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WIU to Offer Forensic Chemistry Major Beginning Spring 2006

November 2, 2005

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MACOMB, IL – The science and art of crime scene investigation (CSI) are just two of the areas that will be taught at Western Illinois University beginning Spring 2006 when forensic chemistry is offered as an academic degree program.

The Illinois Board of Higher Education (IBHE) approved Western’s request for the new Bachelor of Science in forensic chemistry, which will make Western the only Illinois institution to offer a baccalaureate degree in this discipline. Western currently offers a minor in forensic chemistry and a minor in forensic science through the department of chemistry.

Nationally, only two institutions, Ohio University at Athens and the University of Mississippi, currently offer a Bachelor of Science in forensic chemistry. Southern Illinois University-Carbondale is the only other Illinois institution to offer the study of forensic science or chemistry; however, the option is only available as a concentration within a student’s major field of study.

What makes Western’s program most unique is that it is a baccalaureate program with a very strong emphasis in chemistry, where a lot of other programs stress social or criminal justice, according to Inessa Levi, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences.

While classes and labs promise to be interesting and challenging, they may not always resemble Hollywood-style CSI scenes, a la Las Vegas, Miami or New York, Levi said. The minimum of 123 semester hour of coursework will, however, prepare graduates with a strong chemistry background and a specialization in forensic sciences which will qualify them to work in modern laboratories at the local, regional, state and federal levels; as well as with such agencies as the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Food and Drug Administration, Environmental Protection Agency or private chemical and pharmaceutical industries.

Students will learn basic concepts of crime scene investigations and the importance of teamwork; study the scientific method in managing and reconstruction a crime scene; develop competency in analytical laboratory techniques used with crime scene reconstruction and pattern analysis; learn proper documentation and collection of various types of physical and biological evidence; develop good note-taking skills and learn how to write a scientific/forensic report; become familiar with professional governing standards and code of ethics; and learn about the U.S. court system, legal rules governing the collection of evidence, courtroom admissibility of scientific testing and expert courtroom testimony.

Administered through Western’s chemistry department, the forensic chemistry major will include 11 core chemistry and two biology courses; as well as two additional directed chemistry courses, along with mathematics, physics, computer science, law enforcement and an elective from one of the following: agriculture, anthropology, biology, geology or microbiology.

“The new academic degree program will be built entirely on existing courses plus two new courses to be taught by a new faculty member, who will be hired into a newly-created faculty position that will support chemistry department offerings,” Levi said.

According to the IBHE report, it is expected that the program will initially enroll 10 students and that the number of the majors will increase 10 to 15 annually until it levels out at 48 majors in four to five years.

However, enrollment in Western’s forensic science minor has increase from 77 students in its initial year in 2002 to 220 students in Fall 2004. A survey of 600 Western Illinois biology, chemistry and law enforcement and justice administration students indicated that 72 percent of the respondents would have been likely to select a major in forensic chemistry if it was available in the past, Levi said.

The U.S. Department of Labor and Educational Testing Services indicates that the employment outlook for individuals with baccalaureate degrees in forensic science have a “fair-good” rating, according to the IBHE report.

“Since we have designed a program emphasizing chemistry and biochemistry, our forensic chemistry graduates will have additional job opportunities in chemical and pharmaceutical industries, therefore we anticipate that Western Illinois graduates will have a ‘good-excellent’ chance of securing employment,” Levi said.

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