College Station – Texas A&M University now has a bachelor's program like no other in the state.
The bachelor's of science degree in forensic and investigative science has been awarded full accreditation by the Forensic Science Education Programs Accreditation Commission (FEPAC) for five years, from January 2012 to January 2017.
"This is big news," said Dr. Jeffrey Tomberlin, assistant professor in the department of entomology at Texas A&M University at College Station. "We are the only undergraduate program in Texas currently accredited. That means we are providing a quality product now officially recognized by the American Academy of Forensic Sciences as well as FEPAC."
Dr. Kevin Heinz, professor and director of the forensic and investigative sciences program at Texas A&M, said the university did not have Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board authority to offer such a degree when the program first started.
"The University, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and department of entomology, had to work in perfect unison starting from square one to make the program a reality," Heinz said.
Heinz clarified that though Texas A&M is the only entity to now offer a degree, the University of North Texas, one of A&M's interdisciplinary faculty group partners, has full accreditation for its forensic certificate programs offered in conjunction with their bachelor's degree in biochemistry, biology and chemistry.
Forensic science or simply forensics is the use of science to answer questions of interest to a legal system and has become well known in recent years due to the plethora of CSI-type programming on television, Tomberlin said.
"While we do prepare students with the basics in terms of forensics as related to what is seen on television, our degree goes much farther," Tomberlin said. "The job opportunities in this field are wide open. I would say the knowledge gained from our degree transcends disciplines and is useful from the courtroom to the boardroom.
"The whole idea surrounding the forensics program is that the critical thinking skills gained through this degree translate into application in most fields. Students are prepared to enter the job market at graduation as well as to apply for graduate or professional school. Specifically, students could use this degree as a springboard for law school or they could end up gaining a job within the business community."
Tomberlin said the new degree is unique, because while it focuses on a scientific foundation, it also provides students with opportunities to blend their scientific knowledge with the practice of forensic science.
"Collaborations with other entities is a major strength of the degree plan," Tomberlin said. "Hands-on practice with a partner in The Texas A&M University System, the Texas Engineering Extension Service Forensic Science Academy (–Click), is paramount to the success of this program as are the relationships we have developed with local, state and federal agencies. All provide students opportunities to work side-by-side with practicing forensic professionals."
"The degree is science intensive," Tomberlin said. "Students emerge with a very strong foundation in the basic sciences; however, they are taught to apply this information in a legal setting."
The degree program in Forensic and Investigative Sciences is headquartered in the entomology department at Texas A&M.
"The ties with the entomology department were initiated several years ago and stem directly from Dr. Jim Olson's popular forensic entomology course," said Tomberlin. "Because of the interest of the students in that course, it was logical for the department to cultivate and nurture the development of the degree we now have."
Dr. David Ragsdale, department of entomology head, said the accreditation should benefit students beginning with May 2012 graduates.
"We want to celebrate the accomplishment of accreditation as it is truly something the students, staff, faculty and administration should be proud of," Ragsdale said.
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