After analyzing all of the evidence, it’s clear that Laurel Ridge’s forensic science program provides the basis for a rewarding and exciting career.
Professor George Crump had been teaching biology classes at Laurel Ridge for several years before developing introductory forensic science courses nearly 10 years ago. Two years ago, the forensic science offerings were expanded, and now students can pursue an associate of science degree with a specialization in forensic science.
“In the fall semester, the first thing we do is talk about the basics – crime scene investigation, what do you look at when you go to a crime scene, how do you analyze the evidence, how do you collect the evidence, what is chain of custody,” Professor Crump explains. “It’s a shotgun approach. I don’t go into a lot of depth, but I go into a lot of breadth. That way, the students gain an idea of what their likes and dislikes are. You can’t be an expert in every field like they are on TV.”
Armed with a biology degree – with minors in chemistry and physics – from Emory & Henry College, a master’s degree in biology from George Mason University and a master’s degree in forensic science from George Washington University, Professor Crump has years of experience in both teaching and field work.
A public school teacher for more than 20 years, he first worked in cancer research before working in clinical toxicology for National Health Labs – now called LabCorp – and as a forensic drug chemist with the Virginia Department of Forensic Science.
“I’ve testified as an expert witness in probably more than 100 federal and state court cases,” Professor Crump, who received the Outstanding Adjunct Faculty Award in spring 2019, says.
He brings real-life experience to the lab and classroom. Forensic science students’ first lab exposes them to basic chemistry, using lab equipment and getting accustomed to working with lab partners.
Students will experience mock crime scenes, and must record evidence, collect it and log it. Another lab revolves around soil testing. Also covered throughout the courses are ballistics, hair and fiber testing, bite marks, drugs, entomology, blood spatter, DNA, impressions, document analysis, computer forensics, forensic anthropology, fingerprints and tire marks.
Among the variety of equipment and methods the students work with are a forensic comparison microscope, gas chromatography/mass spectrometry, a spectrophotometer, gel electrophoresis, and high-performance liquid chromatography.
Professor Crump tries to bring a Virginia State Police crime scene van to campus every fall. Forensic science students recently took a trip to the state crime lab in Manassas where they were able to see first-hand applications of what they had studied in a sophisticated setting.
A second instructor has been brought on to teach some of the forensic science offerings. Kenneth Domenick’s area of expertise is in firearms and ballistics and crime scene investigation. He has an undergraduate degree in teaching from Brigham Young University-Idaho, and a master’s degree in forensic science from George Mason University.
Besides teaching high schoolers and middle schoolers, Domenick’s work history includes lifting fingerprints off of improvised explosive devices for a government contractor and doing forensic investigations for the U.S. Postal Service.
Other forensic science courses being offered are forensic pathology, narcotics and dangerous drugs, forensic photography and firearms and tool-mark identification.
Dr. Ia Gomez, Laurel Ridge dean of science, engineering, math and health, describes the field as “a really exciting one, with a wide range of applications and careers that are in demand.”
“We expose our students to many of these applications in our courses,” she says. “We are lucky to have dedicated faculty with the academic background and years of experience in the field who can share their knowledge with our students. We also are investing in state-of-the art equipment so our students can gain the skills necessary to make them competitive in the workforce. For example, we have recently acquired a forensic comparison microscope.”
In addition to his Laurel Ridge faculty award, Professor Crump received the Shining Apple Award for Outstanding Teaching in the Washington Metro Area from UPN Television and the Department of Education in 2004. That same year, he was the recipient of the Award for Outstanding Contributions in the Natural Sciences in Virginia from the Virginia Museum of Natural History.
And, the science department – like all of the departments at Lord Fairfax – is always striving to keep programs as relevant as possible
“We’re currently working with George Mason University on a 2+2 (two years for an associate degree, two years for a bachelor’s degree) transfer agreement, and hope to development agreements with other universities,” Dean Gomez says
Lord Fairfax student Tabatha Wagner will graduate with two degrees, one in forensic science and one in nursing – both relevant to her prospective career: forensic nursing. She starts her two-year nursing program this fall, and says much of what she has learned in her forensics classes will help in that quest. Besides the introductory courses, she enrolled in forensic pathology and narcotics and dangerous drugs.
“I’ve been interested in forensics for about five years,” says Wagner, who hopes to work alongside a medical examiner. “Once I realized Laurel Ridge had a forensic science specialization, I jumped on it the next semester. I was so excited the college offers that.”
It was while doing career exploration in high school that Skyline High School graduate Sarah Ritchie thought about pursuing a career in forensic science. The daughter of a police officer, law enforcement appeals to her.
“That was a big inspiration, and I love to solve puzzles,” says Ritchie, who hopes to go into the ballistics and tool mark field. “Plus, the job outlook is good. I absolutely loved my classes. Professor Crump has probably been my biggest inspiration for forensic science. It’s an awesome program.
“Crime won’t be going away any time soon, so it will definitely be a job that will keep growing.”
Eve Kassalow took three forensic science classes – the two introductory ones and forensic pathology – even though she already has an undergraduate degree in anthropology from James Madison University. She lives in Northern Virginia, but drove to the Middletown Campus several times a week to take the courses in preparation for the master’s in forensic science she is pursuing at GMU.
“I’m going to be a crime-scene investigator,” Kassalow says. “I thought the classes were amazing. Professor Crump really helped me through everything.”
Allison Taylor was planning to become a nurse, but her forensic science classes changed her mind.
“The class is pretty fun, and I might be going into lab work and working with DNA,” she says. “The classes were very hands-on and very relevant to anyone who wants to go into the science field, but is unsure what specific area because there are so many options in forensics.”
To learn more about Laurel Ridge’s forensic science program, visit https://laurelridge.edu/degree/forensic-science/.