Forensic Institute for Research and Education

Community Service

As a forensic anthropologist, I am frequently called upon when skeletal remains are discovered to assist law enforcement in processing skeletal crime scenes and the medical examiner often requests my examination of decomposed, burned or skeletonized remains to establish identity or document and interpret bone trauma. One of the first undertakings that I instituted upon arrival at MTSU was a Forensic Anthropology Search and Recovery Team (FASR Team). The all-volunteer team is comprised of ten carefully selected undergraduate and graduate students who assist me in processing outdoor crime scenes and in the analysis and identification of skeletal remains. This provides a means of enriching student learning and success through experiential activities. FASR Team members' academic abilities and scholarly talents have allowed them to perform research projects and present their findings at regional and national meetings, such as the Annual Meeting of the American Academy of Forensic Sciences (AAFS). AAFS has over 8000 members from over 50 countries and is the preeminent forensic organization in the world. Over the past few years, a number of FASR Team members, both undergraduate and graduate, have presented papers at these prestigious meetings with one research project winning the Ellis R. Kerley Award—for a finding that had a potential impact on the practices of forensic anthropology. I am proud of the FASR Team!
 
Twice each year FIRE presents the William M. Bass Legends in Forensic Science Lectureship (I named it as a sign of my respect and appreciation to my mentor, Dr. Bill Bass), which is free to the public. Internationally recognized forensic experts from a variety of forensic areas will provide a one to two hour presentation on numerous topics. Many of the lecturers have been in national and international news and we often have book signings. This provides a means of engaging our students and members of the lay community with distinguished forensic scholars and practicing professionals. It is one thing to watch actors and actresses play the role of forensic scientists on TV series such as CSI and Bones, but it is quite another to shake hands with the real deal. The opportunity to question forensic experts that you have seen on the Discovery and History channels is something that does not frequently come along.
 
FIRE also offers an opportunity for middle and high school students to get involved in forensic science. Each summer we offer a four-day summer camp called CSI:MTSU where high school students have the opportunity to investigate a very realistic crime scene, collect evidence and compete in teams to solve the crime. The ONLY information I give them is a call to the dispatcher. Based upon their examination of the scene, it is then up to the students to interview suspects, obtain lab results on evidence, and critically think their way to a solution. Campus police, the Rutherford County Sheriff's Department and the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, frequently assists us. We go for reality. In fact, during one camp the State Fire Marshall Tennessee Bomb and Arson Section blew up two cars and a tractor-trailer rig. Students have attended from throughout Tennessee, Georgia, Alabama, Indiana, and we even had one student from Los Angeles whose mother accompanied her just so she could participate in the camp.
 
In addition, FIRE sponsors a Forensic Science Symposium each May for eight through twelfth grade students to present their forensic science research. Poster presentations are presented in a professional setting similar to poster presentations at the AAFS annual meeting. FASR Team members serve as research mentors for these students and their teachers. Posters are judged by practicing forensic scientists and university faculty with science backgrounds. This is a tremendous for pre-college students to participate in real research projects.