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Published: Thursday, 6/26/2003

Forensics curriculum a winner for Defiance

Now it seems that other students are rushing to join the 23-year-old who landed a job as a forensic DNA analyst.

Defiance College officials said their 3-year-old major in forensic science has become the fastest-growing major on the small college campus.

It has far surpassed officials' goals, and the school is even looking at ways to keep up with the unexpected growth - including a possible cap on its enrollment.

“We were stunned by the interest in the program, and we continue to be,” said Dr. Richard Stroede, the college's academic dean. The college typically must advertise after introducing a new major.

That wasn't the case with this major, though. In the last two years, an average of two dozen freshmen have entered the program, bringing the total number of current forensic science majors to 45 at a college with just 900 undergraduates.

David Reed, chairman and professor of the division of science and mathematics, said the college did an intense study before putting together the curriculum for the forensic science degree.

As a result of the study, Defi-ance College ended up with a curriculum that's heavy in science courses and is directed at helping place students in jobs dealing with DNA, toxicology, and drugs.

Three majors in the state now focus on a forensic background. One is forensic psychology at Tiffin University and the other is forensic chemistry at Ohio University in Athens, Mr. Reed said.

Mr. Reed said he realizes that television shows like CSI may have helped bring free publicity to the study of forensic science. But he said students who enter the field do so because of a childhood goal.

“Most made up their mind in elementary school - not after watching CSI,” Mr. Reed said. “It's not something they are doing because of it. But it certainly helps to alert the public.”

The downside for students in forensic science is the high dropout rate at Defiance College - due to its rigorous list of requirements in natural and physical sciences, including several chemistry courses. About 30 percent of freshman in the program typically switch majors after the first year.

Ms. Kleist, who was hired recently as a forensic DNA analyst at the Louisiana State Police Crime Lab, said students should be aware of the major's intense requirements, but shouldn't become discouraged in the process.

She entered Defiance College as an undergraduate who was undecided about a major. In her second year, she entered forensic science and now recalls that a high school anatomy and physiology teacher told her she would be good in the field.

“It was exactly what I was looking for,” she said from her home in Baton Rouge.

Janae Elam, 18, of Fort Wayne, Ind., said she decided on the major while still in high school after talking with family friends who are police officers.

She and her father went online and found out Defiance College had a forensic science offering. The next closest school with the same program is Eastern Kentucky University, which Miss Elam said was too big and too far from home.

“They had this, and it's closer,” Miss Elam said while on campus for orientation this week. “I'm really excited. I loved working the details and trying to figure out the solution to problems.”



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