University of Central Oklahoma's Forensic Science Institute has grown to more than 500 students

The Forensic Science Institute opened in 2009 with about 100 students. Currently, more than 500 students are enrolled in either undergraduate or graduate studies.
by Bryan Painter Published: October 15, 2012

Christiana Burgess had no problem dusting the black Honda Ridgeline pickup for fingerprints at the mock crime scene.

Burgess, however, does struggle when it comes to convincing friends to watch television shows like “NCIS,” “Criminal Minds” or “CSI” with her.

Burgess, 23, is a senior studying forensic science and criminal justice at the University of Central Oklahoma's W. Roger Webb Forensic Science Institute. Her passion for the field can be traced to seventh grade when she came across a book on forensic anthropology. She didn't start following the crime scene investigation shows until after she'd taken classes at UCO.

“Nobody watches them with me,” she said. “First, I'm always pointing out this or that doesn't work that way. And second, I can often figure it out in the first 15 minutes.

“I still enjoy them for the most part.”

The Forensic Science Institute opened in 2009 with about 100 students. Currently, more than 500 students are enrolled in either undergraduate or graduate studies.

Some graduates have found work in the field, such as at a private DNA laboratory and with the state medical examiner's office, police departments in the Oklahoma City metro area and Kansas City, said Dwight Adams, director of the Forensic Science Institute.

A popular field

Adams, who retired after a 23-year career with the FBI, said the reason so many people are intrigued with this field of study is likely because of “the amount of television that provides the students with the opportunity to see this career in action.”

“Whereas the shows may not always be 100 percent accurate and depict exactly what the work is about, they are great motivators; they are great recruiters,” said Adams, a former director of the FBI Laboratory in Quantico, Va.

“They have given us a leg up in the competition for students and their choice in degree programs. This is an interesting career to get into, and they get to experience it right here with the kind of faculty that we have who have done this job for years.”

Those 10 faculty members represent 300 years of law enforcement and forensic science experience, he said.

Crime scene processing

The “interesting career” part of Adams' comment speaks for itself. On a recent day, students walked outside their UCO classroom, and just yards away was the pickup, bordered by “Do Not Cross” crime-scene tape.

Within the cordoned-off area, yellow numerical markers were placed beside the facedown victim (a mannequin); three used shotgun shells; a paper cup; a purse; a key ring with keys and a latched pepper spray holster; and silver shoes a few inches from the victim.

Responsibilities varied for the students in John Mabry's crime scene processing class.


by Bryan Painter
Assistant Local Editor
Bryan Painter, assistant local editor, has 31 years’ experience in journalism, including 22 years with the state's largest newspaper, The Oklahoman. In that time he has covered such events as the April 19, 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah...
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