New YSU crime scene lab: Learning by doing

Susan Clutter, assistant professor of Forensic Science, leads an investigation in the new crime scene lab.

YSU produces some of the nation’s top cops. The goal now is to produce some of the best squints—forensic crime scene investigators.

The Department of Criminal Justice and Forensic Science recently opened a new five-room crime scene lab in the former offices of the Math department on the first floor of Cushwa Hall.

It is the only university-based facility of its kind in the state of Ohio and only the sixth in the United States.

“Every university that offers crime scene investigation as a class needs a dedicated workspace; our people need to learn by doing rather than by reading about it,” said Susan Clutter, assistant professor of Forensic Science.

The new lab is a fully furnished unit that includes an entryway, living and dining areas, two bedrooms and a bathroom. In addition to being used in several forensic courses, including crime scene and firearms investigation and trace evidence analysis, the lab is ideal for use by Ohio Peace Officer Training Academy classes and other local first-responder agencies.

“We can make our mock crime scenes as big or as little as we need to,” said Clutter, explaining that the scenes range from burglaries and assaults to sexual incidents and murders. “The idea is to make the experience as real as possible so that the students feel like they are having a real experience. Students learn best by doing.”

Clutter, who joined the YSU faculty in 2010, said the Forensics Science program continues to grow. “When I came here, we had 43 students; now, we have 99.”

Clutter earned an undergraduate degree in Biology from Clark University in Massachusetts and a master’s in Forensic Science from George Washington University in Washington, DC. She has nine years of experience as a crime scene investigator in the Washington and Baltimore Metro-areas and 10 years of forensic teaching experience. Clutter shares faculty duties with professor Rob Wardle, whose expertise is Forensic Chemistry.

“When I got here, the priority was finding a dedicated space (for mock crime scenes),” she said. “Dean (Joe) Mosca saw to it that we got the old Math department offices. I spent the summer going to yard sales in the area explaining the project and accepting furniture donations. It has cost the department no money.”

For the unit’s debut last spring, faculty staged a mass shooting and terror attacks for the students’ two-week practicum. Student teams were tasked with securing the crime scene, documenting and recovering trace evidence and performing crime scene reconstructions.

View a video of the new lab on YSU’s YouTube channel.

Story by Robert Merz