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Dusting for fingerprints

Why Study Forensic Science at George Mason?

From an interview with Emily Rancourt, Professor and Assistant Director of George Mason's Forensic Science Program.

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Dr. Rancourt
Professor Rancourt is the Assistant Director and Professor for the George Mason University Forensic Science Program. She currently teaches several graduate level courses, does academic advising, and is working with the program Director to create and implement the George Mason University Institute of Forensic and Behavioral Sciences.

 

From your perspective, why choose Mason?

The Forensic Science Program at George Mason University will prepare students for a rewarding career in federal, state and local laboratories, investigative or intelligence agencies, private companies, or allow professionals currently working in the field an opportunity to improve their education and optimize career advancement.

Located in Northern Virginia within the Washington DC Metro area, our students are afforded the opportunity to study in close proximity to a plethora of federal, state and local crime laboratories, investigative and intelligence agencies.  These facilities provide unique access to forensic science experts and offer students competitive internships and job opportunities.

In our graduate program we offer several courses and labs at the Department of Forensic Science laboratory located directly across the street from the GMU Science and Tech campus in Manassas.  These courses are taught by adjunct professors who are DFS Forensic Scientists.  The students are afforded the opportunity to utilize forensic analysis instruments, and follow validated standard operating procedures typically practiced at forensic laboratories throughout the country.  Students get excellent hands-on experience, mentoring opportunities, and one on one training which will result in their becoming much more marketable following graduation. In spring 2017, one of the medico-legal death investigators will serve as the adjunct professor for FRSC 590 Medico-Legal Death Investigation / Pathology, a graduate level course which will be taught at their facility in Manassas, VA.

 

What excites you about your work?

Higher passion drives higher learning.  When people are passionate about something they are fueled to learn.  One of the greatest ways to build passion into students is to probe them to ask more complex and in-depth questions.  You’ve heard it said that “there is no such thing as a dumb question”.  While I agree with this statement, my experience has taught me that there is no such thing as enough questions.  When I interact with my students, I always encourage them to think about what questions they haven’t asked or what angle they haven’t looked at because questions grow passion and learning.  During my sophomore year at the Purdue University I took a Psychology of Law class that was taught by a defense attorney.  This Professor would tell us about his adjudicated cases, and it was absolutely fascinating to me.  After class I would always stay behind and ask him intricate and detail oriented questions about the cases.  Halfway through the semester, he asked me if I had ever thought about pursuing a career in the field of Forensic Science because he would hate to be the defense attorney on any case that I worked!  This professor planted a seed, and made me realize how important asking probing questions would be in Forensic Science arena, and in any arena of learning.

 

I’m sure that you have met people who seem to know it all.  It is very frustrating to try to teach a person who acts like they know it all.  However, when you have the opportunity to teach a person who can’t seem to know enough – wow!  I am the mother of six children.  If I were to send my children into the bathroom with a bucket of cleaning supplies and a list of what to do (information), you can rest assured that they would make a mess of their learning experience.  The alternative is that I can take my child into the bathroom and guide their arm as they wipe down the toilet and aim the Windex at the mirror as they spray to come alongside them for an interactive learning experience.  I apply this same principle to my teaching.  I am committed to an interdisciplinary and synergistic approach to teaching forensic topics, and my courses are structured with this in mind.  Rather than simply lecturing to a class, I try to cultivate an interactive environment where students can participate in hands-on demonstrations and practical applications.  For example, my students do not just learn about footwear casts from a textbook. They physically mix dentstone and pour the cast into the footwear impression for a real world experience.  In other words, knowledge plus experience, equals effective learning.  That is why, after disseminating information to my students, I also physically walk them through the steps of processing a crime scene using the Systematic Approach to Crime Scene Investigation, a standardized guide which directs the Crime Scene Investigator, how to process the scene - from the moment they enter the scene for a preliminary scene survey to the final scene walk through.

 

George Mason University takes great pride in training its scholars.  I feel it is my responsibility to uphold these standards and to encourage and challenge students to work up to their potential. My goal is that their experiences in my classroom will both teach them and show them, far more than the basic foundations of crime scene investigation.

 

The best professors are lifelong learners.  I hunger to learn every day, and therefore pour from a well that is always full.  My philosophy of teaching is not fully complete.  It never will be. As I continue to grow and learn, I allow every experience I have to contribute and expand my teaching philosophy.  In summation, a hunger for learning is the most important tool a student can have in their lifelong pursuit of education and growth.  My job is to cultivate hungry, passionate learners!

What are your views on the future of your field?

Crime is everywhere and is on the rise with each passing year.  I feel there will continue to be an increasing need for better trained CSI’s, laboratory personnel, and intelligence analysts as we move forward.  Forensic Science is constantly evolving as new technologies are discovered and research is conducted in order to find more efficient ways to identify criminals.

The GMU Forensic Science Program has a unique and only one of its kind, Master’s degree concentration called Forensic Biometric Identity Analysis. Identity Analysis focuses upon the analysis of forensic and biometric data to provide human identification. Students will learn to assess, collect and analyze forensic and biometric information to provide actionable intelligence to appropriate authorities in an effort to identify an individual who may be a criminal or terrorist or a member of a larger criminal or terrorist group. This unique Master’s Degree concentration includes courses in fingerprint identification, DNA analysis, facial recognition and pattern analysis along with intelligence analysis courses to prepare students for career opportunities in the growing and critically important field of Identity Intelligence. This Master’s Degree Program is designed for a wide range of forensic, biometric, investigative and intelligence professionals aspiring to work or currently working in law enforcement, military, homeland security and intelligence agencies at the state, local and Federal levels.

Why is science important to you? For our world?

As a mother to six children, I am particularly interested in making our world a safer place to live for my children.  When I was a child I had a fear and fascination with serial killers, which ultimately lead me down the path to becoming a CSI.  I wanted to be an integral part of seeking justice and bringing resolution to cases.    

Forensic Science is the application of science to the law.  This is of utmost importance because it allows the pieces of physical evidence that we find at crime scenes to be processed and analyzed for fingerprints, DNA, trace evidence, etc. The analysis of these items of evidence can help the CSI’s and scientists in the lab testify to their findings and potentially put the bad guy behind bars, or allow the innocent to be set free. 

 

Check out George Mason's Forensic Science B.S Program here.