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Department of Communications/
News Bureau
22 Davis Hall, 10 Lippitt Road, Kingston, RI 0288
Phone: 401-874-2116 Fax: 401-874-7872

URI now offering forensic science minor
62 courses from 13 URI disciplines offered for the concentration

KINGSTON, R.I. -- September 26, 2001 -- The University of Rhode Island is now offering a minor in forensic science for those undergraduates majoring in chemistry, biochemistry, biology, engineering, psychology, nursing, pharmacy or related disciplines.
The minor, implemented a year ago, is an outgrowth of the URI Forensic Science Partnership, established three years ago by URI President Robert L. Carothers to foster an interdisciplinary approach to solving crime.

The minor requires 18 credits, which include two semesters of the Forensic Science Seminar (one-credit) and a three-credit practicum, which may be completed at various sites, including the Rhode Island State Crime Laboratory at URI; the College of Engineering at URI; the departments of chemistry and physics.

The minor is one of the partnership’s first steps toward establishing a master’s degree in forensic science. The partnership projects are divided into four major focus groups: evidence recovery, trace analysis, forensic biology, and drug and alcohol analysis. The partnership brings together the Rhode Island State Crime Laboratory at the University of Rhode Island, the other colleges at URI, the state Department of Health, the state’s law enforcement community, and the insurance industry.

Jimmie Oxley, associate professor of chemistry and co-director of the Forensic Science Partnership, said the goal is to run a high quality program that could help URI students get hired by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, state crime labs, insurance companies and forensic psychology units.

Sixty-two courses have been identified for the minor, but because chemistry is so fundamental to the discipline all forensic science minors should have at least one chemistry course in addition to one in forensic chemistry.

Other courses are offered in anthropology, biochemistry, biomedical science, biology, chemical engineering, chemistry, dental hygiene, entomology, geology, pharmacy, plant and soil sciences, psychology, political science, sociology and textiles.

"There is so much interest in this field that people have already been pursuing this minor," Oxley said.

Robin Etchingham of Warwick a fiscal clerk for the Chemistry Department and a per diem pediatric licensed registered home care nurse, is the first to complete the minor. Etchingham, who holds a bachelor’s degree in nursing from URI, said pediatric nursing and forensic science go hand-in-hand.

"Like nursing, forensic studies are very scientific, and each field has a specific set of procedures and standards," Etchingham said. "Forensic science has given me a greater appreciation for the work I do as a nurse. I know that my assessments may be used in a court of law, and need to be clear, well documented and accurate.

"Being able to complete a comprehensive assessment based on meticulous observation and interviews can be the lifeline for a child needing medical care in a community setting," Etchingham said.

Because she had already completed most of the physical science requirements for the minor by completing her nursing degree, she completed the minor by taking several additional psychology courses in violence prevention and substance abuse issues.

Eventually, she hopes to put her nursing and forensic knowledge to work as an advocate for changes in environmental protection, health policy and safety policy.

Katherine Beagan of Narragansett is in her last semester of the minor as she pursues a bachelor’s degree in biology. "For 25 years, I’ve been a licensed medical laboratory technician. When I read an article in The Narragansett Times about the forensic seminar series, I decided to attend a session. I found this was just right because I have always loved science. Forensic science is a collaboration of many fields of science, including physics, chemistry, biology and engineering," Beagan said.

So far, she has taken classes in explosives, genetics, and statistics. She completed her practicum at the state Department of Health’s Division of Laboratories, where she worked in the area of forensic biology. She was introduced to the lab’s work on body fluids and DNA. She also had a chance to see forensic experts testify in court.

"My hope is to pursue a master’s degree, get experience in the field and then teach forensic science," Beagan said.

Just by completing two of the semester-long seminar series, which bring internationally known forensic scientists to Kingston, and by completing the three-credit practicum, a student can accumulate five credits toward the minor. The Forensic Science Seminar has drawn large crowds for talks by an expert who testified in the O.J. Simpson murder trial, a scientist who studied the origins of enslaved Africans unearthed from a New York burial ground, an expert on the Shroud of Turin and an expert on the Australian Dingo Baby case.

For the 13 remaining credits students can choose from among a wide variety of courses, including the following interesting titles: drug metabolism, human fossil record, introduction to explosives, pesticides and the environment, general genetics, the substance-abuse troubled person and family violence.

For Information: Jimmie Oxley 401-874-2103, Dave Lavallee 401-874-2116

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