Cracking the Case on the New Forensics Class

NCIS, Criminal Minds, Blue Bloods, Quantico: these shows have more in common than an un-naturally good-looking cast. They all specialize in forensic science. Forensic science is the application of scientific principles and techniques to matters of criminal justice, and in the fall of 2021, rising Juniors and Seniors will have the opportunity to study forensic science at Ursuline.

     Kirsten Lindsay-Hudak, a first-year physics teacher, is the brain behind this new class. When she’s not teaching freshmen physics, she enjoys exploring criminology. “I love forensics it’s my hobby,” Mrs. Hudak said. “When I was your age, I wanted to be a medical examiner.”

      Thus, her personal interest in the subject was the inspiration behind creating this class. She pitched a class that she would have wanted to take as a high schooler, which operated as less of a traditional class and more of a special investigator workplace program.

     “I thought it was an opportunity to hit on topics that people like and are interested in and to give rising juniors and seniors and opportunity to see what a real job is like.”

      Essentially, the class is a program that gives students a look into what a real job in the forensics field is like. Starting the first day, Ms. Hudak plans on creating a class environment that is a complete simulation a forensic work-environment. Immediately following orientation students will begin a training academy.

     The training academy consists of a flipped classroom. Students will typically watch video notes at home, similar to how one must learn about topics outside their day to-day job. Then, students come to class and complete introduction assignment to ensure they understood their homework. Once it is confirmed everyone in class is on the same page, the class utilizes their newly learned skills to complete a case.

      “Say we are learning about fingerprints,” Mrs. Hudak said. “You would watch a video about fingerprints. We make sure we are all on the same page, and then you start collecting fingerprints and analyzing fingerprints.”

      Fingerprints is just one of the specific units to learn about, the class covers a variety of topics in the forensics field. “And not all of the topics are graded,” Mrs. Hudak said, “because you are learning”.

      When things are graded, they are seen less as grades and instead are viewed as “compensation” or a “benefits package” in a job. The main assessment will be at the end of the training program as a “licenser exam” to access for a certificate that classifies people as a special investigator.

      “When you have a job, you get certificates that say you have a certain skill set.” Mrs. Hudak said, “Employers look for these. They range from college degrees to very specialized licenses and essentially you are getting a license as a special investigator.”

      Once the test is taken and  the certificate is received, Mrs. Hudak makes a badge that you must wear to “work” or class. At that point Mrs. Hudak will start assigning cases to each investigator.

      Each case has an incident report that includes the police report, potential suspects, witnesses, the person who called 911 and an evidence packet. The evidence packet is a physical packet that includes everything collected at the scene.

      From what was learned in training academy, students will then start processing the evidence packet.

“If you don’t feel like you are the best at science you can do just a basic work through of the case” Mrs. Hudak said, “But if a student is more excited about it they can do search warrants, they can interview the suspects and even send the evidence off to the lab and get more information. You can work the case to the level that is best for you.”

     As student, in between working cases will be professional development days, like how people would have to learn new things at a day to day job. Students would learn about cyber-security, cyber-forensics, forensic engineering other forensic fields.

     The other form of assessments is testifying in court. “You testify as the expert witness, another student is the judge, another student is the bailiff and everyone else is the jury. And I am the defense attorney,” Mrs. Hudak said. “So I will question you about your case, and everyone in the class gets to vote guilty or not guilty for your suspects”.

     The final form of assessments will be watching TV-shows like NCIS or Criminal Minds, most likely the same TV-show that got the girl interested in the class, and breaking down everything scientifically wrong with it.      Mrs. Hudak has created a class that simulates a work-place environment while connecting students to a field many are already interested in, but don’t know the realities of the work  in the real world. Directly following her philosophy on education that students should be “broadening their horizons but also learning skills that will help them in the future.”

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