By Cassandra M. Rodriguez
The mortuary science program provides education and training for students who want to work in the funeral industry as embalmers and funeral directors.
For those who are not familiar with the program, “it seems like all we deal with is dead bodies. But what people fail to realize is that dead bodies are associated with live ones,” Felix B. Gonzales, chair of the mortuary science department, said.
Each semester, 45 students are accepted into the two-year program, although only 15 are expected to graduate this semester.
The drop in completion rate can be attributed to the difficulty of handling the emotional stress that comes with the profession and misperceptions about the program. “There is a lot of misinformation about what we do,” Gonzales said.
Some go into mortuary science wanting to be a medical examiner, performing autopsies, but this is not part of the funeral industry.
Gonzales said the first semester provides clarity about what mortuary science is. In the second week, students spend a day in a funeral home so they can find out early if they would like to continue.
Most students will drop the course in the first semester, he said. The subject matter can be complicated and difficult so applicants must score at college-level because of intense note-taking and reading.
Studies include the psychology of grieving, funeral laws in Texas and compliance with regulations. Students also learn about the accounting necessary to properly handle the business of a funeral home.
The associate degree trains students to be both a funeral director and an embalmer. Students interested in funeral directing but not embalming can get a certificate.
To provide students the best training and education, faculty members are licensed funeral directors and embalmers working part time at funeral homes.
The program has a 100 percent job placement rate.
Embalming involves the chemical process of replacing blood and body fluids to temporarily preserve the body. Students must be familiar with the anatomy and diseases because germs remain after death.
Students get hands-on experience in restorative art classes where they learn to reconstruct faces by studying a certain order all faces have. This skill allows embalmers to restore a damaged body so it can be presented for viewing.
It takes a very “special kind of person,” Gonzales said, because they will be around death everyday but cannot dwell on it.
Noting morticians realize that life is limited, Gonzales advised, “Make it a point to enjoy life.”