‘CSI Effect’ fuels college courses in science of sleuthing

These faces were reconstructed by Savannah State University students taking courses in the school’s forensic science program. ERIC STIRGUS / ESTIRGUS@AJC.COM.

These faces were reconstructed by Savannah State University students taking courses in the school’s forensic science program. ERIC STIRGUS / ESTIRGUS@AJC.COM.

The fall semester begins for most Georgia colleges and universities this month and each year school administrators introduce courses and programs they hope will excite students and fill classrooms.

Georgia State University, for example, will have a new course this semester focused on the business career of star rapper/actor Ludacris.

One field of study that has increased in popularity, locally and nationally in recent years, is forensic science.

Some call it the CSI Effect.

The number of programs accredited by the Forensic Science Education Programs Accreditation Commission has increased from 40 to 49 in the past five years, said Nancy Jackson, the commission’s accreditation coordinator. Among those schools is Albany State University. Jackson said television shows like “CSI” and movies glamorizing forensic science have helped draw students to the field.

When the state’s Board of Regents visited Savannah in April for its monthly meeting, Savannah State University was asked to do a presentation on its forensic science program.

Karla-Sue Marriott, interim chair of the university’s chemistry and forensic science department, said enrollment in the program has increased from six students when it started in fall 2011 to 102 students for this fall. One student, she said, was recruited by the FBI. Another student is currently in the Savannah Police Department’s academy. Marriott said the program has a budding relationship with the GBI.

“They think it’s cool,” Marriott said of students in a recent interview. “They see ‘CSI’ but many have no idea how much science is involved.”

The eyes of several board members widened as three students presented sculptures of faces they had reconstructed through small details about the person’s gender and ethnicity.

“This project really challenged me,” student Tyra Deloatch said during the presentation.

“This project showed that I can do just about anything,” she added.

Other Georgia schools such as Augusta University, Piedmont College and the University of West Georgia offer degrees, certificates or course tracks in forensic science.

Savannah State’s program has concentrations in biology or chemistry. About 50% of its graduates have continued toward careers in forensic science, Marriott said.

Each year, Marriott and her team unveil a new element to the program. This year, the program will use a “halo room” using five 3D laser projectors to create three-dimensional images of items such as molecules to help students get a better feel for the science they’re learning.

The biggest challenge for any new academic initiative is money. The resources needed for such programs can be costly. An advanced 3D laser projector can cost at least $5,000.

“The courses are very expensive,” Jackson said.

Helping students find the money to continue their education can sometimes be difficult. Marriott said Savannah State has been helped by federal grants for students to do work study.

Interest in the subject is robust. The University of Mississippi has a forensic science summer camp.

So if the Ludacris course doesn’t work out, there are still plenty of options for schools to consider.