UT students become C.S.I. investigators for a day

by Kayla Lupedee

Gaining a hands-on learning experience for The University of Tampa criminology students was offered right under their noses. On Monday, Oct. 14 and Wednesday, Oct. 16, a mock Crime Scene Investigation, (C.S.I.), was held in Plant Park for students seeking forensics experience outside of the classrooms.  

Anthony LaRose, associate professor of criminology and criminal justice, orchestrated the event with help from Leslie Nixon, a forensic scientist and molecular biologist.  

The event was sponsored by the Office of Undergraduate Research and Inquiry. It offered students an array of critical thinking exercises from three or four different staged crime scenes. Each scene was equipped with: fake evidence, a victim’s body, blood, bullet shells, fingerprints, and more. 

“The main experience we hope students gain from this is valuable critical thinking skills,” said LaRose. “They are given basic instructions, and they need to apply that knowledge and take charge of the situation to gather as much information as they can.”

The students were given 20 minutes to collect evidence. Processing the crime scene and properly collecting evidence in a short amount of time is what pushes their critical thinking skills to the next level, according to Nixon. 

“I think we just go through life everyday using those critical thinking skills naturally,” said Nixon. “But, when you’re actually forced to apply it, it can be difficult. Hopefully what students will take away from this is new critical thinking skills that they could apply to real life situations.”

Although the evidence in a real crime scene is not typically just strewn around, the mock C.S.I. event mirrored the major concepts of a crime scene in order to show students what could be expected. Nixon said all of the evidence they provided has been evidence she has seen in the laboratory for analyzation from real scenes. 

The critical thinking skills mainly derive from gathering evidence from the crime scenes. Students were expected to link together missing pieces and collect any item that pokes at their curiosity or seems out of the ordinary. 

“It’s kind of like putting pieces of a puzzle together,” said Nixon. 

To properly delve into the crime scenes, students were broken up into teams of three. Each student took on a different job, like collecting fingerprints or taking blood samples, to build a strong sense of collaboration. 

LaRose and Nixon encouraged communication and teamwork among each group. 

Nixon provided expertise of the forensic aspect of the critical thinking skills that go into the crime scene investigations—something that classes and textbooks may not be able to offer. On Monday, the Tampa Police Department Forensics Unit supervised the event to offer more insight and information that could help students gain further understandings. 

Pietro Equizi, freshman biochemistry major, said the event reaffirmed his interests in the field and has considered switching to a criminology major. 

“I thought the event was really interesting,” said Equizi. “It’s not an everyday experience to meet with the police and analyze crime scenes.”

Danielle Dixon, an alumna of UT, works for the police department in Pinellas County. She also attended Monday’s event, offering what she knows to other students. 

“It’s a nice way to pass on the information,” said LaRose. “She’s paying it forward as a graduate to come back to UT and instruct our students.”

Although students applied knowledge they had learned in their core criminology courses, they still gained a new learning experience from the hands-on activity. The proficiency of Nixon and the forensics unit provided the students with new information as they tended to the scenes. 

“It felt like being in a movie or TV show,” said Equizi. “I’d recommend this event to everyone interested in criminology or forensic science.”

The mock C.S.I. event at UT dates back to over a decade. LaRose started the experience as a small fake crime scene set up in his office, expanding it to be bigger and more intricate each year. 

In the future, LaRose hopes to create more opportunities for students in criminology, such as a full day dedicated to forensics. 

“I would love to see something that’s not just a crime scene, although I really enjoy doing this,” said LaRose. “I want to get more departments involved. We could set up booths to hand out information and hold presentations so students could get a little more background information.”

UT professors continue to find new ways for students to get hands-on, real-world experiences. The next mock C.S.I. event will take place next fall and will continue to be offered every fall semester. 

Kayla Lupedee can be reached at kayla.lupedee@spartans.ut.edu

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