At Mercy College of Health Sciences, students are transformed into successful healthcare leaders no matter what degree they graduate with at the conclusion of their studies. By the time they cross the stage at Commencement, however, students understand becoming that successful leader means serving those who need it most, wherever that may be: hospitals, clinics, private practices, or – as was the case for one Mercy College student– at the graveside.
In addition to their program coursework, Mercy College students must complete at least 15 hours of community service before they are eligible to graduate. This “service learning” requirement is intended to build upon the legacy of the Sisters of Mercy, the Catholic religious order that founded Mercy College in 1899. In the 2021-22 academic year, over 6,500 service hours were completed by our students in the communities in which they live in Iowa and across the U.S.
“It truly is remarkable what these students can accomplish,” Professor Joe Moravec, DMin, stated. “The service learning requirement is meant to give them a richer context and broader picture for what they learn in the classroom and who they will continue to serve in our communities especially among those most vulnerable. And our students consistently go above and beyond what’s ‘required’ of them.”
Stephanie Imhoff, who is currently pursuing her Associate of Science in Nursing at Mercy College, completed a total of 42 service hours over the past year, far exceeding the 15 hours required for graduation. The service? Cleaning and restoring old, unreadable headstones that had been worn down by time and weather.
“No one wants to be lost or forgotten,” Imhoff reflected. “The circle of life is profound in that even the smallest missing piece leaves a gap and feels incomplete. Doing this type of service helped me see that memories and a place to go to remember and honor family is essential for some people.”
Imhoff worked under the supervision of community partner Jeanne Wiebke to clean the headstones in the summer of 2022. Over the course of several weeks, Imhoff cleaned and preserved the grave markers, took photos of the restored stones, and entered the gravesite information into FindAGrave.com, an online gravesite collective that allows family members to search for their loved ones’ resting places. Using the information she found on the restored stones – and after several hours of additional research – Imhoff was able to trace the ancestry of two unclaimed graves and connect them to existing family trees in Ancestry.com and FamilySearch.org.
“Many babies who died never made it into the census or newspapers,” Imhoff explained, “and their gravestones are the only proof of their lives. By adding their information, current family members and future generations will have a more complete history.”
In total, Imhoff cleaned, restored, and preserved approximately 20 grave markers representing four generations and nine families. Beyond the initial cleaning, Imhoff worked with Wiebke to restore and reset stones that had sunken into the ground and become damaged by water and dirt. After restoring the stones to their rightful places, Imhoff then set out to preserve and document the cleared headstones. In April of 2023, she revisited the sites and noted the marked improvement.
“As a nurse, this level of service helps me see the complete circle of loving while living and loving in remembering," Imhoff explained. "Taking care to clean the stones and grave markers that preserve them for future generations to visit and reflect offers a way to bridge the mourning and healing.”
Service Learning is an experiential learning opportunity that mutually benefits the provider and recipient of service, enhances academic objectives, meets a community-defined need, and encourages a College-wide culture of service. To learn more about the service learning requirement for Mercy College students, please visit our website.
About Mercy College of Health Sciences
Mercy College of Health Sciences is a health sciences specialty school rooted in the Catholic heritage of the Sisters of Mercy. Located in the heart of downtown Des Moines, Iowa, Mercy College offers master’s, bachelor’s, and associate degrees, certificates, and continuing education courses. Through our unique hands-on learning, unparalleled clinical rotations, and accelerated education offerings, our students are prepared to enter the workforce quickly with the critical skills necessary to make an immediate impact in their chosen healthcare careers. Guided by our Core Values of Knowledge, Reverence, Integrity, Compassion, and Excellence, Mercy College has been transforming students into successful healthcare professionals for over 120 years.