Howdy from Aggieland!
What a year! I know no better way to start my message as this year has proven to be quite eventful for the Forensic & Investigative Sciences Program. We had 21 students graduate during spring commencement- the largest group to date! Many of these students will enter the workforce immediately, while others will be attending graduate school (e.g., University of North Texas) for additional forensic training or professional school (e.g., medical school). I have found that I am always very proud of our graduating students- such role models!
We also successfully formed an upper division society named appropriately the Resurget Cineribus Society, which translates to “it will rise again from the ashes.” We decided this name would be appropriate considering the first two years of the program being so demanding (I am sure you remember inorganic chemistry, biology, and calculus your first semester on campus) and resulting so many students (70-75%) changing majors) that it probably felt like you were in an academic crucible and rising again like a phoenix (did I just quote Fall Out Boy?). The RC Society, as I call it, is devoted to enriching the student experience at Texas A&M University. We had meetings to discuss resume preparation, interview skills, networking, and internship/research experiences. We also developed a mentorship program for the first and second year students- and it was a success with retention increasing approximately 25%. With that said, I want to Grace Gonzalez for assisting with the name and her along with Amy Cooper and Alex Williams efforts with organizing the group. A special thanks to Alex for being so dedicated to the mentorship program- you really did a great job! I also want to thank Ava Moyer, Katie McLeod (see I do remember you), Michelle Jonika, and Jeremy Arnold (rising seniors) for stepping up to the plate to lead this organization during the 2017-2018 year.
Other great news with the program includes its re-accreditation by the Forensic Education Programs Accreditation Commission (FEPAC). The FIVS Program at Texas A&M University remains the only accredited undergraduate program in the state of Texas and has developed quite a reputation as a premiere forensic science program. In fact, our program was commended on the quality of education offered to our students as well as the impressive accomplishments many of you have made since leaving the program.
A Special Note to the Class of 2017: Dr. Tarone and I had a blast teaching you in our FIVS 415 & 435 courses. And, I apologize in advance if the word Daubert is forever burned into your memory. But in all seriousness, you all are so very bright, talented, and fun (e.g., American Academy of Forensic Sciences, New Orleans). You are wonderful individuals with very bright futures, and we will miss you (except for Casey Hearn who is seeking her MS in Entomology in my lab- a glutton for punishment- just kidding!!). Please stay in touch with us- we want to know how you are doing- and remember, you are always part of the FIVS family!!
Associate Professor & AgriLife Research Fellow
Director, Forensic & Investigative Sciences Program
The Future’s So Bright- I Gotta Wear Shades: Plans for Some of Our Graduates
Jack Peabody was the Executive Officer for Company C-1 in the Corps of Cadets. Upon his graduation, he will be commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the United States Army and will work as a Military Police Officer. He leaves in September for his Basic Officer Leadership Course (BOLC), which takes place in Ft. Leonard Wood, MO. Upon his graduation from BOLC, he will be stationed in Ft. Lewis, WA with the 42nd Military Police Brigade.
Kiana Valenti, from Dallas, Texas, will be attending University of North Texas Health Science Center in Fort Worth, Texas to pursue a Master of Science in Forensic Genetics. Following graduate school, she hopes to work as a DNA analyst in a state or federal forensic laboratory.
Alex Williams will be moving to Houston to begin working with the US Pain and Spine Institute as a lab technician at Sunset Labs doing genetics and toxicology.
Highlight of the Year- FIVS Aggies Working Together!
US Pain & Spine Institute (USPSI) may not be Aggie owned but the various labs are operated by mostly Aggies. USPSI has a clinical reference lab, hospital lab, and multiple clinic labs around the Houston area. The clinical reference and hospital labs have different sections to include toxicology, genetic, hematology, clinical chemistry, and blood bank.
This multifaceted company hired their first Aggie in the lab, Sarah Bahlmann ‘11, in the summer of 2013. Sarah is currently the Assistant Lab Director for the clinical reference and hospital labs. She is also the lab director for eight clinic labs located around the Houston area. Three other Aggies staff these labs to keep sample processed compliantly and timely.
