Under the Microscope: Forensic Science Day to Lure ‘CSI’ Types

March 12, 2013 / by / 0 Comment

By Michael Ferraresi
GCU News Bureau

Students who explore Forensic Science Day on campus on Wednesday can expect to get their hands dirty.

After all, forensic science is a dirty business. Crime lab analysts and crime scene specialists work with bodily fluids, corpses, chaotic shooting scenes, illegal drugs — just about anything that needs to be tested and cataloged.

GCU forensic science students work a mock crime scene during a recent exercise. (Photo by Tim Koors)

The popular career path is not for the squeamish. Yet it’s luring students by the hundreds. GCU’s undergraduate forensic science program added nearly 50 students for the past fall semester, bringing its total enrollment to around 200 currently. Program planners also have seen a major interest in Forensic Science Day, which is expected to draw around 800 prospective GCU students this year.

Police detectives and crime lab analysts are among several speakers scheduled to speak at Wednesday’s event, which begins at 8 a.m. and runs until noon. Booths also will be set up on the Quad with interactive displays open to the public to explore how experts analyze footprints, blood spatter, handwriting and other elements to help investigators reconstruct crimes.

A Wednesday crime-scene competition also is open to the public, with student teams set to collect evidence and present their theories on the faux crime. Police K-9 handlers also will show off the dogs responsible for sniffing out drugs, apprehending suspects and searching for victims.

“This year we wanted it more hands-on, with lots more things to do,” said Melissa Beddow, the assistant professor who leads GCU’s forensic science program. She oversaw last year’s first Forensic Science Day.

Beddow said this year’s event will include mostly high school students. GCU students and staff also are welcome to attend to learn about what it takes to work in the forensic science field.

Last year’s event was held mostly at GCU Arena, with speakers running longer than some stir-crazy teens might have preferred, Beddow said. The format this year is designed to keep students actively engaged. For GCU, it’s an opportunity to show off resources such as the DNA labs at College of Arts and Sciences or the cadaver lab.

“They’ll have a chance to see the demonstrations, go hear a speaker, or do a tour of the DNA lab or cadaver lab,” Beddow said. “We tried to stagger things so people can see as much as they can.”

Last year’s speakers included Phoenix police civilian crime scene specialists such as Karla Raponi, who shared details of her years of experience working Phoenix homicide cases. Like other speakers, she helped students see beyond the TV drama of cop shows. Forensic science is so detail-oriented, there is little room for error when convictions and case backlogs hang in the balance.

“It’s not sexy at all, trust me,” Raponi told the Arena audience last year. “You’ve got your one chance. It’s not like you can go back next week and say, ‘Let’s test that again.’”

Contact Michael Ferraresi at 639.7030 or [email protected].

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