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Students Compete in Lottery to Construct a Casket

Date: April 29, 2002
By: Dawn Fuller
Phone: (513) 556-1823
Photos by Carrie Cochran
Archive: General News

Hammering, sanding and drilling may not sound unusual with the construction going up around UC's campus, but what was under construction in the Teachers College April 28 certainly was. A team of seven students was hard at work on building a casket with UC Professor Lanthan Camblin. Furthermore, the selected students competed in a lottery to use their Sunday afternoon to come to school and build the casket for extra credit. Lanthan Camblin in casket and left, clockwise: Sarah Gugliotti, Valerie Moeder, Elizabeth Thompson, Susan Spindler, Jacki O'Dan, Lindsey Kierstead and Amy Totten

"How many people can say they put together a casket?" asks speech/language pathology major Elizabeth Thompson, a UC junior. "I wanted to do the casket project because it intrigues me."

The students are enrolled in the undergraduate course, "Human Development: Adulthood and Aging." It's part of a three-course series that is taught through the Educational Foundations program of the UC College of Education. Around 130 students are enrolled for spring quarter.

Camblin says as the students study the various stages of human development, this course examines the very last stage: dying and death. To take the learning outside the classroom, Camblin has previously taken classes to a mortuary science school, and more recently, disguised himself as an old man and was introduced to the class as a guest speaker. At the end of that speech, he said, "Gotcha!" and revealed his true identity to the surprised students.

Susan Spindler works on the lid

The search for a casket proved to be more of a challenge, and Camblin says he'd been looking for one for years. A coffin from the Playhouse in the Park reminded him too much of Dracula, he says, and he wanted something that would better resemble what is used in funeral services. A colleague, Professor Jeff Gordon, suggested that Camblin do a search on the Internet, and that's where he located a company that was willing to help. A Canadian company, Casket Kits, sells the kits for $900, but was willing to give Camblin a big discount because he was working on an educational project. With a $380 grant from the College of Education, Camblin sent for the wooden casket kit. But as for assembly, well, the extra credit group was pretty much on its own, with some basic directions.

Lanthan Camblin with Valerie Moeder, Amy Totten and Lindsey Kierstead work on the bottom of the casket

"Do these sticks go inside to brace it, or is this for the lid?" Camblin asked. Another challenge was working with the carpentry style of a different country: square screws.

"How are we doing? Who's got the stain? Who's got a steady hand for pouring?" Camblin asked, reminding students that stain is not like paint - they need to keep 'pulling' the stain in one direction.

"I never get away from the gloves," sighed sophomore nursing major Lindsey Kierstead, as she gloved up to protect her skin from the wood stain.

Camblin says the course was originally designed for nursing majors. The casket construction team was made up of a majority of them, including Kierstead, Sarah Gugliotti, Valerie Moeder, Susan Spindler, Amy Totten and Jacki O'Dan. Camblin adds the fall and winter quarters generally draw around 220 students representing 55 different majors. The course will be added to the General Education program next year.

Susan Spindler  and Lindsey Kierstead work on the lid

The extra credit idea was so popular among the students, 52 applied for the chance. Each of the three courses brought a chance for students to enter the lottery, and Camblin says higher consideration was given to the highest number of entries in the lottery. "I'm really pleased that this group got in."

"Death is a subject that everyone thinks about at some point," says second-year nursing major Sarah Gugliotti. "Hopefully, this project will allow members of the class to understand death, or at least get a different perspective on the issue."

Camblin adds the college will be sharing the casket with other UC faculty who teach courses on death and dying, as well as sensitivity training in that subject area.

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