Forensic science club mixes facts with fun

The club takes students beyond the TV show in crime scene investigations.

Betsy Graca

While the University doesn’t have a forensics program, the presence of forensics-based career goals is strong on campus.

Founded in spring 2002, the Forensic Science Club currently has an estimated 400 members.

About 30 to 40 students meet each month to hear a variety of speakers from the discipline, attend field trips or to enjoy an annual murder mystery dinner party.

Kathryn Hanna, the Forensic Science Club adviser and former dean of the College of Biological Sciences, first started the club because of the number of students expressing interest, but without guidance on campus.

“I wanted to connect students with professionals in the field and have the club serve as a fun and educational route,” she said.

Holly Long, who served as the club’s first president in 2002, attributed the sudden surge in interest to the television show, “CSI.”

She said the television show has increased interest among both the public and schools.

“More colleges are having certificate or degree programs,” she said. “More students are looking to pursue forensics as a career.”

Today, Long works at the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension. She said a forensic sciences background is not necessary to find success in the field, especially when more related classes are offered.

Students from most science majors – such as biology, chemistry, anatomy and even psychology – are represented in the club, which also connects students with graduate schools that offer forensic degrees.

Forensic science is such a large area and almost any science can be applied to the field, Long said.

Jessica Radtke, co-president of the club, said 10 to 15 years ago, people wouldn’t have thought to go into forensic sciences.

She said the University doesn’t have a forensics program because it’s often a certificate program, something the University tries to avoid.

A club field trip to the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension Lab, piqued Radtke’s interest and now she has a student position at the lab.

Jennifer Henderson, the club’s co-president, said the club is a good source to decide if forensics is truly what a student wants to do.

“Before forensic club, my only understanding was CSI,” Henderson said. “It seemed cool on TV so I thought I’d give it a try.”

Long said some students might not want to pursue the field once they’re more educated about what it takes to become a forensic scientist.

“It’s skewing the public’s perception of the capability of forensic scientists,” she said. “It’s not as accurate as it should be, even though that would be boring.”

Radtke said forensic science is nothing like the way it’s glamorized on TV.

The field doesn’t involve speaking with suspects or visiting the crime scenes, but instead sitting in a lab all day, she said.

“It’s really great for students to learn about it before they jump into it,” she said. “You can’t tell what it’s really like on TV.”

Hanna said speakers help clarify the difference between reality and fantasy.

“Professionals in the field tell students ‘I don’t wear high heels and drive a Hummer,’ ” she said.

Hanna said this isn’t the first time popular culture has influenced students’ courses of study.

Years ago, when Jacques Cousteau was popular, many students wanted to study marine biology, she said.

“TV is certainly influential in what students see and what they might think about for a career,” she said.