Follow the Fingerprints to a Forensics Degree

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For more than 100 years, fingerprints have proven to be among the forensic scientist’s and criminal investigator’s handiest tools. They have been used to catch killers, free the wrongly accused and bring peace of mind to the families of victims. They’ve helped law enforcement link crime scenes, track criminal records and aid in sentencing, probation, parole and pardoning decisions. More latent prints are recovered from crime scenes than any other type of physical evidence. Highly admissible evidence in courts of law, cases often hinge on a forensic expert’s analysis of loops, whorls and arches.

In today’s forensics world, new technologies have lead toward ever more complicated crime scene investigations. With lives hanging in the balance of each recovered print on a car door, keyboard or coffee cup, the professional training and academic accomplishment of a latent print examiner is more important than ever. Given fingerprints’ prominent role in the criminal justice system—as well as the fierce competition in the print examiner job market— forensic laboratories are increasingly seeking applicants who not only possess top notch skills, but also hold advanced education degrees.

From the Classroom to the Crime Scene

But unlike fingerprints themselves, no two paths to becoming a highly-trained latent print examiner are exactly alike. George Washington University's Columbian College of Arts and Sciences—home to one of the world’s largest, oldest and most prestigious forensic sciences programs—has opened up new doors for both aspiring and experienced forensic scientists by offering unparalleled opportunities for cultivating expertise in the classroom, skills in the lab and confidence at the crime scene.

Located in the heart of the nation’s capital and the national security hub, students at GW’s prestigious Department of Forensic Sciences are in close proximity to the large concentration of federal crime lab and investigatory agencies that Washington, D.C., has to offer. These facilities provide unique access to forensic sciences experts, in addition to internship and job opportunities. At GW, forensic sciences students gain hands-on experience with state-of-the-art technology from a mass spectrometry laboratory to digital cameras, forensic instrumentation and the latest in computer programming. Combining academic expertise with real-world knowledge, GW students study with top practitioners in law enforcement, including medical examiners, crime scene investigators, lawyers, computer forensic and information security experts, and the world’s largest academic forensic chemistry group.

As one recent alumna said, “The GW teachers weren’t just academics; they were speaking from life experience. They talked about what really goes on in the forensic world each day.”

One-of-a-Kind Degrees

GW offers graduate degrees that can’t be found at any other university. The college’s Master of Forensic Sciences degree in Friction Ridge Analysis is among the nation’s first graduate degrees in fingerprinting. In preparing students for careers as expert latent print examiners, the program cultivates practical latent print development skills, latent print comparison training and an understanding of the underlying science of friction ridge analysis. The curriculum runs the gamut from the chemistry behind processing fingerprints and the skills to apply it to understanding legal issues and latent print standards. Working with a faculty comprised of experts and experienced forensic sciences practitioners—instructors in the latent print examination courses include veterans of the FBI Forensic Laboratory and the U.S. Secret Service Forensic Laboratory—students gain a solid foundation in the all-important ACE-V (analysis, comparison, evaluation and verification) method for evaluating the identification of fingerprints.

GW also offers a unique Graduate Certificate in Latent Print Examination. As the backbone of every forensic sciences laboratory, Latent Print Units are demanding the highest skills and qualifications from their examiners and investigators. The GW certificate program trains students on the scientific methods behind fingerprint identification—including mastery of the ACE-V method—and how they apply to processing fingerprints. Ideal for aspiring latent print examiners, students in the Certificate program gain critical laboratory experience, learning about subjects that include the biological and environmental aspects of friction ridge skin and the genetic factors that influence friction ridge skin development. The graduate certificate’s rigorous coursework is designed to prepare graduates for the International Association for Identification examination, leading to certification as a latent print examiner.

From crime scenes to lab settings, latent print examiners must master an array of technical, practical and analytic expertise—whether they are recovering, processing and examining fingerprints or following legal protocol for preserving evidence and chain of custody. Students in the GW Department of Forensic Sciences’ MFS in Friction Ridge Analysis and Graduate Certificate in Latent Print Examination programs are well-equipped with the skills and knowledge to forge successful careers as latent print examiners.

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