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BGSU is Leader of Forensic Science Education in Ohio

Research, academic programs, strong partnerships fuel university's forensic science success

by Bowling Green State University
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Video credit: Bowling Green State University

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Innovative research, new undergraduate and graduate academic programs, and a partnership with the Ohio Attorney General’s Office and the Bureau of Criminal Investigation (BCI) provide the foundation for Bowling Green State University being at the forefront in forensic science education in the state of Ohio.

The Center for the Future of Forensic Science at BGSU was established in July 2014. During the past three years, the university has grown its academic program from three forensic science specializations—one each in biologychemistry, and criminal justice—to adding bachelor’s and master’s degrees in forensic science. The Ohio Department of Higher Education approved the Master of Science in Forensic Science in February 2016 and the Bachelor of Science in Forensic Science in August 2016.

With the large number of television shows that highlight careers in forensic science, there is significant interest by incoming students, said Dr. Jon Sprague, director of the center and the BCI Eminent Scholar.  

The projected fall enrollment will include 33 first-year students and 15 transfer students in the bachelor’s degree program, and six in the master’s degree program. The undergraduate program also was selected to receive Choose Ohio First Scholarships; the state-based program to recruit Ohio residents in the fields of science, technology, engineering, mathematics, medicine (STEMM) or STEMM education fields. Currently, 11 students have accepted the COF Scholarships.  

“This is a good number of students for the first year of the degree programs,” Sprague said. “Although the degree program is scientifically rigorous, we have utilized best practice models from across the country to assist our students in being successful."

Related Webinar: Forensic Science Tools & Techniques

To further that commitment to student success, the center established a forensic science learning community that will start this fall. Students will have the opportunity to connect with faculty members and students who share a passion for forensic science, and participate in trips and activities such as guided tours of crime laboratories, courthouses, medical examiner offices, and professional forensic science conferences. In the fall of 2018, the learning community will transition to a forensic science residential learning community, where forensic science majors will learn and succeed together, and also live together in a residence hall.

A first-time forensic science camp was offered in June for rising high school juniors and seniors with an interest in the field. Three days of lessons and hands-on experiences gave them a sense of what it might be like to study forensic science at BGSU.  

With new programs and an increase in the number of students, three individuals have joined the faculty to teach forensic science: Travis Worst, with a chemistry focus; Julia Wildschutte, biology; and Tonya Rider, criminal justice.

The $14 million BCI building that sits on BGSU’s campus is an important partner in BGSU’s forensic science education. The center works closely with BGSU and BCI to foster innovative forensic scientific research and to develop educational opportunities for forensic science students as well as professionals in forensic science-related fields.

The collaborations across campus have been important to the early success of the center. Faculty from chemistry, physics, biology, neuroscience, and criminal justice are involved in important research connected to forensic science. Thirteen articles from the research done in conjunction with the center and BCI have been published in peer-reviewed publications since the center was established. To date, the research has been as varied from the physics of deflected bullets through double-pane glass (Drs. Allen Rogel and Kate Dellenbusch) to looking at how drugs work in the brain (Dr. Peter Liu).  Sprague and Worst have been very involved in the research about the “pharmacophore rule,” an important part of legislation impacting the issue of “designer drugs.”

A $440,000 grant from the Laura and John Arnold Foundation a year ago was presented to the Ohio Attorney General’s Office and BGSU to help identify ways to streamline the analytical process of testing Sexual Assault Kits. BGSU’s Dr. James Albert, a professor of statistics, and BCI’s Dr. Lewis Maddox, DNA technical leader, have been working on statistical modeling to develop best practices for analyzing the kits. The report is due at the end of this summer.

“These are unique opportunities to publish alongside chemistry, psychology, biology, and others,” Sprague said. “Having faculty willing to work with the center helps signal that BGSU is a leader in forensic science education and research.”