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Drew University Anthropology Students Get Forensic

Students uncover, analyze, and document a mock crime scene

April 2022 – It’s not every day that undergraduate students spend class time wandering around the woods to find plastic skeletons, but that’s exactly what students in Drew University’s Forensic Anthropology course did this spring.

Students learned to analyze, process, and map crime scenes in lab activities throughout the semester and applied those skills during a hands-on mock crime scene project over three class periods in April.

In teams, the students scoured Drew’s wooded campus, conducting a foot search, identifying evidence, photographing the scene, collecting materials, and excavating the “human remains” hidden by Lisa Monetti, adjunct anthropology lecturer, four months earlier.

Archaeologists Monetti and Miriam Dominguez, adjunct professor of anthropology, were onsite to support students with the excavation process.

Later, students analyzed the remains in the lab to establish a biological profile, documenting their steps in an expert witness report, a document traditionally submitted in court when a forensic anthropologist or archaeologist is called in as an expert witness.

“I was able to take concepts from class and apply them to the real world,” said Sophie Dommermuth C’22, an anthropology and political science double major.

“The feeling of being at the scene and doing the work to examine the area and exhume the imitation remains was gratifying. Having the opportunity to learn by doing feels like a rarity sometimes, so I’m incredibly grateful to Professor Monetti for making this experience happen.”

“I’m a hands-on learner and this experiment, as well as the labs, were essential to my comprehension of the course material,” added Mery Nadiele C’23, a public health major.

While the project had plenty of academic implications, its impact stretched beyond the classroom for students.

“As a result of this experience, I’ve considered applying for jobs in the field of forensics, given the fact that I’ve been developing real-world applicable skills,” said Dommermuth.

“Whatever path I choose to take will have been positively influenced by my taking this course. I feel like my thinking has been changed philosophically and literally, now knowing how the ethics of forensic studies and developing the more kinesthetic side of my brain has been very worthwhile.”

Nadiele added, “Even though the experiment did not directly apply to my post-graduate plans, I’m majoring in public health and would like to become a global health officer, so it sparked new interests. We worked in groups and this aspect of the project helped me, as an introvert, to get out of my comfort zone and trust my teammates; we had fun while learning tremendously.”