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Capstone Courses Open Doors from Paleontology to Embalming


When you talk to high school students about their career goals, embalming isn’t usually mentioned.

But Maria Garcia, who graduated in May from Lee High School, finds the process of preparing bodies for presentation at a funeral fascinating, and she’s learning more about it this summer. Maria recently began her job at Christiansen Cremation and Funeral Care’s Wyoming location, where she will learn about becoming a funeral director.

Why Students Should Explore Careers

  • Provide a Chance to Learn from a Mentor in the Field
  • Can Save Them from Pursuing A Career They Don’t Like
  • Provides Them With Idea of Typical Workday, Job Responsibilities
  • May Connect Them with Future Opportunities

“About two years ago, I went to a family member’s funeral, and I was so interested in how they did the makeup and prepared him,” said Maria, who plans to become a licensed embalmer.

She is attending Grand Rapids Community College and plans to attend cosmetology school.

Maria landed the job at the funeral home because of the Senior Capstone course, which all Lee High School seniors take to prepare for further education, training or work. For her project, she got to visit the funeral home, meet the director, ride in a hearse, see the embalming room and attend a visitation.

The director offered her the job, which she started just days after graduation.

Lead Capstone Teacher Jody Jensen said Maria’s job offer is a fantastic outcome of the course, which students have taken during their second semester for the past several years. The research-based class is an in-depth exploration of a career pathway, including interviewing a professional in the chosen field, on-site observation or experience, writing a paper and creating a presentation. Students chose to study careers spanning industries including engineering, social work, dentistry and paleontology.

As Maria and fellow graduates know, there’s no such thing as slacking through senior year at Lee High School. Administrators have worked to make it a viable transition year to college and careers. That means giving them real experience and the knowledge to manage life post-high school. Along with careers, students take civics class, learning everything from the difference between good and bad credit to buying versus renting. They can also earn six college credits in a Grand Rapids Community College English 101 and 102 class, hosted at Lee High School.

“We’re trying to get students to think more about what they want to do beyond high school because we all have these big dreams, but you never know what’s going to happen until you explore it,” Jensen said. “Our goal is that you get something out of it. Either they want to go into the career field they chose or they find out it’s not for them.”

Senior Anna Fishman, who also graduated in May, literally got to dig into paleontology, her career choice, by participating in a dig in Indiana and Ohio. With PaleoJoe, a paleontologist who offers programs in the area.

“We found lots of different types of fossils,” said Anna, who is going to Albion to major in geology and minor in paleontology before pursuing grad school. “It motivated me, and gave me a feel of what it’s like.”

The experience solidified Maria and Anna’s career choices, which is common, Jensen said. But it’s just as helpful when it steers students away from a career.

She said about 70 percent of students have gone into the careers they explored but others learned it’s not for them. That knowledge can save a lot of time and money, she said.

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Erin Albanese
Erin Albanese
Erin Albanese is associate managing editor and reporter, covering Byron Center, Kentwood, Wyoming and Grand Rapids Community College. She was one of the original SNN staff writers, helping launch the site in 2013 and enjoys fulfilling the mission of sharing the stories of public education. She has worked as a journalist in the Grand Rapids area since 2000. A graduate of Central Michigan University, she has written for The Grand Rapids Press, Advance Newspapers, On-the-Town Magazine and Group Tour Media. Read Erin's full bio or email Erin.

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