Friday, May 24, 2013

Science of Crime E-Term Course

by Brittany G., Panther Blogger

As a requirement, students at Ferrum College must complete an E-Term course, which is simply one class for three weeks during the month of May.  These E-Terms range from mathematics courses to crime scene photography to study abroad trips to places like Peru.  Some of the classes have the students traveling, which requires a fee, but if the student can pay the fee, these are excellent learning and cultural experiences for every student.  I had the privilege of attending the Science of Crime E-Term this year with Dr. Goff and Professor Minter.

This class was amazing for so many reasons!  Although we had the first and third week of class here on campus, we traveled during the middle week to the University of Tennessee.  We had lectures and labs from 8 a.m. until 5 p.m. on the first three days, then a day of case work, and a day of lectures, and finally a visit to the "Body Farm," more accurately known as the Anthropology Research Facility.  During the lectures and labs, we were in an intense crash course of forensic anthropology. It was taught by many graduate degree-seeking students and PhDs who were working on their own research but who took the time to help pass on their knowledge.

Over the course of the week, we had crammed so much new information into our heads to use for our case work and presentation. We were taught how to determine the biological profile of skeletons which included the sex, age, stature, and ancestry of the remains, as well as any trauma if it was present. It is amazing that each of those categories can be learned by the structure of the skeleton and marking on the bones!
Did you know that sex can be estimated by the cranium, pelvis, and measurements of long bones, or that ancestry is estimated through cranial measurements?
After learning as much as we possibly could in two and a half days, Wednesday afternoon involved a practical exam where we tested our knowledge to see how well we grasped the concepts. Thankfully, we all did pretty well!  We put everything we learned together through a case work study where we were given a box of skeletal remains and we had to use every technique we could to determine the biological profile before presenting it to many of the instructors who taught the class.  It was a reassuring moment when the entire class really understood how much we learned in just those few days.

Finally, the day we were all waiting for was Friday morning when we completed our last lecture and journeyed to the "Body Farm."  It was a once-in-a-lifetime chance to see such a facility where their focus is based on body decomposition in different situations as well as animal scavenging.  At maximum capacity for the bodies, they needed to "push" along the decomposition of some bodies, but it was amazing to see the difference in stages of "time since death."  They are currently studying the differences in having a donor body in the shade, in the open, or even buried as if natural burial had occurred.

The one problem with the facility being out in nature is the scavenging from animals like raccoons and rodents. Currently, they are trying different techniques to possibly keep them away from the bodies so they do not have to search yards away for bones that belong to the skeleton. Luckily, there are a few students who are working on the taphonomy, but they will still have some issues with keeping every predator out.

No matter what theories were being tested and despite animals scavenging for bones and muscles, the facility is a prime opportunity to experience what you might be interested in studying.  All of us as a class were so thrilled to be a part of such an elite group that we would take the class again if we could!  E-Term is an opportunity to experience something that most people do not get a chance to do, so I recommend that students try to take whichever one they would be most interested in. 

Who knows, maybe you will be able to go on a trip to Peru or to the Virgin Islands, or maybe even make connections for potential internships or other opportunities after graduation!

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