EKU Joins Tennessee Valley Corridor Forensics Initiative

Are you interested in forensic science?  How about considering nuclear forensics, or maybe cyber forensics?

“From nuclear to cyber forensics, to food safety and water treatment, the forensics industry touches nearly every aspect of our lives, yet most people only think of forensics as fingerprinting and DNA testing like they’ve seen on TV,” said Dr. Eric Abelquist, executive vice president of Oak Ridge Associated Universities. “In fact, we have a wide variety of growing forensics capabilities and opportunities right here in our region that we can turn into more jobs and new careers if we work together to take full advantage of them.”

In order to take advantage of these forensic opportunities, Eastern Kentucky University has joined with more than a dozen of the region’s top forensics organizations, businesses and leaders to establish the Tennessee Valley Corridor Forensics Initiative. The group is working to bring resources and capabilities together in an effort to build, expand and strengthen the forensic science industry and use the region as a national example.

The forensics initiative was recently highlighted as a model economic development initiative in a Global Corporate Xpansion article entitled “Workforce Initiatives to Keep U.S. in a Leadership Position,” and in “The Buzz” on Business Xpansion Journal’s website. 

Abelquist, who is leading the forensics initiative effort, noted that “one area of interest for us is obviously education and training.  Preparing the next generation to enter the work force, and providing continuing education and training for current forensic science practitioners, is vital to the industry, and it can have a tremendous economic impact if handled correctly.”

The EKU forensic science program is one of the participants in the education and training effort.  Dr. Diane Vance, director of EKU’s Forensic Science Program, recently conducted a presentation entitled “CSI-U: Not as Easy as You Think!,” which focused on the conflicting drivers that the academic world faces in addressing research and educational needs of the security, intelligence and forensic community, and on the “tremendous amount” of (mis)information that is available for students online.

When choosing a career path, students look to many sources for guidance as they try to find their passion. However, a trend that has been seen in recent years is the influence of pop culture on its students.   With the increased popularity of numerous forensics-based TV shows and high-profile crime cases, forensic science programs have seen an explosion in students.  Over the past decade, the number of forensic science programs in academia has grown from approximately 12 programs to more than 200 nationwide.  The rapid growth and lack of consistency in curricula are causing problems across the nation. 

“The content, emphasis and coursework related to forensic science vary widely, which poses problems for potential students entering the field of study,” Vance said. “One particular problem is with the undergraduate forensic science programs that can be completed solely online, with no laboratory experience required.  Students who do not have laboratory skills and operational experience with analytical instrumentation will not be able to compete successfully for laboratory forensic scientist positions. 

“There is also too much misinformation about forensic science programs that misleads students in making their field of study decisions,” Vance added. 

For example, a student researching forensic science programs in which he or she is interested may come to find that many are actually criminal justice centered programs.  Typically, criminal justice majors do not take the type and number of chemistry, physics and math courses needed to work in a forensic laboratory.  Students may spend a lot of money getting a two-year or even four-year degree that will not help them either find a forensic position or even transfer to a university forensic academic program.

Established in 1974, the Forensic Science Program at EKU is one of the oldest forensic science programs in the country. It has a national reputation for excellence in undergraduate education in Forensic Science and is one of only 18 undergraduate programs in the U.S. that has received accreditation from the Forensic Science Education Programs Accreditation Commission (FEPAC), a standing committee of the American Academy of Forensic Sciences.  Students take courses in general and organic chemistry, along with physics, biology, and math, before moving into forensic science courses such as microscopy, drug chemistry, instrumental analysis, trace analysis, and expert witness testimony.  “The EKU bachelor’s degree in forensic science provides students with a solid and versatile grounding in basic science and analytical chemistry,” Vance said.

Published on November 10, 2011