CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (WCIA) — One cemetery in Champaign County is home to hundreds of graves, but is now also serving as a classroom.
It’s more than a century old, and many challenges are making it hard to keep it clean. Now, a Champaign organization and high school students are working together to make sure families can still safely visit their loved ones.
“It’s really interesting looking at the data and stuff, and also just figuring out how to navigate through the cemetery,” St. Thomas More Student Muskaan Garg said.
Not too many students would jump at the chance to spend Saturday morning at a graveyard. However Garg, a sophomore at the high school, said it’s a chance she couldn’t pass up.
“My physics teacher came up to me in the hallway one day and he said there was this opportunity to come out to the cemetery and work with some engineering equipment.”
She and her classmates participated in the STEM Cemetery Project at St. Mary’s in Champaign. They are searching for headstones underneath the surface that may be hiding graves. Bill Vavrik, Vice President at Applied Research Associates, calls it underground mapping.
“We were approached by the cemetery a number of months ago to ask if we had the ability to look into the ground and understand what’s going on inside the ground.”
Once the graves are found, cemetery officials match where artifacts are with their gravesite. That way, families who want to buy a plot can do so without disturbing other remains. Rebekah Goebel, a high school junior, said the experience allows her to pursue her passion of engineering.
“I love the math portion and I really enjoy finding out how to solve for things in real world problems,” she said. “I’ve been driving the tractor so it’s been really, really interesting to see how close together the gravestones are.”
Grag said other students should give it a try.
“It’s like real-world experience working with real technology, and it gives you an idea of the level, the caliber, and the understanding that you have to have to be able to work on stuff like this on a day-to-day basis.”
Students will analyze the data once they are done. Vavrik said it could take until the end of the year to figure out what’s underground, but he knows it will help many families find where their loved ones are buried.