claims that the ears were the hardest part to mold, and spent days working on them. Fellow student Tawny Kincaide says her children kept remodeling the face and that her puppy even munched on one of the ears.
“The classes are about 60% women,” says Wes Riches, a student in the program who is already employed at a mortuary. “That is a lot different than it was about 20 years ago.”
Hess says the program is multifaceted and prepares students for all areas of the industry.
“Our curriculum is not just focused on one thing,” says Hess. “We have the sciences, embalming, restorative art, chemistry, pathology, microbiology and anatomy. Then you have the social sciences, psychology, communications and funeral directing. And you have the management side of it where you have to take business law, mortuary law, accounting and general management.”
Hess adds, “This is not a fit for everybody.” He urges students that are interested in mortuary science should take Introduction to Mortuary Science (MORG 1010) and shadow at a funeral home.
Applications to enter the program will open Sept. 1.