Students break in to forensic science field
It was a shocking crime scene. Glass shattered throughout the classroom. Desks flipped onto their sides. Blood splatter and drug residue spread across the floor and desktops. What happened in the Upper Iowa University’s Colgrove-Walker Hall at Fayette Campus?
Called to investigate the simulated crime scene were students of the UIU Introduction to Forensic Science class. Students collected evidence samples and entered their findings into a newly purchased PMI Evidence Tracker system. In the past weeks, these students learned how to analyze that evidence, including fingerprints, chromatography, blood-alcohol content and drug residue data.
The experience gained by utilizing the state-of-the-art equipment was made possible by a Chemistry Collaborations, Workshops and Communities of Scholars (cCWCS) Grant awarded to Jeffrey Butikofer, UIU associate professor of chemistry. The grant provided up to $1,000 in funds to purchase hands-on material in the classroom. Butikofer, who was one of 16 participants in the workshop, purchased the PMI Evidence Tracker system with the funding.
Butikofer explained that the system includes software, a barcode scanner and a barcode printer. Each piece of evidence can then be assigned a unique barcode, which is entered into inventory and can be scanned to check that evidence in or out. The system tracks the names of people who handle the evidence to maintain a chain of custody. These same PMI Evidence trackers are used by many government and law enforcement agencies; thus, UIU students are learning on the same tools and technology they may experience in the workplace.
The cCWCS Grant increases and enhances the experiences UIU students have in a forensic science laboratory setting. This is critical to Butikofer as he bases his teaching style on hands-on experiences that help students better retain information and techniques.
“I am always concerned about whether students retain what we are teaching them, such as learning an important concept in their freshmen chemistry class that they’ll need to utilize in their advanced senior-level classes,” explained Butikofer. “I’ve noticed that learning by doing helps with retaining this knowledge and that is why I’m thankful to my colleagues who encouraged me to apply for the cCWCS Grant that enabled us to purchase the PMI Evidence Tracker to provide these valuable experiences to our students. “
Madelaine Quistgaard, a UIU sophomore from Bloomington, Illinois, is among those students who appreciate the opportunity to gain forensic science experience firsthand in Butikofer’s classroom.
“I really enjoyed this class because we are able to conduct laboratory work in a realistic crime setting,” said Quistgaard who is double majoring in forensic science and art, with a minor in information technology. “I look forward to going to class every day. The small class size that UIU provides allows each of us to actively take part in every test we do while compiling the evidence.”
Butikofer and Dr. Richard Bleil, dean of the school of science and mathematics, created the crime scene in the recently closed Colgrove-Walker Hall at Fayette Campus, giving students a real-world environment for this hands-on learning. By the end of the term, Butikofer’s students will not only have learned all necessary techniques to solve the crime, this knowledge provides a base for their remaining education in UIU’s School of Science and Mathematics.
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