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Group investigates ‘Chemistry, Codes and Crimes’ in U.K.

Barry McNamara
The Monmouth College group straddles the Greenwich Meridian, standing with one foot in each of the eastern and western hemispheres.
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MONMOUTH, Ill. – How did the trip go for a group of 15 Monmouth College students who traveled to England and Scotland in May? In a word, they #kiltit.

That was the social media hashtag of choice for the group, who had ties of some sort with the College’s new investigative forensics minor. Led by three faculty members who teach in the minor – Laura Moore, Christine Myers and Audra Sostarecz, the group also included emeritus professor Marta Tucker, alumna Annie Axup ’18 and Kath Sturgeon, wife of Monmouth faculty member Brad Sturgeon.

The trip was part of the investigative forensics class “Chemistry, Codes and Crimes.” Several students on the trip are investigating the subject as a possible minor to pursue during their time at Monmouth, including Joseph Shie ’21 of Davenport, Iowa.

“I wanted to see more about investigative forensics and see if I wanted to dive deeper into it,” said Shie, who is majoring in biochemistry and said he is still considering adding an investigative forensics minor.

Different learning styles

Shie praised the structure of the trip, which provided both group and individual learning opportunities.

“I liked the way the trip was set up,” he said. “We’d do something together as a group in the morning, then have the rest of the day to explore and find things on our own. It really put a lot of the learning in our hands.”

Myers said that was the desired effect.

“There was a lot of free time for the students, intentionally,” she said. “We wanted to make sure they had lots of time to do their own discipline and interests,” be it chemistry, computer science or history.

“It was a very academic trip, but I didn’t feel I was under pressure to be learning something specific,” said Victoria Burgo ’21 of Chicago. “We learned something different every day. We split up a lot, but then we’d come together at the end of the day and talk about what we’d seen and done.”

A wide range of tours

And the group saw and did a lot, with a series of tours and site visits on their itinerary. One of the highlights was visiting Bletchley Park, once the top-secret home of codebreakers during World War II.

“The tours were fantastic,” said Burgo. “One of my favorites was Surgeons’ Hall in Edinburgh. It’s an historical gold mine, with three centuries’ worth of surgical history. It was a very liberal-arts museum.”

Shie’s favorite tours were one based on Jack the Ripper, as well as one at the London Museums of Health and Medicine. He said another highlight was visiting the British Museum and taking in exhibits on Japanese samurai, the pyramids, Stone Age artifacts and Roman statues, among others.

Modern technology might be a way the century-old Jack the Ripper mystery eventually gets solved, said Myers.

“Two police officers are among the possible suspects, and they are using GIS (geographic information system) mapping to examine those policemen’s regular beats in comparison to where and when the crimes were committed,” she said, adding that a course that introduces GIS is one of the electives of Monmouth’s investigative forensics minor.

Although she’s a member of the chemistry department, Sostarecz said a personal highlight was learning more about British prime minister Winston Churchill during a visit to the Churchill War Rooms.

“I really enjoyed that,” she said. “They told you so many details about him outside of what you already know.”

Other positive experiences

In addition to chemistry, codes and crimes, Myers said another “c-word” was an important part of the trip: culture.

“The FA Cup Final was played while we were there, and we were staying in Wembley Park, which is right across from the soccer stadium,” said Myers. “The students got to see all the fans and hear them singing. The students also really enjoyed the public transportation system, and they say they really miss it now that they’re back in the States. So the trip was not just about what you saw in the museums and on the tours. The culture you saw and experienced was important, too.”

Myers said another bonus was the close relationships the students formed.

“The students became so close on the trip,” she said. “Even though we’re back home, the Facebook group is still going strong. They became such good friends, and they really created some lifelong memories.”

It’s possible that investigative forensics students will be on the move again within the next couple years, as a trip to Dallas to dive deeper into the logistics of the Kennedy assassination has been discussed.