We Love Our Alumni!
We love hearing about our alumni are out there making a difference in people’s lives. And, we hope you enjoy learning more about them and their experience with us too.
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Born and raised in the greater Pittsburgh area, I graduated from Schenley High School. While in high school, I worked in the community with Nego Gato Inc., a local dance company, where I taught African-Brazilian Martial Arts and Dance. This experience furthered my desire to serve the community, therefore, provoking me to volunteer my time and gifts to several other organizations. At the age of fourteen I wanted to become a funeral director as I had experienced quite a few deaths in my family. At that time my grandma encouraged me to find another career as the funeral industry was a male dominant profession. Only is she was alive to see the percentage of women in the industry now. I took heed and decided to use my abilities in the medical field. I worked as a Surgical Technician for 6 years, providing skilled medical support in the UPMC Heath Network. After my grandma died in 2014, I realized my true gift was in honoring and comforting families during their greatest time of need. In 2016, I graduated from the Pittsburgh Institute of Mortuary Science class 153. Completed my apprenticeship at Burton Funeral Home in Erie, PA as it was the better move to become well a rounded Funeral Director. Working at Burton’s I was able to serve families of all different religious and ethnic background. Through experiencing loss and death in my family, I strived to ease the burden and stress of funeral arrangements for the families I serve. When returning back to Pittsburgh I found it hard to either find a place of employment that wanted to pay a newly hired funeral director a decent wage or there wasn’t a great home/work life balance, and/or the work atmosphere really wasn’t conducive to effectively serve families in the manner I desired. I then stepped away from the funeral industry for a couple years to regroup. Then an opportunity of a lifetime presented itself and even though my short-term goal was not to open my own funeral home, God opened the door for me to do so. This is a very small industry be careful who you come in contact with and how you treat them as you never know who is attached to your next move. I ended up opening up my funeral home with the help of my old co-worker from Burton Henry Howze Jr. and my old PIMS classmate Lydia Alvarez.
The two most important things I learned at PIMS was one maintaining a posture of professionalism. Opening my own funeral home without having a family name to stand on in the city of Pittsburgh in the black community hasn’t happen in ages. Being the youngest, female black funeral director/owner, I wanted people to take me seriously. That despite my age or how long I have been in this industry, I wanted to gain their trust that their loved one will be treated with the utmost dignity, compassion, and excellence. So, it was a must to carry myself with professionalism to help gain the trust of the community. The other thing I learned at PIMS is “remember why you did it”. I fortunately learned this earlier on as I began to see my classmates quit left and right. Times in school were very challenging as I went to school full time and worked full time, but when I wanted to quit, I had to remember why I started. This still rings true in opening my own funeral home because it was not easy. Remembering why I did it keeps me going. In about 15 months of opening my first location I was able to open my second location in Erie, PA. There are still challenges to face but the gratitude from the families we serve make it worth it.
My mother Faye Cosby is my overall inspiration. Her hardworking nature, her heart to serve and help those around her gave me the desire to do so as well. In the industry my role model, though I don’t think he’s aware would-be Peter Burton, his innovative way of staying in front of the industry and its changes, along with making sure his staff feels like family and are taken care of, fostered that mentality in me as well. With my mother’s heart and Peter’s business ambition I believe will continue to inspire me in the many decades to come. Thank you both.
The advice I would give to anyone interested in this industry have a reason you want to achieve it, a reason that not even yourself can stop you from achieving it. I have faced odds of the impossible my whole life but with God are things are made possible.
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The education and experience I had at PIMS prepared me and gave me the confidence to start my own trade embalming business; Anubis Embalming & Mortuary Services, LLC. The instructors at PIMS pushed me to dive deeper into the art and science of embalming which gave me the skills to be the best embalmer that I could be. They also taught me to never stop learning and there is always more to learn! My advice is to take every course seriously and learn as much about each course as you can. When you think that material is irrelevant to funeral service, I promise you that you’ll eventually need that knowledge at some point in your career. You’ll always be a step ahead and stand out above the other professionals if you do!
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OMAR J. CLEA
I chose to further my education at PIMS because of my desire to be connected with the best. I was enrolled at another mortuary program, and after coming to Pittsburgh and visiting the campus, I felt that PIMS was a better fit for me. At my time of enrollment, I was 40 years old, holding an A.A.S. in Culinary Arts, B.S. in Food Service Management both from Johnson & Wales University and a Bachelors of Theology (B.Th.) from Eastern Theological Seminary. I had been working at Nancy M. Wallace Funeral Home of Baltimore for a few years.
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Beyond the textbook education received at PIMS I believe the online program and staff sets students up for the tasks and how to achieve goals that will never be found in a book. The last-minute changes to schedules, how to think on your feet when things, such as computers do not cooperate, how to work with others regardless of background or distance, how to research answers and develop your own opinions before being advised of others and how to manage a schedule that allows one to care for others while caring for yourself and family.
After I graduated, I continued to work at National Mortuary Shipping and Cremation in many different positions. I continued to work in the crematory and prep room doing embalming but also the business development, sales, and presenting CEU seminars. Today I serve as the Vice President of National Mortuary Shipping and Cremation, one of the worlds largest mortuary trade and shipping services. I truly believe this would not have been possible if it were not for the guidance, support, and influence from the people I have met through PIMS.
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Brenda graduated with class 157 and chose to further her education with PIMS because she had a calling to become a funeral director. She first applied when her son was just 10 months old, and originally planned to attend online for the flexibility. However, once she toured the school, she said, that all changed.
“As soon as I stepped through the door I knew I was making one of the best decisions for not only myself but my family as well. Needless to say after I left that day attending the on campus program was a no brainer. Through out my time at PIMS I can honestly say that even on the most stressful days I was happy to be there. I found support everywhere I turned. Wether it was to vent about the stress of that week, or advice about finding an internship I always knew I wasn’t alone.”
She was fortunate enough to meet her current employer, Kanai Funeral Home, through the school, and she is officially a licensed funeral director and embalmer.
Her best advice to students? “Remain focused on the goal of being a Funeral Director. As cliche as it sounds nothing worth having is easy to attain, if it was anyone could have it. Ask questions, show interest, and enjoy the experience of being a student. What you put into PIMS is what you get out of it, and I couldn’t be more proud to say that I am officially an Alumni!”
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