Students use tools, techniques on imaginary case for learning experience
JULY 23, 2018 BY
A dead body, blood spatter, guns, bullets and DNA samples – all fake – offered gifted high school students opportunities to test their forensic skills recently at the University of Mississippi.
Thirty-six 10th- through 12th-graders visited campus as part of a weeklong camp on forensic science. The event drew students from Mississippi, Arkansas, California, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Michigan, Missouri, North Carolina, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Texas and Canada.
Led by Murrell Godfrey, director of the university’s forensic chemistry program, and his graduate and undergraduate students, the group spent a full day honing detective skills while examining the “evidence” throughout select classrooms and labs in Coulter Hall.
“The case this week involves a murder that has taken place in a clandestine drug lab,” Godfrey said. “At the crime scene, the students learned about the proper techniques for collecting evidence, the proper protective equipment to wear to prevent contamination, and how to document and take notes at a crime scene.”
The students collected multiple pieces of evidence including: blood from bloody footprints believed to be left by the suspect that could contain the suspect’s DNA, duct tape used in the crime to test for fingerprints, a threatening note left by the suspect for ink analysis, a gun to test for fingerprints, bullets to perform ballistics comparison with a bullet from the suspect’s gun and drug samples found at the scene that were tested using analytical techniques to determine their identity.
“Throughout the week, forensic experts, graduate students and UM faculty lectured on the procedures for analyzing the evidence found at the crime scene,” Godfrey said. “Students then attended various laboratories where they had the opportunity to analyze their samples and learn more about high-tech instrumentation firsthand.
“We had a mock trial Friday morning where students had to defend their evidence/analysis in court. Students served as expert witnesses, prosecutors, defense attorneys, jury and so forth.”
At the conclusion of the camp, participants received certificates of completion from the American Academy of Forensic Science and the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, T-shirts and bags from AAFS.
Graduate student Caroline Spencer of Decatur, Alabama, coordinated the camp. Other staff included Ann-Elodie, of Ocala, Florida, and Kardazia Murry, of Houston, as camp counselors; Brandon Stamper, of Brandon, camp teaching assistant; Mina Brandon of Wood Dale, Illinois, Daj’ai Ashford, of Choctaw, Beau Black, of Weatherford, Texas, and Austin Scircle, of Knoxville, Tennessee, camp volunteers.
Speakers and forensic experts included Jim Cizdziel, associate professor of chemistry and biochemistry; Ken Winter, adjunct instructor of legal studies and former director of the Mississippi Forensic Laboratory; Leslia Davis, forensic biologist from MFL in Pearl; Velveda Harried, drug chemist from MFL in Biloxi; and Don Stanford, assistant director of the UM Research Institute of Pharmaceutical Sciences, who gave a double-decker bus tour of the marijuana field and medicinal garden.
This forensics summer camp, which was sponsored by AAFS, the Council of Forensic Science Educators, the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, the Division of Outreach and Continuing Education, Department of Legal Studies, the National Center for Natural Products Research and the Research Institute of Pharmaceutical Sciences, was the fifth hosted at the university.
“Our goal is always to encourage these gifted young minds to become STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) majors once they enter college,” Godfrey said.
Several students said they’ve learned a great deal through their experience.
“This whole week has been amazing,” said Luke LeBlanc, a 10th-grader from Lafayette, Louisiana. “My favorite thing has been learning blood analysis and ballistics in the labs. I’m definitely planning on returning to CSI camp here next year.”
Kalen Klatte, a sophomore from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, said she was expecting only a few females to attend.
“I was pleasantly surprised when I found that there are more girls than boys,” said Klatte, who has been interested in forensics since she was age 11. “This has been a great experience for me and I hope I can do it again.”
Junior Kaitlin May Wong, of Montreal, Quebec, said the camp helped her cement her future career path.
“There aren’t a lot of opportunities to study forensics in Canada,” she said. “Being here this week has solidified in me that a career in this field is definitely what I want. I’m returning home with a lot more knowledge of forensics and memories of my new friends made this week.”
Caliah Cope, who was an “expert witness” in presumptive drug analysis for her forensic team, said she was excited to see how all the aspects of crime scene investigation come together to solve their case.
“I’m really looking forward to giving my testimony and seeing the suspect be convicted for the crime committed,” said Cope, a junior from Grand Prairie, Texas.
Other students in the camp included Michaela Anderson, of Tupelo; Carrington Carter, of Batesville; Alexia Hartley, of Hazlehurst; Dani Janus, of Starkville; Brennan Teeter, of Madison; Jasmine Van Velkinerg, of Clinton; Lauren Barrouquere, of Baton Rouge, Louisiana; Jacqueline Schlamp, of Sulfur, Louisiana; Ashlyn Belcher, of Marietta, Georgia; Madeline Cusick, of Atlanta; Victoria Buckley, of Dayton, Maryland; Jazmyn Cameron, of Houston, Texas; Rachel Ledington, of Austin, Texas; Marisa Chapa, of Dallas; Mi’Kayla Cornelious, of Marianna, Arkansas; Tiernan Dautle, of Cherry Hill, New Jersey; Andra Durgee, of Boca Raton, Florida; Julia Ann Kepley, of Tampa, Florida; Emma Stovall and Erin Stovall, both of Ft. Myers, Florida; Grace Gibson, of Teustin, California; Jerry Gutierrez and Itzel Medina, both of Healdsburg, California; Katie Martell, of Irving, California; Raychael Gross, of Memphis; Sierra McLaurin, of Nashville, Tennessee; Karen Guo, of St. Louis; Colin O’Connor, of Louisville, Kentucky; Lakadar Quelhaci, of Detroit; and Abby Wannamaker, of Chapel Hill, North Carolina.
By allowing the students to visit the department and experiment with the equipment, UM faculty said they hope to pique their interests in forensic chemistry and possibly recruit them to the university. The strategy appears to be working.
“I’m definitely considering coming to Ole Miss and studying forensics,” said De’Monica Dumas, of Shreveport, Louisiana, who attended the 2017 CSI camp. “As a result of the first camp, I came back wanting to learn more about fingerprinting. And this week, I did.”
For more information about the forensic chemistry program within the UM Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, visit http://chemistry.olemiss.edu/undergraduates/forensic-chemistry/.