Southern University at New Orleans’s forensic science program and its new lab are looking to make an impact at home and abroad.
7.5.2016 / By Benjamin Siele
Forensic science has long been uncharted territory for black students in the United States. Southern University at New Orleans (SUNO) may change that trend, thanks to its infant Forensic Science program and its recently completed Forensic Science Laboratory. The new program and lab are attracting more students to the university and are igniting a love for science.
SUNO is the first university to offer an undergraduate Forensic Science degree program in the state of Louisiana, and one of only four HBCUs nationwide to do so. Barely three years in existence, the program is earning global recognition, attracting 75 students locally and internationally.
The ultramodern SUNO Forensic Lab—reminiscent of the one on the hit TV show, CSI, and in some ways comparable to an FBI crime lab–has become a spectacle in SUNO’s park campus. Students and faculty are already reaping the benefits of additional work and study space. The lab is adorned with a rare blend of welcoming, ergonomic furniture and boasts a wide variety of high-tech gadgetry and equipment, including a DNA sequencer, inverted microscopes, a scanning electron microscope, and numerous kits for evidence collection and drug analysis. Specific areas have been reserved for disciplines such as Drugs & Toxicology, DNA Analysis, Forensic Biology, and Forensic Microscopy. There is also an area for collecting and processing evidence.
SUNO’s Forensic Science program signifies a “new dawn” for the university, and for the city of New Orleans, says Ngai Smith, a SUNO alumnus who returned to the school and is working to be among the first to complete the program. Moreover, “The lab provides us with an opportunity to practice the forensic techniques and procedures that we learn in the classroom,” he says. “As more students become familiar with the role that Forensic Science plays in the criminal justice system, SUNO will become a leader in educating and training students for a career in forensic science.”
Students are expected to work in the different sections of the lab and to develop their professional identity early on, thus equipping them with the skills and experience that employers are seeking. Sanj Powell, an international student from Jamaica, says he has been yearning for such an experience. “I am now confident I will acquire all the skills I need to help with unsolved crimes when I go back home,” he says. Powell is one example of the program’s stated commitment to expand its impact beyond US borders.
Dr. Pamela Marshall, the Forensic Science program director, is exploring a number of opportunities to use the lab to benefit the local community. One of the projects in the pipeline is a collaboration with the Innocence Project. In that partnership, students would volunteer with paralegals and investigators on cases where DNA can prove innocence, and in more difficult cases, where, for example, DNA does not exist or has been destroyed.