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Forging ahead in forensic science

Taylor Jensen at the University of Tennessee

Taylor Jensen at the University of Tennessee Anthropological Research Facility

Criminal justice sciences major Taylor Jensen is a stellar example of being a proactive student. Jensen leveraged her passion, previous achievements, high GPA, and participation in the Illinois State University Honors Program to score a seat at the University of Tennessee Anthropological Research Facility. Over the past summer, she completed an intensive three-week, in-residence course that furthered her knowledge in forensic science.

Jensen is not new to the world of forensic science. “I have always been intrigued by forensic science since I participated in a competitive crime scene investigation team in high school,” she said. “We were successful at the state level competition and had the opportunity to train under Illinois State Police officials to improve our skills for the national competition. This experience kick-started my passion for forensic science.” As a Redbird, Jensen is described by criminal justice professor Jeffrey Walsh as “a very good student who took a quick and keen interest in the topics we were discussing.”

Scientist working in labAlthough the selection process for the residence course was rigorous and highly competitive, Jensen described the course content as equally demanding. “We attended the academy from 8 a.m.–5 p.m., Monday through Friday. We were required to be prompt and dress professionally, as well as follow all safety protocols and procedures,” Jensen said. “During this time, we heard numerous lectures from experts in the field and worked on experiments and simulations in topics like forensic photography, fingerprint processing, evidence collection, crime scene management, bloodstain pattern analysis, and shooting incident reconstruction. We also studied clandestine grave recovery and forensic anthropology at the University of Tennessee’s outside Body Farm and excavated a decomposing body. In addition to the in-class practical experience, we took weekly exams as well as created three final projects. At the end of the course, we were given a practical exam that tested our knowledge of crime-scene processing and evidence collection/analysis.”

Criminal justice science professor Walsh describing this opportunity as one that “you really have to go into eyes wide open, not only because of the distance away from home and the rigor of the course work and training but because of the subject matter—the firsthand forensic examination of death and what that often entails from a crime and violence perspective.” In his courses, Walsh has shown videos of the facility and the research that is conducted there, but he’s had only one other student participate as an intern in the past 10 years or more. “The opportunity is rare, and selection is competitive. When Taylor returned to campus this fall, I was thrilled to hear how much she thoroughly enjoyed the experience and how much training and experiential learning she received from leading experts in the field, including a lecture by Dr. Bill Bass, who in 1971 founded the Body Farm in the facility.”

Jensen’s experience did not end at the University of Tennessee. “This program exposed me to the gruesome reality of forensic science and we were able to study real crime scene case studies which helps us prepare for the profession,” Jensen said. Back at Illinois State, Jensen is working with Walsh to create an honors project for his Criminal Behavior Analysis course.

“Taylor will be developing a rather large immersive activity/assignment related to the forensic examination of death scenes as a tool to complement the behavioral analysis of offenders and the study of victimology that students learn about in the course,” Walsh said. The activity, to be introduced in spring 2020 will be another real-world example for students to learn using practical applications to study the subject matter of the class. “While the course emphasizes understanding the behavior of the criminal and the role of the victim, the content is more thoroughly examined with the inclusion of forensics,” Walsh said. “This is an important aspect that Taylor’s project will introduce to the class. The project will bring her experiences to my Criminal Behavior Analysis course in a way that students enrolled in the course can benefit from what she has learned and the case study experiences she had at the Body Farm.”

Not only did Jensen garner top-notch experience that will greatly benefit her career, but she also made invaluable connections and will produce content that improves learning at Illinois State. She is grateful for the opportunity to gain more insight into her chosen career and advises students to continue exploring opportunities. Jensen plans to pursue a master’s degree in forensic science to prepare her for a career as an evidence technician. “I also plan to become a certified crime scene analyst and possibly work toward certifications in specific areas of forensics,” she said.

This article was featured in the latest edition of the ForeCAST magazine.

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