October 31, 2016

Varied paths lead student to SIU to pursue career as funeral director

by Pete Rosenbery

Ewa KrawczykCARBONDALE, Ill. -- Whether she was working as a freelance artist and illustrator, geriatric caregiver, hospital information systems technology coordinator, or financial adviser, Ewa Krawczyk’s goal has been helping people.

As Krawczyk pursues her goal of becoming a licensed funeral director, the Southern Illinois University Carbondale senior believes her life experiences directed her to her true profession.

“I believe, I truly believe I have been preparing my whole life for this one role,” Krawczyk said.

Anthony Fleege, associate professor and director of SIU Carbondale’s mortuary science and funeral service program, said Krawczyk’s drive was evident even when she came down for her student visit more than two years ago.

“She said this was her calling, even though she has previously had successful careers, she chose this as her final destination,” Fleege said.

Krawczyk, who is from Chicago, will graduate in May 2017 with a degree in mortuary science and funeral service. Deeply spiritual, Krawczyk prayed for guidance throughout her life. She was a financial planner in Chicago when she decided to change career paths. She moved to Carbondale in 2015, selecting SIU due to its academic requirements of a bachelor’s degree for the program.

“The trend is for mortuary science to become a profession instead of a trade and requires a bachelor’s degree,” she said. “SIU is one of those pioneer schools offering a bachelor of science degree and that puts me a step ahead.”

As officials in many states discuss setting higher academic standards for funeral directors, only seven of about 55 schools in the United States with mortuary science and funeral service programs offer bachelor’s degrees, Fleege said. SIU Carbondale is the only public university in Illinois with a four-year program.

After graduating from high school in 1991, Krawczyk earned an associate degree in fine arts at American Academy of Art in Chicago in 1994, followed by a bachelor’s degree in animation and media management from Columbia College in Chicago in 1996. While working in the animation field, Krawczyk secured scholarships and went on earn a master’s degree in information systems in 1998 and an MBA in finance in 2000, both from Roosevelt University.

She was working as a geriatric caregiver and teaching hospital employees and physicians on information systems technologies when she took the suggestion to pursue a doctorate. She earned her doctorate in information systems from Argosy University-Sarasota in Florida in 2007.

Krawczyk said her drive stems from the realization that she has only one opportunity “to be the best I can be and make the most of life you can possibly make.” She is still, however, grateful for the opportunities coming her way.

“Looking in hindsight, I couldn’t have dreamed how these paths would intertwine and lead me to all of these amazing people I have met and the opportunities and experiences I’ve had and was able to help,” she said.

Krawczyk said she loves SIU and its “wonderful culture of support.”

“SIU embraced me as a non-traditional student and all of my professors are wonderful,” she said. “They motivate me. I self-motivate from within, but they expose me to resources; encouraging you to take advantage of scholarships.”

Ten to 15 percent of those in the program are non-traditional students, Fleege said. At SIU Carbondale, about 85 percent of the students are women; nationwide it is about 65 percent, while the ratio for funeral directors nationwide is about 65-to-35 percent male, Fleege said.

Krawczyk was among the 30 recipients to benefit from the Service Corporation International 2016 national scholarship program. She will also have the opportunity to work at one of the more than 1,500 SCI-affiliated licensed funeral homes after graduation.

Her artistic background helps tremendously with restorative work, and her background as geriatric caregiver, where she interacted often with family members of her patients, is particularly helpful when times are difficult, she said.

With more than 20 years of business and caregiving experience, along with her artistry, Krawczyk believes it is “all coming together.”

She volunteered at Meredith Funeral Home in Carbondale this summer and will complete an internship there next spring. Owner Greg Meredith said Krawczyk’s dedication is evident.

“She has a knack because of her art background and perseverance to get things done in an outstanding way that is absolutely amazing,” he said, adding that Krawczyk understands the hours needed to make a service a success.

Her personality and demeanor will help her in the profession, along with “her drive, her feeling that this is her passion,” Meredith said.

“She has real gifts that are needed in good funeral homes,” he said. “It’s God-given; it’s not something she has learned, it’s more of an innate feeling.”

Krawczyk is an excellent student and her work experience will help her, Fleege said.

“She is going to be an asset to whatever funeral home she chooses because she has such a varied and diverse background that she can come out of the gate and provide multiple facets of her background for that funeral home,” Fleege said.  “She’s multifaceted in so many different things that I don’t think the funeral home that gets her will understand her value until a few months down the road -- they won’t know what a diamond-in-the-rough they are getting because she can bring many different things to the table.”