Northern students learn from simulated crime scene investigation on campus


ABERDEEN, S.D. – Vehicles drove past Northern State University a little more slowly than usual on Thursday morning because of the bright yellow “crime scene investigation” tape strung up near the pillars on the campus green.

There was nothing to worry about, though – the tape was for a simulated crime scene set up as a hands-on learning opportunity for students in Dr. George Nora’s forensic science course.

Nora teaches the course – technically titled chem 314: criminalistics – every other spring, and students spend the semester attempting to solve a “murder” based on a real-life case.

That involves learning skills such as fingerprinting, blood analysis and impression casting, along with investigating a “crime scene” as students did on Thursday.

And it involves extensive research by Nora, NSU professor of chemistry.

“I have immersed myself in evil,” Nora said with a chuckle.

In other words, he watches true crime documentaries and forensic literature to find information on cases that can be used for the basis of the students’ investigation. Then he sets up the scene – leaving everything from footprints to bloodstains for students to find.

For Nora, it’s all part of making the experience as authentic as possible for students.

“It shows the reality,” he said.

Unlike on TV dramas, crime scene investigations involve a lot of slow, meticulous work, he said. They’d have to go out in all kinds of weather, and they would see how evidences changes when exposed to the elements – for instance, how fingerprints might wear off if it rains.

As part of the course, a fingerprint expert from the State Crime Lab came to campus to talk to students. And next Friday, the class will travel to Pierre to tour the Crime Lab.

For the final exam, students must present the findings of their investigation. 

At the crime scene on Thursday, NSU students were impressed with just how real the situation seemed.

Anika Fredrick, a chemistry major with minors in biotechnology and criminal justice, said she imagined this is what it could be like during a real day on the job.

“It’s really cool to actually get to experience something like this on such a small campus,” said Fredrick, a junior from Buffalo, Minn.

Fredrick wants to go into the lab side of forensics, perhaps fingerprinting or DNA analysis. A member of the Wolves basketball team, Fredrick said athletics wasn’t the only factor in her decision to attend Northern.

“I also just liked how it’s a small campus, and how I wasn’t just going to be a number in the classroom,” she said. “I actually have a personal relationship (with professors), and they want to help you get into the career that you want.”

To learn more about studying chemistry or criminal justice at NSU, visit the College of Arts and Sciences webpage.

About Northern State University

Northern State University is a regional university that offers outstanding academics and exceptional extracurricular activities at an affordable price on a safe, welcoming campus. Northern State recently announced its Educational Impact Campaign, with a goal of raising $45 million for a new South Dakota School for the Blind and Visually Impaired, new athletic and recreation fields, and an on-campus regional sports complex. Once the campaign is complete, NSU will be the recipient of more than $100 million in privately funded building projects and scholarships within a decade. To learn more, visit NSU Admissions.