Southeast Grad Students Explore Advanced Forensic Science Techniques in Scotland

RodriguezAviles_WTD2016Southeast Missouri State University graduate students Ana Alicea-Rodriguez and Melyssa Aviles advanced their studies in forensic science this summer when they completed internships in Scotland at the Glasgow Caledonian University’s (GCU) Forensic Summer Programme.

For three weeks, the two Southeast students joined with 20 other interns from across the United States and around the world, comparing U.S. crime scene investigation technologies with those used in the United Kingdom, including fingerprinting, fiber analysis, drug analysis and microscopy techniques.

“I learned a lot” said Alicea-Rodriguez of Yauco, Puerto Rico.  “Some of the methods are very similar, but the technology they have [in Scotland] for some of the techniques is better.”

The internship gave the students, who are both pursuing Masters of Natural Science in chemistry, opportunities to work with the most advanced technology in forensic science.  The students were able to develop their knowledge of criminology in a variety of settings.

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Ana Alicea-Rodriguez at the GCU laboratory.

“Ana and Melyssa are the first Southeast forensic students to participate in this program or to travel abroad for a forensic learning experience. The United Kingdom is known for world-class forensic science education, practice, and research,” said Dr. Jim McGill, professor in the Southeast Department of Chemistry.

Alicea-Rodriguez is Southeast’s first forensic student from Puerto Rico and completed a prior internship in 2015 with the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department Crime Laboratory. Aviles recently completed her first year in Southeast’s graduate program in forensic chemistry. This was her first forensic science internship experience, McGill said.

“The studies were split up into three different categories: schoolwork, including lectures and labs, academic field trips and cultural trips,” explained Aviles of Sugar Land, Texas.

The Southeast students also toured prisons, the Sheriff’s Court and High Court, and learned more about the criminal justice and legal systems in Scotland, which they say are significantly different than what they had seen in the United States.

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Ana Alicea-Rodriguez and Melyssa Aviles near Loch Ness.

Alicea-Rodriguez described how, in Scotland, “they believe in the rehabilitation of the prisoners. The cells are open spaces where the prisoners have a more open environment to move around.  They help the prisoners to get a normal life after the criminal process is done.”

Aviles said she was glad she was also able to see the sights while visiting the United Kingdom.

“I was fortunate to take a trip to Edinburgh, which is the capitol of Scotland. I went to the Edinburgh Castle and took a Harry Potter walking tour, which were both very intriguing,” she said.  “The structure of the entire city was also like that of a castle, with a deep history behind it.  I was also able to visit London! I got to see all of the sights, from the London Eye, to Buckingham Palace, and Big Ben, which was more beautiful than words can describe.”

Both women say they hope to work in crime labs upon graduation from Southeast, and they agreed that their internships helped to further their educational goals.

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Ana Alicea-Rodriguez at the Edinburgh Castle

“At the end it is very satisfying to put in real practice what you learned in the educational scenario,” Alicea-Rodriguez said.

She called her summer experience “a privilege — not only the fact that I traveled with my friend Melyssa to the UK to represent our University but also because of the experience of learning about the procedures in Scotland and comparing those with the knowledge and also the technology that we have in the United States and our University.  The cultural exchange is something that helps to grow as a person.  The people, the place, the magic of Scotland made this experience something unique.

“I am very thankful for all the people that made this possible: my family, my mom, and my advisors Dr. McGill and Dr. Crawford, and Dr. Dan DeLaCruz and Lavetta Bratton,” she added. “When you have the correct support you can fly far!”