Faculty Member Receives New Certification

Pam Cress first professor to earn thanatology certification

By: Becky St. Clair

Cress has been teaching for the School of Social Work since 1996.

Pamela Keele Cress, dean of the School of Social Work at Walla Walla University, recently obtained her certification in thanatology, the study of death and dying.  

Cress began teaching a class on death and dying for WWU in 1998, two years after she began teaching for the university.  Incidentally, this also came two years after the death of her father, who was Cress’ mentor and friend.

“My initial interest in the subject came as a result of my own need to understand and manage my own grief over his death,” says Cress.

The purpose of the class is to educate on all topics pertaining to death and dying, including lifespans, dying trajectories, funeral rituals, hospice, bereavement, ethical dilemmas related to medical advances, cultural differences, and more.  

“We also talk a lot about how to live life well now,” says Cress.

Most students in the class are studying to be doctors, nurses, pastors, teachers, or social workers.

Cress plans to continue teaching the class on death and dying, and to run grief groups in the community.  She also believes this new credential will be helpful when making presentations on the topic, which she regularly does for church and community groups.

As she enjoyed studying the topic, Cress naturally found herself gravitating toward continuing education that would assist her in teaching the Death and Dying class better.  As the years went by, she realized she had accumulated enough continuing education credits to apply for the national test.  After months of studying and a three-hour test, Cress had her certification in thanatology.

“The exciting part about all of this is that the certification requires that I do several credit hours of continuing education each year to keep the credential,” says Cress.  “This means that my learning continues!  This is really a personal achievement for me.”

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