When Mayfield administration chose to offer a new Forensics Science course in their STEM curriculum this year, they had to look no further than their own distinguished Dr. Laurie Kovalenko to teach. Dr. Kovalenko (or “Dr. K” to her students) went to Cornell for her undergraduate in Chemistry, received her PhD from the University of Colorado—Boulder in Chemical Physics (with research in quantum mechanics), and did her post-doc work at Stanford, analyzing the physical properties of meteorites using laser-induced desorption mass spectrometry. She worked in prestigious labs including JPL, and instructed at the university-level nationwide, before she started teaching students much earlier on their academic journeys. Dr. K has made a career of pursuing her curiosity, while applying her rigorous scientific principles to whatever new discipline she takes on. Dr. K was already teaching Mayfield’s Physics and Chemistry courses when she was approached about the inaugural Forensics Science course. She was eager to take on the challenge but admits, “I don’t even watch NCIS or CSI!” Dr. K laughs while she explains, “I am not into gore, but I do love working on a good problem!”
There is no question there is a media appetite for some of the work done in forensic science, and many students had their first exposure to the field from that source. Jemimah Khan ’24 explains “I heard about forensics for the first time when I was around 10-13 watching an Indian crime show…after watching the show Criminal Minds, I fell more in love with the psychological aspect of forensics.” Abby Beegle ‘23 also explains, “I was first introduced to it through TV, “Back when I was in the fifth grade, my favorite tv show and favorite character was a Crime Scene Investigator,” adding, “Ever since then I saw CSI and Forensic examiners on TV and just was really fascinated with the topic.” Allison Erickson has a similar point of entry. “I love watching true crime documentaries and learning all about cases,” she says. “So I thought it would be fun to learn about the behind the scenes of it.”
In fact, the presentations in Dr. K’s class today might help demystify the media narrative of popular TV shows quite a bit. The twelve students in this course prepared individual slide-decks, each exploring a single profession inside the field of forensic science, and they take turns sharing their presentations to the entire class. The first student presentation was about a “DNA Expert,” the next a “Homicide Investigator,” then “Crime Scene Investigator,” “Firearms Examiner,” “Toxicologist,” “Forensic Psychiatrist” and “Medical Examiner.” The presentations bring the nuts and bolts to these specific professions, from salary, to hours, to location of that work—be it the field or the lab—and they also take into account the physical and mental strain some of these jobs entail.