Abbey Stier of Sherman, Illinois, and Alix Bosler of Pacific, Missouri, are Southeast Missouri State University’s first forensic chemistry graduates to intern with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration’s (DEA) North Central Laboratory this summer in Chicago, Illinois.
Both Stier and Bosler graduated cum laude in May with Bachelors of Science in chemistry, forensic chemistry option. Dr. Jim McGill, professor in the Southeast Department of Chemistry, introduced Stier and Bosler to the elite internship opportunity and forwarded their resumes for consideration.
They are the only two DEA interns this summer, giving them close access to experienced forensic chemists to improve their skills.
“There is no higher-level forensic laboratory system specializing in controlled substance analysis than the DEA forensic science laboratory system,” McGill said, adding both Stier and Bosler were top undergraduate forensic chemistry students at Southeast.
“I want this internship to provide me with an opportunity to apply varying techniques that I have learned throughout my undergrad in a real forensic lab, plenty of hands-on experience with different chemical instrumentation and data analysis software, as well as the opportunity to network with individuals in the field that I hope to enter in the near future,” Bosler said.
Both graduates are eager to gain real-world experience and use the knowledge they gained at Southeast.
“Working in the classroom labs at SEMO helped me prepare for working in labs for a full-time job, but being able to experience and actually work in a job-type setting is even better. This internship will give me the skills I need to get a full-time job,” Stier said.
“Our big project for the summer is to verify all of the chemical standards that are used by the agency for comparison to evidence. Standard verification is necessary for lab accreditation and admissibility of results in court. This must be done periodically to ensure that the standards have not degraded or been contaminated,” Bosler said. “We are doing this using chemical instrumentation and techniques that we gained experience with in our undergrad. After analysis of each standard using several different methods, we have to file paperwork showing our results.”
Stier added, “When a chemist runs tests, they need to have a known standard to compare their unknown sample to. We are basically making sure those known standards are actually what they say they are.”
The two are testing drugs using various methods including gas-chromatograph mass spectrometry, infrared spectrometry, liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry and capillary electrophoresis.
“My favorite thing about forensic chemistry is that each day will never be exactly the same. When evidence comes in, it isn’t going to be a perfect, pure sample of some drug that you simply analyze and put away,” Bosler said. “Evidence, such as drugs, will come to you in many ways, mixed with many other things and you have to use your knowledge and experience to figure out what the drug is, how to isolate it, purify it and analyze it.”
While interning in Chicago, they have been able to explore the city on the weekends. Navy Pier, Millennium Park and music festivals are just a few things they’ve already discovered in the city.
“I am getting to experience a lot while being here in Chicago. There always seems to be something to do. I have really enjoyed being able to run along Lake Michigan in the evenings and going to the beach on the weekends,” Stier said.
While attending Southeast, Stier was involved with the Forensic Science Club, Delta Delta Delta, Order of Omega, Phi Eta Sigma and Omicron Delta Kappa. She also served as a senior orientation leader and opening week leader. Stier says she wants to work in a drug chemistry lab for the government as a forensic chemist. She interned with the Illinois State Police last summer.
Bosler says, down the road, she would like to get experience in the field of chemistry, preferably drug chemistry or toxicology, before pursuing a master’s degree. At Southeast, she was involved with the Forensic Science Club, Chemistry Club, Rock Climbing Club, the Jane Stephens Honors Program and the President’s Leadership Academy. She also served as a chemistry lab assistant and teacher’s assistant.
“I love a challenge, and hope to end up with a career where I can be challenged every day,” Bosler said.
The DEA enforces the U.S. controlled substances laws and regulations of the United States and brings to the criminal and civil justice system organizations and principal members of organizations involved in the growing, manufacture or distribution of controlled substances appearing in this country or destined for illicit traffic in the United States.