“Do we mark the body as one piece of evidence, or as multiple pieces of evidence?” asked a student on lab day.
Students of CHEM 1145, Forensic Science, shuffled around a room in the Science Center at MCTC in white lab coats, goggles and blue booties. They painstakingly observed, recorded and discussed minute details of their staged crime scene that an untrained spectator might not notice. Their instructor, Dr. Rekha Ganaganur, looked on.
“Many students don’t know MCTC offers this class, and others don’t think they are qualified to take it,” said Dr. Ganaganur. “Yet every year, several non-science students take Forensic Science as a fun way to complete their general education requirements, and later wind up moving into one of the science fields.”
The class, modeled after popular television shows like Crime Scene Investigators (CSI), meets American Chemical Society standards and was developed by Dr. Ganaganur with the help of a National Science Foundation fellowship and the MCTC Theater Arts department. Forensic Science aims to introduce students to an array of scientific topics: from evidence gathering and safety standards, to DNA and blood analysis, to mock court-of-law trials and jury bias. The class is not only for science majors; students come from diverse academic backgrounds including criminal justice, social work, biotechnology, anthropology, addiction counseling, psychology and others.
“I found the mock trial portion really interesting,” said Elise Wiggen, MCTC chemistry student. “There is no predetermined answer, and it showed the class how many different ways a trial can go with different evidence.” Elise paged through her notebook from the class, pointing out the different labs the course covered: They learned to examine blood, DNA, fingerprints, lip prints, hair, ink, glass, drugs and alcohol. “The DNA lab was really interesting,” said Elise. “We worked with equipment that was new to me, like micropipettes and an electrophoresis machine.”
The course also consists of several evidence-gathering labs, during which students enter a mock crime scene and choose among various investigative roles to play. “We’ve got two searchers and two note takers,” said a student preparing her fellow classmates for one of the spring 2013 labs. “We’re going to go in single-file and perform a spiral search.”
“After taking this class, watching shows like CSI can be frustrating,” said Adrian Bohlman, MCTC chemistry student. “I notice when the actors aren’t wearing appropriate protective gear or following procedures.” Adrian’s experience in Forensic Science prepared her for later MCTC science classes, and she now intends to transfer to the University of Minnesota to study chemistry.
“Many students have taken the class and later told me the course supplemented their diverse professional interests,” said Dr. Ganaganur. “Students also say it gives them a much better grasp of the importance of science in the criminal justice system.”
“I had never taken chemistry before college,” said Adrian. “I never thought I’d go into a STEM field. You know what my favorite classes are now?”
Elise also saw her academic interests change after taking Forensic Science. “I never thought I’d go into science. I used to hate it in high school.” Elise has since applied for a work-study position as lab assistant for the class. “I think MCTC has a really good science program. I have had only good teachers here.”
This course is offered every fall and spring at MCTC. Click here for registration details.