Unique degree paths present numerous possibilities for Oklahoma college graduates
Til death do us part has new meaning for Cassie Alvarez and Ryan Johnson.
The two University of Central Oklahoma students both recently graduated with a bachelor of science in funeral services, wrapping up their degrees earlier this month as they plan on working together in a practice to help organize, counsel and prepare families to handle the death of a loved one.
The program is considered one of the best in the nation for those seeking to work in the funeral industry and both Alvarez, 25, and Johnson, 28, are eager to start their careers.
“I really enjoy helping families with their final goodbyes,” Alvarez said. “A lot of people don’t realize how much it entails to make it a special moment. It’s nice getting to help people through such a difficult time.”
Alvarez and Johnson represent just two of thousands of recent graduates from Oklahoma colleges putting their degree to use right away after school ended.
Of the more than 20 graduates of the program last year, all were employed in the funeral services field within the following year.
For Alvarez and Johnson, their graduation also coincides with their recent engagement. After hitting it off in embalming chemistry class two years ago, Johnson said he could tell quickly they shared the same interest for the dearly departed.
“Some people find it weird that we have really passionate conversations about death,” he said. “But we are both pretty normal people.”
Matthew Walters spent graduation night almost in disbelief at the direction his life was heading.
Sitting on the stage just a few rows behind University of Oklahoma deans, regents and president, Walters said he felt amazed at what he accomplished at OU in four short years.
The 22-year-old from Missouri was named a Fulbright Scholar the final week of the semester as he prepared to graduate with a double major in Russian Language and Eastern European Studies.
Walters, who was commissioned as an officer in the U.S. Army, will head to Kiev, Ukraine, in the coming months to put his knowledge to the test as he teaches English at a military academy.
It’s a situation Walters said he could not have imagined himself in when he left high school four years ago.
“Good lord, no. I never thought I’d be doing this,” he said. “I wanted a deeper understanding of what was happening outside of America and to learn about and speak with new people.
“Now I’m going to go live it.”
Walters said he often has to explain his interest in Russia, especially as the United States’ relationship with the country has become a hot topic in recent years.
But having experienced the people and its history, Walters said he’s found more common ground than he first expected.
“It’s a surreal feeling,” he said. “Because people can’t interact with average everyday Russians, they can become this Boogeyman.”
Emmy Bechtold is one of just a dozen students graduating with a food science degree at Oklahoma State.
Bechtold came to Oklahoma State from California, following two older sisters who also left the Golden State for Stillwater.
She became interested in food science when she started judging meat as part of the Animal Science Department at OSU, learning how to examine a cut of meat to determine which will be of the highest quality and flavor.
Bechtold was part of the 2018 National Champion Meat Judging Team.
After earning her degree, she’ll head to Texas Tech to earn her masters in Meat Science.
“I am highly interested in becoming part of a research and development team or work with USDA,” she said. “I’m going to receive hands-on experiences with issues that occur in the industry and help formulate results to better the meat industry.”