Michael Banfield ‘15 is the Lead Lab Tech for all of the labs. Michael started out in August of 2015 working in the Toxicology section of the clinical reference lab. Toxicology testing is important for patients and doctors to ensure that patients are taking medicine appropriately. If patients do not disclose all their medications or take illicit drugs their doctor may prescribe a medication that cross reacts. Toxicology tests allows the doctor to know what medications or drugs the patient is taking. In addition, if the toxicology test is negative for a medication that doctor is prescribing the doctor may question the medication compliance of the patient. Michael initially worked on the Enzyme Immunoassay (EIA) instrumentation screening urine samples for analytes and performing validity testing. As the lab grew Michael grew with it. Michael was eager to learn more instruments so naturally gravitated towards learning the Liquid Chromatography-Mass Spectrometry (LCMS). Michael processes both urine and oral fluid samples for the LCMS and is the certifying scientist for the patient results. He reviews each patient result and determines if the sample is positive or negative for analyte and if positive at what quantity. In addition to managing the toxicology production, Michael also helps oversee the clinical chemistry and genetic sections of the lab.
Charnae Kearney ’15 is a Lab Tech for the clinical reference lab. She was hired in 2015 shortly after she graduated. Charnae started out in the genetic section of the laboratory performing pharmacogenetic testing. Pharmacogenetics is the process of looking at how genetic variations affect how well people metabolize or react to a medication. This process starts out with Charnae extracting DNA from buccal swabs, loading the DNA onto a small chip, and analyzing the patient data for 60 different single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs). After running SNP analysis the samples are then run for copy number variations (CNV) to determine if the sample has multiple copies of different introns and exons. Charnae is also cross trained in the toxicology and clinical chemistry sections.
Kyle Beckman ’15 was hired in April 2016 and is our newest Lab Tech. Kyle works at the hospital lab in the toxicology section. Kyle is the only team member who runs the EIA instruments at this location. He oversees that all samples that are received are processed on the right instrumentation and for the right tests. Kyle also performs the enzyme extraction on urine samples to prep them for LCMS testing. Kyle has recently begun training on the LCMS instrument to become a certifying scientist.
Summary of Year in Review of FIVS Program Activities
The year started great with our very own Dr. Adrienne Brundage receiving the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences’ Dean’s Award for Early Career Teaching during the College’s annual Fall convocation in September. She received the award for her awesome teaching efforts, teaching not only classes in Entomology, but also making the Introduction to Forensic and Investigative Sciences (FIVS 205) course a memorable experience for the hundreds of students that come to the class over the years!! We are very proud of you Dr. Brundage!
Director Dr. Jeff Tomberlin also got high honors as well as he was named the newest Texas A&M AgriLife Research Faculty Fellow during the Texas A&M AgriLife Conference in January. This title was awarded to Dr. Tomberlin for his outstanding research, which has attracted more than $2 million in grants during the past 5 years and had numerous publications and citations worldwide from the results of his research.
Nine of our students were part of the 21,000 students that were sent out all over the Bryan/College Station area to participate in The Big Event, the largest one-day community service event in the nation. The students were sent to a local house in the Wellborn area to help a couple clean out their back yard for their grandkids to enjoy. After lots of chopping, pruning, raking and sweating, the couple now has a wonderful place for their kids to play!
Senior Selena Portillo received the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences’ Senior Merit Award during the College’s spring convocation while Students Jeremy Arnold, Brice Phillips, Emily Parsoneault, Mya Gates, and Calli Allison got scholarships to help further their college educations. Nicholas Richter, Mya Gates, Fatimah Bouderdaben, and Kejaun Tate were named the newest Entomology Scholars Society during our spring awards reception. You can read more about all the students receiving awards during the reception on our website.
Several of our students received their Forensic Technician certifications from TEEX after completing both the Latent Print Processing and Crime Scene Investigation courses that were held this spring. These students received tons of hands-on experience that were taught by the amazing instructors at TEEX!! Congratulations to all that received their certificates!!