A Certifiable Program

February 13, 2004
Soon, Baylor's O'Grady Laboratory may be one of the only university labs in Texas officially certified to conduct forensic DNA testing -- and it's Lori Baker's job to make that happen. In order for her to continue "Reuniting Families," Baylor's lab must comply with new mandatory state certification laws. Many labs currently doing DNA testing may not be able to afford the necessary changes or staff needed to adhere to the requirements by the 2005 deadline. "There are costs associated -- [the state] has to send people to inspect the labs to make sure you're doing it right," she says.
For Baylor, one of the most difficult aspects of getting certified is making sure that there is proper control over who has access to the lab, but also allowing for student involvement. Baker knows that once the lab is accredited, "it is going to be a very big asset to our program -- other universities don't have it."
Although her project has brought a lot of publicity to Baylor's forensic science major, enrollment has been high since the program was started in 1999 by Susan Wallace, associate professor of sociology and anthropology and the program's director. Baker attributes the widespread and international interest to the fact that Baylor's program is believed to be the first for undergraduates.
Many of those who major in the program are pre-med students who normally don't get to work with skeletons so early in their studies, Baker says. "Medical schools like the idea that they have this extra experience."
The rigorous program also requires students to take a number of upper-level science classes. Upon graduating, forensic science majors have the equivalent of almost three minors. The program gives pre-med students who enter medical school a high-demand career, Baker says.
She cites the rising number of TV shows such as "CSI" as another factor in the enrollment boom: "We are getting calls from universities wanting to know how they can get [a forensics program] started in their school."
Baylor's program also is unique in that it requires students to complete a nine-hour internship. The University often brings in guest speakers to give workshops on blood spatters, bone trauma and psychological profiling. "It gives [students] an opportunity to learn more subjects -- things we can't teach them. They get a broad base of information," Baker says.
The major is limited to students who have 30 hours with at least a 2.75 grade point average; until they reach that point, they are considered pre-forensic science majors. "This was done in order to limit the number of majors, however, it isn't really working," she says. "We have over 400 majors and pre-forensic science majors, and it looks as though we may have around 100 new pre-forensic majors entering this fall."
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