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CSI: Monmouth

Sarah Zaubi
A grisly scene met the students of Monmouth College’s Chemistry 102 course last week when they arrived at class. A dirt trail, a blood-smeared chair and broken glass were just a few of the disturbing clues left by the “Balance Room Vandal,” kicking off the college’s very first forensic science mock crime scene investigation.

The elaborate scene was set up for the Chem 102 students by faculty members Audra Sostarecz and Eric Todd.

Sostarecz said the chemistry department has sought to offer a variety of physical universe courses that fulfill one of the college’s general education requirements. Chemistry 102 – also known as “Forensics Science” – was first proposed by Sostarecz following a workshop she attended at Williams College in 2008. It follows the success of “Nutrition” (Chemistry 101).

“I’ve taught Chem 100 before, and I noticed that some students weren’t as excited,” said Sostarecz. “I wanted to teach a class that used quantitative skills, but in a fun way.”

So far, the course appears to be accomplishing its goals, as students who first became interested in the topic through the various “CSI” (Crime Scene Investigation) shows are enjoying the opportunity to channel their inner Gil Grissom.

“For this being the first time, it was awesome, and I think it’s only going to improve,” said Cody Rogers, a junior from Prophetstown. “They put a lot of detail into it.”

“I’m a huge fan of the TV show ‘NCIS,’ so the adrenaline of photographing a real crime scene took over,” said Matt Shumaker, a sophomore from Galesburg.

Sostarecz said the students will pick three suspects. They will then analyze ink, powder and other clues during the semester to try to determine the “vandal.” The professor stressed that it was only the first year of the class, so she and Todd are still experimenting with the format. Because it’s a course for non-majors, the lab is only two hours long instead of three, which sometimes makes it difficult for every lab group to have as much time as it needs.

“With 35 students, it may be good to split the class up into two sections for just the first lab, since this is the most time-intensive lab due to the analysis of the crime scene,” she said. “As the students unravel the case, all other labs will take place in the actual teaching laboratories and the instrument room.”

In addition to an extra lab, Sostarecz intends to have a different “crime” committed each year for students to investigate, and she hopes they’ll only get better.