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Alum Mixes Faith and Forensic Science

Hannah Straley in UMKC lab.
Accent Winter 2017 Student & Alumni Stories Magazine

When forensic science comes to mind, scenes from CSI and NCIS may flash before your eyes. What might not come to mind is faith. But 2015 alum Hannah Straley has figured out how to balance real forensic science and real faith.

Straley, who spent most of her childhood in Ohio, moved to Shawnee, Kansas, in 2008 with her parents and younger brother. When it came time to select a college, MNU was not initially on the list, because she wanted to go a little further from home. But when she visited the campus, she knew MNU was the place for her. Straley said she was also impressed with the science department. It offered her the opportunity to get a degree in both chemistry and forensic chemistry. This is something most crime labs desire, so it was an important point for Straley, whose career goals were already leaning toward this line of work.

“It helps you get hired because many labs prefer a degree in a ‘hard’ science,” she explained.  

 

Forensic science was more than just CSI to Straley. She was interested in the field all through high school.

“The show Forensic Files really showed me that you could use science to contribute to society and really help people,” Straley stated. And that is just what she chose to do during her time at MNU.

Straley packed her four years at MNU with many hours of volunteer work. She was a chemistry tutor and volunteered at the KC Urban Youth Center where she mentored a young person. During her senior year, Straley began helping at the Kansas City Police Crime Lab. She acquired real life experience working in the DNA section of the lab, validating new scientific instruments, and observing in the chemistry department. All of this while working in the admissions office at MNU as well.

Another key part of Straley’s MNU experience was her senior research project under the direction of Dr. Abby Hodges. She received practical experience assisting Dr. Hodges with research on synthetic proteins. According to Straley, the senior research project was essential.

“It really helped get my feet wet with the idea of research,” she said. “A background in research is important because that’s what graduate school is all about.”

Dr. Hodges also encouraged Straley to pursue her doctoral degree. They have a special relationship-- the kind that only a small college can create due to the smaller class sizes. Dr. Hodges offered knowledge, as well as the occasional dinner at her own home. MNU provided Straley with a good foundation of relationships and connections within her field. She knew that she had friends and mentors she could turn to if she needed advice. These are connections that are still valuable to her today.

And now, Straley is pursuing a doctorate in chemistry from the University of Missouri-Kansas City. Upon completion, she will be able to move right into a career working in a forensic crime lab and, possibly, teaching. Straley is currently working as a graduate assistant, teaching undergraduate classes, and she loves it. A career teaching at the collegiate level is definitely something she says she is considering.

 

Hannah Straley outside of building on UMKC campusHannah Straley in front of the Spencer Chemistry Building at UMKC. Straley is completing a PhD program in chemistry at UMKC.

A career in science might seem out of character for a graduate of a small Christian college, but to Straley, science and faith mix perfectly and are each enhanced by the other.

“Most people put faith here and science over there, and they don’t really connect them. But the more I learn about science, the more I can’t imagine that it was all created by chance,” Straley explained. “I don’t think anyone could shake my faith. Science has changed its mind many times and gone back to a previously held viewpoint. But the Bible is the truth and the foundation.”

 Her time at MNU helped her faith grow strong, right alongside her knowledge of science. This is something that Straley appreciates now, even more than she did while she was in the midst of her undergrad. She said, “To get such a good education in a faith-based environment was so valuable.”

This education, plus her work in the admissions office, left a big impact on her. Straley realized that, “you don’t have to be a ministry major to make a difference for God. You can make a difference in any field.” And for this alum, that is just what she intends to do in the world of forensic science.  

 

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