If a critical incident occurs at Froedtert Hospital in Milwaukee, Angela Polcyn is part of the team the staff turns to in its aftermath. It’s just one of the many hats the Bereavement Coordinator wears in her Thanatology career, but all of them in some form go back to the Brandon, Wis. native’s desire to help others cope.
“There are just so many layers to what people go through when they are facing tough situations, and I’ve always been fascinated by being the one to help them through those,” said the Laconia High School graduate.
Angela first explored this interest by earning an Associate’s degree in AODA Counseling from Moraine Park Technical College in Fond du Lac, Wis., and from there landed a nine-month internship working in the Clinical Services Unit of the Green Lake County Department of Health and Human Services.
“That’s really where I discovered how much more is going on with people in difficult times than what we initially realize,” she said. “Everyone has a story, and that’s when I began to want to explore them more.”
Angela chose to begin her path toward a Thanatology career at Marian University, which she selected because of its direct transfer credit offerings. Additionally, a high school friend’s sister had benefited greatly from the Working Families Grant Program, prompting Angela to explore the offering dedicated to helping single parents earn their Bachelor’s degree.
“I am profoundly and eternally grateful for the Working Families Grant Program – I wouldn’t be where I am at right now without it,” she said, noting it allowed her schedule to be flexible and her student loan debt to be manageable. “I really wish I could meet the anonymous donors and thank them personally, because they helped change my life.”
Six months after her 2013 graduation Angela used the knowledge she’d gained in the Psychology program to start changing lives on her own. She was hired as the Activity and Volunteer Coordinator at a nursing home in Markesan, helping the geriatric population find meaning and purpose by leveraging what she learned in her four years of college.
“My role involved so many dynamics when working through interpersonal interactions, and I saw the ripples of grief initiated by the secondary losses that involve a nursing home stay,” she said. “Marian’s Psychology program really prepared me for that and helped me to better understand what motivated people and why they behaved the way they did and help them accordingly.”
Thanatology career becomes a possibility
But she wanted to learn more about this area, and to do so she returned to Marian University once again. As an undergraduate she had heard about its 100% online Master’s in Thanatology program, and having met with program chair Janet McCord, Angela already knew it was the perfect fit for her lifestyle.
“I wouldn’t have pursued my Master’s if it hadn’t been as easily accessible as it is at Marian,” she said, noting it allowed her to maintain her full-time job while raising two children. “Everything fit my schedule, and I always felt like I could come to campus if I wanted or needed to and have those great interactions with the people on campus, but that I was never required to.”
The coursework was so flexible in fact that ahead of graduating from the program in 2017, she was hired to be the Bereavement Coordinator at Ascension At Home in Neenah, working there until December 2018.
Now in the same role at Froedtert, she facilitates the bereavement program, support groups and works closely with chaplains, social workers and nurses to prepare families and their loved ones who are nearing end of life, and support families after a death.
“My Psychology and Thanatology education really comes into play when I am answering questions,” she said. “I know that without the program I wouldn’t have the role I am in and wouldn’t be helping as many people as I do.”