Location: Pittsburgh Institute of Mortuary Science on Baum Boulevard

Featured guests: Dr. Barry Lease (Program Director and COO), Mike Burns (Dean of Faculty and Students) and Chelsea Cush (part-time faculty, embalming mentor and licensed funeral director)

3 things that surprised me:

1. Two to three weeks after Pittsburgh Institute of Mortuary Science students begin their program, they all watch a live embalming, in which a body’s fluids are drained and replaced with a formaldehyde-based solution. At that point, they can reevaluate whether they think the program is right for them. Before graduating, each student must embalm 30 bodies. The school operates its own embalming facility on site so students can cross a parking lot to get from class to the Care Center where the embalming takes place.

2. Every student takes a Restorative Arts Class in which they’re issued the cast of a head that represents a person who experienced a traumatic head injury. To pass the class, they must use clay, wax and other materials to reconstruct the face.

3. One of the classrooms is a mock casket showroom in which the students practice role-playing exercises. One student will pretend to be the family of the deceased while the other helps them through the funeral planning process. The room is set up with microphones and cameras so that other students can watch and learn from the role-playing.

One thing that didn’t make the final cut: It used to be that most folks in the funeral business were children of funeral directors — it was something of a family business. Mike and Chelsea explained that over the last few decades that’s shifted and now 80% of students have no family connection to the funeral business.

Additional info: You can read more about the Pittsburgh Institute of Mortuary Science at its website.

Want more Yinzer Backstage Pass? Check out our visit to one of Phipps Conservatory’s secret greenhouses where they’re preparing for their upcoming spring and summer shows.