It’s in their DNA: Local teens explore forensics at CSI Summer Camp

Christine Goldman, right, led the latent print development activity. She is a crime scene investigation trainer from the National Forensic Science Technology Center at FIU.

FIU’s International Forensic Research Institute redefined the summer camp experience for 20 South Florida teens with its inaugural CSI Summer Camp.

The one-week camp provided an immersive introduction to the real-world forensics from experts with experience in the field. From the basics of fingerprints to DNA analysis, students experienced hands-on how the work at the scene impacts the justice carried out in the courtroom. They even learned expert witness techniques.

Steve Lee explains how to measure a footprint in a crime scene.

“Forensic science is an emerging area of interest for young scientists, thanks in part to the many CSI shows on TV,” said FIU Professor Steven Lee who coordinated the camp. “But these campers are walking away understanding what they see is sometimes just good TV.”

Lee is former director of the forensic science programs at San Jose State University where the CSI Summer Camp idea came to life. Lee was determined to bring the CSI Camp to South Florida where there is no other camp like it.

On the first day, the campers were given a crime scenario. They were tasked with gathering evidence, and learned the dos and don’ts of processing a crime scene.  As part of the process, the students learned how to develop and lift latent, or hidden, fingerprints from various materials. They also learned how to determine if a piece of evidence should be sent to the crime lab for DNA testing.

“The camp is definitely fun. I’m glad I asked my parents to sign up,” said Antony Stacey who is going into his senior year at TERRA Environmental Research Institute. “I am trying to figure out if I want to be a crime scene investigator or specialize in blood spatter analysis. I definitely want to work where I am not indoors every day.”

By the end of the week, the students were prepared to testify as expert witnesses in a mock trial where the campers’ parents served as the jury. After their experience, many parents are advocating for a Level II camp for next year.

“This is what keeps us inspired — knowing the program has had a positive impact on our future scientists and CSI leaders,” Lee said.

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