Camp teaches students forensic science basics

Mock case of missing college student offers youths training in crime scene investigation.
Tuesday, August 3, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 4:27 a.m. CDT, Sunday, July 13, 2008

When Ellie Palomino, along with her horse and cat, turned up missing Monday, students attending a forensics camp at Stephens College were on the case.

They did blood, fingerprint, handwriting and saliva testing on the evidence, just as any crime-scene investigator would, to search for the missing college student.

The five investigators, ages 11 to 14, were participating in the two-day Stephens Science Crime-Solver.

Through this fictional case, Tara Giblin, an assistant professor in the department of natural sciences at Stephens, is helping the students understand some of the basic concepts of forensics science.

“I think it’s a little bit advanced, but we’re sticking more to the technique and the processes rather than the deep science behind them,” Giblin said.

She said she hopes the students will realize that anyone can master scientific techniques and recognize the concepts they learned in the camp for use in future science classes.

For the students, the first step in solving the case was going into a campus residence hall to collect evidence such as hair, cloth fibers and blood samples. Then, after testing the evidence, they are expected to solve the case this afternoon.

Kathryn Spellman, 13, has come to love chemistry. As much as she enjoyed her science class at Columbia Catholic School, it wasn’t enough.

“I just couldn’t get all the full answers that I wanted because you can’t go into that much detail,” Kathryn said. For her, attending the camp was a way to expand her knowledge.

Hanna Hubbard, 14, decided to enroll in the camp after being involved in a science Olympiad at West Junior High School. Both Kathryn and Hanna said they hope what they learn at camp will pay off in the classroom.

Giblin teaches a crime science analysis class at Stephens and transferred some of its concepts to the camp. She said she likes to seek out ways to interest people in science and was inspired to create the camp in Columbia after a similar workshop in Memphis last summer.

She said that, most of all, she hopes to raise science awareness and show students at an early age that science can be fun.

Giblin said that often students, especially girls, begin to lose interest in science because it is presented as a set of facts instead of practical techniques and a way of thinking.

“I hope that I can show them that (science) is more universal than just memorizing the parts of a plant,” she said.

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