The Charger Blog

Innovative Hands-On Experience Enables High School Students to Step into World of Crime Scene Investigation

As part of the University’s annual Crime Scene Investigation Academy, high school students from across the country gained hands-on experience while learning how the field differs from what they might have seen on television.

Aug 10, 2021

By Renee Chmiel, Office of Marketing and Communications

Students document the mock crime scene.
Students document the mock crime scene in the University’s crime scene house.

Samantha Abraham has always looked up to her aunt, a chief medical examiner working in New Jersey and a University of New Haven alum. That’s why she was so curious and eager to learn more about the field and the University.

Students photograph one of the bedrooms in the University’s crime scene house.
Students photograph one of the bedrooms in the University’s crime scene house.

“My aunt’s work inspired me,” said Abraham, of Brooklyn, NY. “I often heard her talk about her career and her time earning her master’s degree at the University of New Haven, and I wanted to explore more.”

Abraham did just that as part of the University’s Crime Scene Investigation Academy. During the summer camp, she did everything from learning about the history of policing to investigating a mock crime scene. The two weeklong sessions offered students entering grades 9 through 12 a hands-on glimpse of what it would be like to be a crime scene investigator, while learning from professionals in the field.

Nevaeh Random, who will begin her senior year at West Haven High School this fall, says the academy was fun, and that her experience has affirmed that she does indeed want to pursue a career in crime scene investigation.

“I have enjoyed learning about topics such as law and how to get search warrants,” she said. “I’ve always seen this on TV, and I wanted to learn more about it.”

‘I’m more interested in forensic science after this’

One of the big takeaways for students? CSI is not at all like what they might have seen on TV. Maria Torre, M.S., and Daniel Maxwell, MPA, the academy’s faculty advisers, hope that’s something students came to understand during their time at the University.

Maria Torre, M.S., instructs students during the mock crime scene investigation.
Maria Torre, M.S., instructs students during the mock crime scene investigation.

“The program gives them a realistic experience that combines academic and practical learning, as well as forensic science and criminal justice,” said Prof. Maxwell, a distinguished lecturer of criminal justice at the University. “They go over all the pieces of puzzle while learning who does what in an investigation. Students always learn a lot more than they expect.”

The CSI Academy offered a variety of hands-on experiences, including laboratory activities and the opportunity to investigate a mock crime scene. Students donned protective gear, including gloves and goggles, as they photographed the “crime scene” in the University’s crime scene house. They also took collected and packaged evidence, and documented what they found.

“It’s been great to learn about the process of crime scene investigation while doing it in a real situation,” said Juliana Fiumidinisi, a Stratford, Conn. resident and a rising sophomore. “I’ve learned it’s harder to get all the evidence than it appears on TV. There are so many details to pay attention to, and evidence really does impact what happens in court. I’m more interested in exploring a career in forensic science after this.”

‘I wanted to gain field experience’

Law was also an important focus of the academy. Students learned about constitutional law, engaging in discussions about the fourth amendment and learning how to follow proper procedures while investigating a crime. Their weeklong experience culminated in a presentation of their findings to a panel in a courtroom setting. The panel included real investigators – and the students’ parents.

“The presentation is one of the most exciting parts of this experience for me,” said Prof. Torre. “I love seeing the students put it all together, and how they absorbed everything they learned. I want them to gain a realistic idea of what is done in crime scene investigations and why science plays such an important role.”

Student investigators discuss their findings.
Student investigators discuss their findings.

Students came from as far away as California to take part in the academy, learning, among many skills, how to cast footwear impressions and how to write a search warrant. For Nate Varda, a Brookfield, Conn. native, the most exciting part of the week was the fieldwork, and he enjoyed going through the steps of finding and recording evidence.

“I’ve always been into forensic science, and I wanted to gain field experience,” said Varda, a rising senior. “I also wanted to learn more about the University of New Haven. I wanted to see if this would raise my interest in the field, and it definitely has. It’s very interesting.”