A little education helps to ease uncomfortableness
Karen L. Williams
Executive Director of Marketing
Ivy Tech Northwest


Ive never been one who liked the dead (no, not The Grateful Dead the singing group). Im talking about real dead people. So, when Ivy Tech Northwest added the mortuary science program to its list of education offerings in 2002, I was curious, but not really excited, about working with the instructor and students in this area.

When I first walked into the classroom at the East Chicago De La Garza campus (complete with furnished casket display area, headstones and other mortuary science instruments) I have to admit, I felt a bit queasy and cold. I expected that the chair of the program would be an impersonal, humorless man. So, I put on a brave face and went into the office, which was through the maze of caskets, to chat with the program chair, Rick Soria. Instead, who I met was a man that was a ball of energy, up-beat and very knowledgeable about the funeral industry. He was very enthusiastic about the program and had worked hard in the weeks before we opened registration to build partnerships with local funeral homes and regional vendors. .

When we had our first open house for interested students, there were over 100 people who attended. There were retired healthcare workers, unemployed steelworkers, ministers and cooks in the group. It was a diverse mix who had a genuine interest in entering into the field that many joked: people are dying to get into. I was curious to why they would want to change professions to get into what seemed to me a very odd, dark specialty. So, I asked. Some said they had always been curious about the end of life. Others said they had wanted to do this type of work all their lives. But overwhelmingly they said they wanted to help people during a stressful time. Many of them had experienced the death of a loved one and through that experience -- either good or bad --wanted to help families get through the grieving process with as little negative impact as possible.

Over the next several years working with the program, I learned there was more to the final presentation than what we see. A lot of care and concern goes into how these funeral professionals treat their clients. They take great pride in the preparations that go into the final service. They offer counseling and they want to make the experience as pleasant as possible given the situation.

Whenever I had curious questions related to death and the final preparation, Rick was willing to answer and explain them to me. To him, I know they sounded silly. But they were questions I needed to know. In fact, his answering those silly questions helped me understand the process and make decisions when my own mother passed away. The transition was much easier for me having worked with Rick and his students in the program.

Ivy Techs Mortuary Science program is a highly regarded program in the Indiana/Illinois/Michigan area. We continue to attract a diverse student group and there is a waiting list to enter the program. Students have gone on to become professionals throughout the country. And because of the education they received at Ivy Tech, many of them contribute to scholarships for students here at Ivy Tech.

Because of his dedication to the program, Rick has been named outstanding faculty for two years running in the northwest region and is eligible for the Ivy Tech Community College Glenn Sample Award recognition from the state system.

And by the way, I dont get as uncomfortable in the mortuary classroom as I used to get.



Holly Matthews
Assistant Director Marketing
Ivy Tech Northwest

I am a closet chef. From stacks of cookbooks in my kitchen, to hours spent watching foodnetwork and countless concoctions turned cuisine. My interest had become a full fledged hobby. I decided to take things a step further by enrolling in a continuing education class, basic cake decorating and wedding cake design and construction offered at Ivy Tech Community College. For eight consecutive Saturdays I would hone my skills and learn new techniques, I was excited.

On the first day of class we began to learn how to ice a cake. To the novice, this sounds like an easy task but there is way more to icing than smearing it around. First, we learned the proper way to spread the icing. Next, was learning to do the sides of the cake all while trying not to ice too hard causing crumbs from the cake to show through. Cakes fell, crumbs were seen and tears were shed. Well, no tears were really shed but we all began to realize that cake decorating was an art perfected by time and practice.

The weeks that followed were filled with making borders, learning the process behind making flowers and imagining designs to please the eyes as well as the palate. Our instructor, Bernetta Ford, set forth our greatest challenge. We had to bake, design and decorate a wedding cake. Two weeks prior to the deadline we baked our cakes, started making flowers and sketched out designs. The last day of class we came in ready to build our wedding cake.

My hands shook slightly as I piped on the border, beads of sweat peaked on our brows as we gingerly stacked our cake. There was an energy in the kitchen. The only sounds heard were that of collaboration and pats on the back as each group jumped a different hurdle on their way to a finished cake. The clock read 1pm it was time to display our masterpieces.

As Bernetta walked around the room and examined each cake she posed the question: “How does everyone feel?” Without hesitation students called out, “Awesome,” “I’m tired,” “It was totally worth it.” “See, now you get it,” said Bernetta. “Cake decorating is a lot of work even tedious sometimes but in the end it’s all worth it.”

She was right. The feeling of accomplishment for a job well done was addicting. I start the pastry class at the end of the month.



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