I sat down one rainy morning with Doug Ferrin, head of the Funeral Service Education program at Mt. Hood Community College, to learn more about the program. He apologized upfront for any interruptions that might happen, since his students were taking the National Board Examination that day and were notifying him of their status.
MHCC’s Funeral Service Education program is accredited by the American Board of Funeral Service Education (ABFSE). Doug Ferrin has been teaching at Mt. Hood Community College since 1998. He worked in the field from 1993 – 1997 as a Funeral Director and Embalmer, after which he taught part time in Colorado, where he grew up. He has a background in science and art. His art days involved sculpture in clay and wood, which led to an interest in restorations and eventually, the embalming process. The combination of business, psychology, and science were appealing to him. He says one of the challenging aspects of the job is corralling students. Sixteen students graduated this year, with the largest class having graduated was 31. Most have jobs when they graduate. The National Board exam is applicable to all states, but each state has individually governing laws regarding funeral services.
One of the processes he teaches, together with part-time instructor, Terri Makinson, is alkaline hydrolysis – a new “biocremation” method. Though it is still not legal in some states, it is in Oregon. He says apprenticeships are the best way to learn about the industry and to eventually land a full-time job, so students are required to intern at funeral homes and cemeteries to learn more about the practical aspects of the profession. Internship placements are all over the Northwest with Eugene being the farthest placement so far. I asked if he had any recommended reading for prospective students. He said that the best thing to do is get experience in the field, but as far as insightful writings, he recommended “The Whole Death Catalog” by Harold Schechter. He said that while some details are not necessarily accurate, overall it is very good. “Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers” by Mary Roach is also an enlightening read.
His favorite cemetery in Oregon? He is very fond of Forest Lawn, Lone Fir and a little cemetery by the gas station near the college.
June 2017, Anna Mehrer