Teachers from around the United States recently convened to explore new ways to engage their students in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) learning through the lens of forensic science at the conference, hosted June 27-29, through a collaboration between NJIT's Center for Pre-College Programs (CPCP), College of Science and Liberal Arts (CSLA), and the American Academy of Forensic Sciences (AAFS).
"As educators, you're aware that forensic science is an incredible platform to teach many of the foundational principles and applications of STEM that are so critical to the education of our students and their future," CSLA Dean Kevin Belfield, who led the launch of New Jersey's first forensic science degree program at NJIT in 2018, said in his welcome message, .
Serving the final week of his tenure as NJIT President, Joel S. Bloom introduced the conference's day-one keynote speaker, acting New Jersey Attorney General, Matthew Platkin, who addressed the evolving field and need for forensic professionals throughout the state.
"The percentage of STEM professionals in this state who have graduated from NJIT is extraordinary … I want to thank President Bloom for his service to this state and all the teachers here today," said Mr. Platkin.
"Forensic science is central to what we do and think about because it's such an emerging field that is constantly changing with new technology," Mr. Platkin said, noting that New Jersey State Police have been involved in a growing number of forensic cases over the past year, including nearly 3,000 serology cases, 20,000 drug cases, 3,350 toxicology cases, and over 2,800 DNA cases, while providing over 1,200 Combined DNA Index System (CODIS) hit notification letters. "For the educators in the room, it is special to be involved in … these are great careers."
Other notable guest speakers included AAFS President-Elect C. Ken Williams and Rodney Roberts, a Newark native now working with the Innocence Project; Mr. Roberts recounted his experiences being exonerated after spending 18 years in prison for a crime he did not commit. DNA testing ultimately proved his innocence.
Mr. Roberts' talk drew an emotional response from the audience, particularly local educators, some of whom use the case to teach students about wrongful convictions.
"I didn't know these teachers and their students were reading my case … [the response] was humbling," said Mr. Roberts. "I believe that by coming to NJIT and speaking elsewhere, I can fight injustices in the system and help shape the future. If I could go to every classroom in this city, I would."
Teaching Tomorrow's Forensic Scientists
Over three days, NJIT faculty and guest forensic experts led attendees through nearly 20 break-out sessions at the university's dedicated forensic lab and mock crime scene environments around campus, covering everything from how to teach students about fingerprint recovery, bloodstain pattern analysis and DNA typing, to the latest iPhone® apps to use for documenting a crime scene.
"As educators, it is our job to inspire students to consider forensic science as a career, but at the same time, prepare them to be highly skilled professionals and make them aware of the increased scrutiny they will face in the judicial system," said NJIT's Forensic Science Program Director David Fisher.
Teachers hailing from as far as Texas, Colorado, and Virginia attended the packed schedule of events to develop new lessons and curricula centered around the ever-popular field.
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