More Than Meets the Eye: New Forensics Program Debuts

Posted: February 24, 2009 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

By Ryann Doyle

Popular television shows like “Law and Order,” “CSI” and “Bones” seem to have caused a buzz around the field of forensic science.

Acknowledging that this field is increasingly popular, Mason turned to the professional forensic community for help, guidance and support in creating a new program to meet students’ needs.

Bill Whildin, senior medicolegal investigator in the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner for Fairfax, contributed his ideas and suggestions when Mason decided to offer a Graduate Certificate in Forensics for the first time this spring. As a result, he was asked to join Mason as the program coordinator.

After 20 years of experience as a Fairfax County homicide investigator and 10 years as a senior investigator in the State Medical Examiner Office, Whildin used his knowledge to design a class that gives a thorough overview of the field, FRSC 500 Introduction to Forensic Science.

“The Introduction to Forensic Science class that I teach really offers a flavor of the science,” says Whildin. “We study different topics from week to week, such as scene analysis, gunshot wounds, forensic odontology [science dealing with the teeth], blood-stain analysis and forensic toxicology.”

Students discuss each topic during class and further explore the subject by examining a case study. Frequently Whildin will bring in photos from actual crimes under investigation for the students to study. Depending on the week’s topic, students might interpret photos of blood spatter, analyze fingerprints or explore how to put a bomb-related crime scene back together.

Several times during the semester, students travel to the nearby State Medical Examiner’s Laboratory, where they learn techniques in forensic evidence collection, such as lifting fingerprints off surfaces. They also learn how to process fingerprints and examine trace evidence under microscopes.

Numerous guest speakers also come to class and share their experience and knowledge in the forensic field.

“He [Whildin] is a great professor and brings a lot of relevant knowledge to the classroom, so that makes the class intriguing and fun,” explains Emily Adams, a graduate student in the College of Science.

“He really knows what forensic science is about and brings very recent subjects to class,” graduate student Thomas Verdino agrees.

“The case studies we do make the class very unique. He brings in his life experience in forensics, and we do a lot of hands-on activities, which makes the class interactive. We are not just doing book reading and lectures.”

Once students complete the 18-credit certificate program, they will be able to work in a lab or forensic environment to further develop their skills.

“It is a great program because it is only 18 credits, so it is manageable,” says Whildin. “Since forensic science is such a large field, the program opens up doors for students to decide what specific area they want to concentrate on in their future.”

A master’s degree in forensic science has already been approved by Mason’s Board of Visitors and is awaiting state approval. Whildin hopes the degree will be offered in fall 2009.

For more information about the Graduate Certificate in Forensics Program, see the College of Science web site.

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