Criminal justice minor a good fit for forensic scientist

Despite South Dakota State University not having a forensic science program, Brenna Conley is making great strides toward accomplishing her dream of becoming a forensic scientist.

Conley, a junior biology major with a minor in criminal justice, was awarded a highly competitive internship with the South Dakota Department of Criminal Investigation in the forensics lab for summer 2016 and was based in Pierre.

“I hope to gain a better idea of what life as a forensic scientist would be like and to get basic training I would need to obtain a career like that,” Conley said.

Because there is no specific forensic science program, Conley decided a major in biology with a minor in criminal justice was the way to go—and she’s never looked back.

“If you want to be a forensic scientist, you have to be a science major,” Conley said. “From the first day, I was a biology major, minoring in criminal justice. I’ve never switched.”

Conley attributes part of her success to her professors who have helped her with her course studies.

Julie Yingling is an assistant professor in the Department of Sociology and Rural Studies. She teaches several criminal justice classes and is the coordinator for the criminal justice minor.

“I do know that the criminal justice minor is a good fit with a number of other majors, including fisheries and wildlife, biology, chemistry and nursing,” Yingling said. “This allows students to pursue their interest in the criminal justice realm as forensic scientists, laboratory analysts, forensic nurses, sexual assault nurse examiners and conservation officers.”

As the Department of Criminal Investigation’s only full-time intern, Conley has a wide array of duties. She assists criminalists in evaluation, examination and identification of physical evidence from crime scenes. However, she is not allowed to touch evidence because of rules and regulations regarding contamination of evidence. “The Department of Criminal Investigation will provide me with ‘practice’ evidence so I can apply techniques I’ve learned,” Conley said.

“The classes I’ve taken at SDSU have helped me immensely,” Conley said, “especially the labs. Many of the techniques I’ve learned will be applicable in my internship.”

Her minor has also helped. The department needed an intern who had basic knowledge of the criminal justice system.

Bringing closure to a victim or their family members is all Conley hopes to accomplish with her dreams of becoming a forensic scientist.

“It’s helping people,” Conley said. “It will be fulfilling to get the conviction and to bring justice.”

Sara Bertsch

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