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Marketing students plan their funerals

Oak. 70”. Unyielding. No, these are not wand specifications. These are casket specifications.

Professor Eva Fast wanted her Consumer Behavior class to dive deep into the world of funeral planning. So, they planned their own.

Fast said the goal of the activity was to encourage students to plan ahead.

“I want to help them learn about the issues surrounding death before it becomes an emotional event, to provide hands-on experience learning about marketing and purchasing insurance, funeral arrangements, and funeral business practices, and to facilitate discussion of various cultural practices surrounding death,” she said.

Students who complete this project will, at the end, have a “fully developed, executable funeral plan,” Fast said.

The class even made a visit to the Wasson Funeral Home as part of their classroom experience.

Students had a wide range of reactions.

Junior Carli Castillo said, “It was very shocking at first. I was in denial! I didn’t want to think or write my funeral plan. It gave me nightmares.”

Once she got over the initial shock of it, though, a whole new problem arose. Castillo is a Walton student from El Salvador. This means she had to plan her funeral long-distance.

Many funeral homes did not have their prices online, so she had to email them. Often, she got no response. Her final product, then, may not be everything she wanted in a funeral home; she just had to choose the one with its prices online.

Chase Skelton, junior, looked at the project skeptically at first, but later recognized the merit in such an exercise.

“When you think about it from a marketing perspective, a funeral is possibly the fourth or fifth biggest purchase of your life [or not life] following a house, education, wedding and car, so it makes sense to look into it,” said Skelton.

Skelton said he learned how many “amazing, innovative ways we can dispose of our bodies, from launching your remains into space, to becoming a coral reef, or rotting peacefully in a shallow unmarked forest grave—a granola funeral.”

He also learned to look at funeral planning in the context of a Christian worldview, something he said Fast did an excellent job of encouraging.

Skelton said that as a Christian business person this can be a “really good opportunity to find ways to respect other humans and treat them ethically in their hour of need.”

Emily Anderson, senior, saw it differently. She spent much time recently going to funerals of people she cared deeply about, including two grandparents.

So, while she recognized the value of the assignment, “Every time I sat down to work on it, this assignment made me relive all the memories of those funerals and all of the grief and sadness I felt.”

Anderson never felt “weirded out” by the idea of looking into death and funerals because she has just gotten used to it.

At the same time, though, she still did not like it.

“It’s a sensitive subject for too many people,” she said.

Professor Fast’s Consumer Behavior class took the integration of faith and learning to a new extreme. Fast challenged her students in ways that they never could have anticipated, and, though they may be been slow to warm up, these students have widened their ideas of Christian business people in the working world.