(Written by Sarah Arthurs, Staff Writer for The Courier)
It was a grisly scene: A man lay dead on the ground, the victim of an unknown assailant. But the teenage girls clustered around him were unfazed. The man, after all, was a mannequin, and their job was to investigate as part of the forensic science camp at the University of Findlay.
The camp, held last week, allowed high school students to learn more about what it is like to work in forensic science. All told, 16 students were enrolled, most of them from Ohio but a few from out of state. Among them was Emily Krawczyk, 17, of Hampshire, Illinois. She took a forensic science class last semester and wanted to come to the camp to learn more. She was particularly interested in the anthropology aspects, such as examining bones.
Tanzi Buchan, 14, of Seville said they had learned a variety of techniques prior to the mock crime scene investigation. She said forensic science involves a team, and different people may have different strengths. “We’re going to put all of our brains together” to analyze the crime scene, she said.
Madison Boyer, a sophomore in the University of Findlay’s forensic science program, was a camp counselor. Among other things, her duties included setting up the mock crime scene where the students were to collect hair, fibers and blood to process and analyze.
Boyer’s goal is to become a crime scene technician for the FBI. Her hope is that the program inspires the campers to do the same.
“I hope that they all want to be crime scene investigators,” she said.
Boyer said not many colleges offer a forensic science major, so a student must typically major in chemistry or biology. But, she said, it’s a field with many career options in both government and private agencies. She said some students get a job right out of college, but she intends to pursue a master’s degree.
Boyer said forensic science work is “not at all” similar to what you see on television. Boyer, of Kenton, came to the University of Findlay specifically for this program.
At the crime scene, complete with “crime scene” tape, Krawczyk, Buchan and two other girls — Elsie Stich, 16, of Newcastle, Pennsylvania, and Zoe O’Dell, 15, of Powell — each took a different role. O’Dell took photographs of the crime scene as Stich took notes. Buchan and Krawczyk got their equipment out of a case, sorting through what they had and determining which equipment would be most useful. They worked as a team, communicating what they were doing.
The girls also had to contend with real-life situations forensic science investigators might face, as Boyer told them that, though she didn’t want to rush them, it might be about to rain.
The team measured the distance of items, including a bag of bones and the tip of a shovel, to determine how far they were from the body and the nearby building.
O’Dell took photographs from many angles to be used for evidence.
Wearing blue gloves, they put the evidence into bags and carefully labeled them.
Boyer directed Buchan to lift the “body’s” arms above his head, because Buchan had to collect the victim’s shirt for evidence. Stich offered to help and, once the delicate task was performed, Buchan carefully folded up the shirt, so as to avoid having anything fall off, and put it into an evidence bag.
Each bag had to be neatly labeled, this one, for example, with Buchan’s name and the date and time — 6/16, 10:51 AM — and the words “T-shirt off of victim.”
Next was collecting a shovel at the crime scene. This, too, needed to be put in a bag. This presented a challenge, as the girls had to determine how to safely seal the bag around the shovel handle. It didn’t fit in the bag neatly, but eventually they worked it out, Krawczyk holding the shovel as Buchan wrote on the bag.
Boyer gave them guidance, but they were required to figure out most of the situation on their own. When O’Dell asked if an item was buried, she replied “I cannot tell you that.”
After the time at the “crime scene,” the students were to go back into the classroom, where they looked at ultraviolet rays and fingerprinting.
The week was to conclude with a presentation by the students.
The University of Findlay’s forensic science degree program was created following the guidelines established by the United States Department of Justice, Technical Working Group on Education and Training in Forensic Science and the American Academy of Forensic Sciences.
Students can choose between a major in forensic biology (designed for students who wish to pursue a career in the area of testing biological material for DNA) or forensic chemistry (designed for students who choose a career in working with drugs, unknown materials and trace evidence analysis such as paint, glass, fibers, hairs, latent prints, ballistics and other areas). They learn techniques involving firearms identification, forensic biology, DNA, crime scene investigation, latent prints, trace evidence and chemistry.
Since forensic science specialists are sometimes called into courtrooms to defend their work on criminal cases, University of Findlay students also take courses in speech, communication, argumentation and debate.
(Click here to view The Courier’s video that accompanied this story).