BY ANDREA GONZALEZ
The mortuary science department has been at Cypress College since 1977, and since 2017 it remains the only community college in California to offer a bachelor’s degree for mortuary science.
There are only two community colleges in California that offer a funeral service degree, but Cypress College is the only one that offers a bachelor’s program. Since having a bachelor’s program is very costly, many community colleges don’t offer this opportunity.
Considering students are being prepared to work in funeral service, they have a responsibility to maintain ethics; It is imperative they know how to work cohesively and effortlessly with families when preparing the body and the funeral service.
“It’s threaded throughout our curriculum [and] it’s an integral part of every single one of our classes,” said Professor Jolena Grande, a mortuary science teacher at Cypress College.
Since ethics and laws are such a big concern in funeral service, Cypress College offers classes that discuss the laws and ethics related to mortuary science.
Professor Grande said that there are many scenarios students should be prepared for when they enter the funeral industry. Handling the body and facilitating the funeral is one thing, but learning how to work with the family of the deceased is another.
Perhaps a family comes in and indicates that the deceased had three children, but only two of the three children want to be involved in the arrangements for the funeral. It would be unethical to only listen to two of the three children when all three voices have equal rights to disposition.
“It is our responsibility to help broker those conversations so that all three children are in alignment with whatever the wishes of the deceased would have been,” said Professor Grande.
The bodies that students use for class aren’t donated, and they are not cadavers; they are the indigent dead of L.A county who had no funds to pay for their own disposition. The L.A County public administrator’s office gives Cypress College the opportunity to care for the remains in their labs, and then return them to the county of L.A for ultimate disposition.
As reasonably so, some people have a hard time looking and thinking about dead bodies. However, two Mortuary science majors, Julie Williams and Allison Rollerson, both agreed that working with bodies was not daunting because it provided the proper education they needed, and it also offered practical situations in which they were both intrigued.
Julie Williams said, “I already worked at a care center before, so I have already been exposed to that, and it’s not scary because you already come through embalming and restorative art, so it’s not like you’re not already set up for it.”
Allison Rollerson added, “They make it a requirement to be in a mortuary before you start the program.”
Many people tend to ask what jobs can mortuary science majors get? According to the official Cypress College mortuary science website, “Program graduates can pursue careers as morticians, undertakers and funeral directors with an average annual salary of $53,400.” Cypress College partners with Forest Lawn in Cypress and many other mortuaries to prepare students for real on the field work after they receive their bachelor’s degree.
Rollerson and Williams said that the most rewarding thing about the mortuary science program is having the opportunity to not only learn about embalming and the restorative process, but having the chance to actually put those skills to use.
“I think that this class is very relaxing, and in a way it fulfills the art and science portion of the program. For me, [restorative art] was the one class that I wanted to take [when I started] the program,” said Rollerson.
Williams said, “One of the reasons I was so excited was because I have a cosmetology background, and for me it was cool because I get to mix that with the whole embalming aspect.”
As for the professors, the most rewarding part about teaching mortuary science year after year is getting to see how devoted and interested the students are. For professor Grande, she admires how her students are willing to serve their community and not put others before themselves.
Professor Grande said, “They are really a pivotal part of their community with helping client families on their most difficult days.”
There is no doubt that the mortuary science program is one of a kind. With the rare chance of earning a bachelor’s degree at a community college, mortuary science majors are more than prepared for the real world in the funeral service industry.
Photo courtesy Cypress College