The Value of Student Involvement
Written by Andrew R. Reitnauer   

The forensic science community of today has an obligation to prepare the next generation of scientists for their careers. Not only to ensure the integrity of the field, but to promote the advancement of the forensic disciplines in the future. In our laboratories, we often host interns and visitors, often as a requirement of the academic programs they are enrolled in. These interns vary in their level of dedication, between the obligatory participation in laboratory protocol and their interest in pursuing their future career path. In speaking with local colleges and universities, the overall trend within the academic programs leading to a career in forensic science are relying heavily on previous theory and textbook information, rather than promoting practical experience and encouraging professional networking. 

As a forensic science community, and through our involvement in professional organizations, we are responsible for ensuring the continued evolution of our field through the preparation of our student body.  Recently, there has been some promotion in some of the scholastic programs at the university level. Efforts are being made to include lectures and workshops within the academic programs to help prepare students, by allowing them the opportunity to learn some of the practical aspects of the forensic laboratory.  These opportunities can allow an entry-level position to have applicants whom have attained some level of experience that can equate to their on the job training.  Having students perform laboratory workshops in areas such as photography, latent print development and comparisons, or digital imaging, will develop them into a more desirable candidate for a prospective employer. 

Another opportunity for the student body is the ability to attend and participate in forensic organizations. Through general membership, students can be exposed to the literature, training announcements, and other benefits afforded to members. In addition, attendance at a seminar or conference can allow a student the unique opportunity to participate and learn from a current topic, as presented by a practitioner in a peer-level learning environment. By their inclusion, our students may begin to network and develop some professional contacts. We all continue to evolve through our discussions and dealings within the forensic community. In previous years, I have attended a number of forensic science seminars and conferences. During my student years, I was encouraged to attend a regional conference by my university, and the experience and contacts that were made during that time continue to be valuable to my current position.
Over the past year, as President of the New York Division of the IAI, I was invited to offer a presentation at the Chesapeake Bay Division’s seminar, and was impressed with their inclusion of the student body. In speaking with the officers, I shared in their belief in the opportunities that the student body should be offered. Likewise, one of my initiatives for this year was the inclusion of our student body. Through the encouragement of the local universities, and hosting our annual Educational conference in conjunction with Syracuse University, we had approximately 50 students in attendance. Many of them embraced the opportunity to learn some specific information regarding the various disciplines of forensic science, often speaking to practitioners about what they can do to become a desirable candidate for hire, and learn through presentations regarding specific cases. An additional consideration during an educational conference is to schedule one day of the conference specifically for the students in attendance. Often, conferences are scheduled during the academic year. By coordinating the conference schedule with the collegiate calendar, student attendees may be able to better take advantage of the event.
Many colleges and universities are beginning to explore the option of offering a graduate certificate in a discipline specific area for those who complete an additional requisite. These certificates ensure the exposure of the student to a “hands on” approach to their collegiate education, beyond the traditional requirements. By also offering lectures by current professionals, students may be exposed to the current techniques, research, and casework examples of the application of forensic science in its current state. In addition to efforts being made by the education system, our professional organizations should make a concerted effort to include students. By offering student or associate membership status, these individuals have an opportunity to become involved in a recognized professional body. Offering discounted registration fees for students at seminars and conferences is also a benefit to increase attendance. Finally, hosting a seminar or conference on or close to a campus with a recognized forensic science program allows the local student body an opportunity to attend as many lectures or workshops as possible, while adding to their knowledge base prior to entrance to the workforce.
We are currently in a state where due to the “CSI Effect” more students than ever are pursuing a course of study to enter the forensic science field. Many of them may not be given the proper exposure to the practical workings of a laboratory, and what the specific disciplines require. It is our responsibility to augment their classroom education, and by doing so, the continued advancement of the forensic science field can be ensured.

About the Author
This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it , MSFE, CLPE, CLE, CSLE, CSCSA, CPO, F.F.S., currently serves as the President of the New York Division of the International Association for Identification.
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