In 1986, a gallon of gas cost 89 cents and the average cost of a new car was just over $9,250. It was the year of the “Hands across America,” charity event, the Chernobyl nuclear reactor explosion, and the debut of the Oprah Winfrey Show. The stage musical “Phantom of the Opera” debuted in London’s West End, and people were flocking to see Top Gun, Crocodile Dundee and Platoon at the theaters. Popular on radio stations were The Prentenders, Genesis, The Bangles and Whitney Houston with “The Greatest Love of All,” while popular television programs included Dynasty, Hill Street Blues, Cheers, and The A-Team.
At CCMS, there were some notable moments that year as well. The college became the first private college of mortuary science in the nation to be authorized to award the Bachelor of Mortuary Science degree. And, in September 1986, Teresa Dutko joined the CCMS team as the first full-time female faculty member and the only full-time faculty member who wasn’t a clinician, instead coming from the social science field.
According to Dutko, CCMS interim President Dan Flory was seeking someone with a different background to enrich the bachelor’s degree curriculum. He sent a letter to Miami University and “my professor encouraged me to apply,” explains Dutko. “I didn’t yet know what I was going to do with my degree and hadn’t ever thought of anything related to funeral service. I wasn’t interested in teaching children or teens, but really hadn’t considered the college level.”
Over the 30+ years she’s been with CCMS, Dutko has seen many changes. “When I started, most of our students came from funeral home families, so they already had a solid understanding of the profession,” she notes. “They were aware of the long hours, the challenges and rewards of helping families, the physical labor entailed.
“Students now are often working, some even work two jobs while attending. They are commuting, caring for families and working – all while taking a rigorous academic load,” Dutko states. “It inspires me to see the sacrifices the students have to make and how important good time management skills have become. Sometimes the time constraints limit the luxury of students having much social time with their cohort. Of course, they still bond as classmates but it seems they must work harder in order for it to occur.”
According to Dutko, another change over the years has been the move to students completing their pre-requisites at community colleges. “I’ve found that more and more of our students are away from home for the first time. In addition to their coursework, they are learning how to manage their own apartments and finances. In some ways, they are very aware of all they are juggling, which motivates them to do well academically.”
Dutko has noted changes in study habits as well. “Because some students have taken their pre-reqs through online learning once they come to CCMS, they have to adjust to being in person in a classroom or lab. Because we want students to have access to printed materials that they might not be able to afford, we faculty have had to adjust and to be mindful of reserving copies in the library.
“I was in graduate school during a major technological shift, going from electronic typewriters to computers, so it continues to fascinate me how technology as a whole is impacting the curriculum,” she explains. A case in point – “Students are less and less accustomed to making eye contact, thanks to social media,” Dutko states. “Thus, I build it into class projects to ensure they develop that ability since it is crucial when showing compassion to grieving families.”
When others question if she’s ever been bored being with the same employer for more than three decades, Dutko quickly replies, “This is certainly not a dull job! Teaching has allowed me to be a lifelong learner as grief research and publications are constantly evolving. I get to meet so many intriguing people who have a zeal for helping others. For me, the reward comes from the opportunity to really get to know our students and to maintain those bonds as they continue on their professional path.”