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Bright Futures: Forensic Chem Major Gains CSI Experience

Grad Says MNU Experience Was Great Preparation

July 11, 2013

Working in a crime lab sounded fun to Rebekah Wilkins (’13), a forensic chemistry major. The honors program grad contacted two Kansas City area crime labs and learned that Johnson County, Kansas Crime Lab had an internship for which she could apply.

“I told them I would do any work they wanted,” Rebekah says. “I just wanted the experience!”

After an interview with the drug chemists and the crime lab director, Wilkins was offered the job and got a tour of the facility. Upon completion of a background check she found herself working for chemists in the drug chemistry and trace evidence departments. The work was on “side projects” on proficiency tests, designer drug analysis and fiber microscopy.

“I did a lot of work with testing how cotton fibers change after being soaked in Cargille oil,” says Rebekah. “It is actually an important research question. My supervisor had a theory I tested for him, first testing the fibers and then ways to reverse the change. We actually got good results that may change how cotton fibers are analyzed in a crime lab. I had a fantastic feeling of accomplishment.”

Rebekah never felt insecure about using the crime lab equipment and found she was well qualified for the work.

“I knew how to run the instruments in the lab because of my Chemistry classes at MNU,” she says. “The basic things I learned at MNU about laboratory technique helped me to be efficient and thorough.”

Rebekah’s crime lab experience confirmed her career plans.

“It was great to be working in the field I have always dreamed about,” she says. “I got the chance to follow scientists in every forensic discipline. My supervisors at the lab helped me so much! They were patient in teaching me about how they did things. They challenged me and gave me work that was important. Sometime in the future, I want to work in a crime lab in the drug chemistry section. So my internship let me learn directly from the person I want to be.”

Back in the classroom Rebekah continued to research through chemistry.

“Two of my passions are chemistry and people,” she says. “I loved being an upper division chemistry major because almost all my classes related to my favorite topic! Chemistry research was one of my favorite classes because it is a directed study. My professor let me have control over my own project and I had a blast.  I was also a tutor and a lab assistant, so I helped other students learn about chemistry too. I literally did chemistry all day and I loved it!”

Aside from chemistry and coursework, Rebekah was a resident assistant and has been involved in her class council. As an honors program student she also took part in enrichment activities required to complete an honors certificate. To graduate with an honors program certificate, students must earn 30 points through qualified coursework, co-curricular activities, portfolios and an independent research project.

“The program seeks to develop well-rounded students who practice scholarship in courses but also apply scholarship in service and leadership outside the classroom,” says Honors Program Director Dr. Mark Hayse.

Wilkins is excited about her future plans. She was offered a graduate teaching assistantship at the University of Missouri Kansas City in chemistry where she will attend graduate school this fall.

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