SIUE is partnering with the Illinois State Police, the SIU School of Law, SWIC and the city of Belleville to create the only accredited forensic science program in southern Illinois.
Elza Ibroscheva, associate provost for assessment, accreditation and academic planning, and professor of mass communications, said the program is developed in response to Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s call for reform related to forensic investigations. She said there is a shortage of expertise because the caseload is so large, but there is not enough qualified labor to adequately complete the tasks needed for an investigation.
“As a result of this shortage, there is a backlog of cases that have not been solved,” Ibroscheva said. “The way in which we could solve this or help contribute to solving this problem is by being able to provide the training that students need in order to be able to be hired in this field because the field of forensic science is so highly dependent upon specific competencies in scientific fields such as such as chemistry, biology, pharmacology, anthropology.”
Ed Navarre, professor in the chemistry department, worked with Luci Kohn, a professor in the biology department, and Corey Ragsdale, a professor in the anthropology department, to develop a curriculum that meets the American Academy of Forensic Science’s requirements for accreditation. He said one aspect of the curriculum is pattern evidence, which concerns things like fingerprints and footprints, which will be taught by the state police because it is a practitioner’s art, not an academic discipline.
“No one on campus really has that expertise because no one on campus is trained by the police as a forensic scientist, so that one has a really strong interaction and a necessary interaction with the state police laboratory,” Navarre said.
Provost Denise Cobb said the state police also have a lab next door to the former Lindenwood campus, which will create opportunities for collaboration, dual programming and internships.
“The Illinois State Police saw an opportunity. They've long wanted a forensic sciences institute, and there's a building next door with labs and classroom space,” Cobb said. “It was an opportunity for us to think about what happens when you co-locate with the Illinois State Police, with others who were engaged in, whether it's continuing education for judges or lawyers or other law enforcement agencies, or with the police academy, what happens when you bring all of those groups together into the same physical space?”
Cobb said this is also a unique opportunity to have anchor partners in a location where others could build around to address criminal justice and community justice issues together.
"My long-term hope would be that more community-based organizations and other law enforcement related activities would take place there so that we build a community of practitioners and scholars to address pressing challenges,” Cobb said.
Courtney Breckenridge, a research fellow with the Center for Predictive Analytics, works on the implementation of the strategic plan. She said they wanted to ensure that educational opportunities were still in the Belleville community after Lindenwood consolidated to their traditional campus, but the location is also an opportunity to explore environmental justice.
"Belleville is surrounded by Superfund sites, so areas of heavy former or current industrial use,” Breckenridge said. “What does it look like to be training students for careers where they're sampling soil, sampling water to understand contamination levels or to be providing compliance and monitoring for a federal agency?”
Navarre said one perspective they wanted to bring was that instead of creating a degree so people could get an entry-level job but give students the experience to become leaders and education beyond current practices.
“Those practices change very slowly, because they need to be very well tested, but then we're giving people education in methods and ideas that are going to become the practice,” Navarre said. “Our students are very much the people who could move into the future and become their directors of laboratories and not just employees, but it would be really running things and then have that future-looking role.”