The Forensic Science Student Organization (FSSO) at Towson University was created in 2010 when Dr. Dana Kollmann was asked to search a wooded location in Vermont for skeletal remains belonging to a missing Maryland man named William Michael Hogan. With the assistance of 38 anthropology, criminal justice and forensic chemistry students, an organized, gridded search was undertaken and human remains and personal effects belonging to William Michael Hogan were recovered. The gratitude of the Hogan family for bringing their son and brother home inspired us to do more.

Towson University FSSO search team combing a hillside for human remains.

Since 2010, the Forensic Science Student Organization has become known as a resource in law enforcement circles. We provide labor in the form of students that are trained in forms of field survey, techniques of search and recovery, and evidence documentation and collection. We also have access to the equipment required for these types of field investigations, including ground penetrating radar and a drone equipped with a thermographic camera. Since its inception, FSSO students have had the opportunity to work in-house on three forensic anthropological consultations and have participated in 22 forensic searches. Human remains were recovered on eight of these searches and associated evidence was identified on an additional two. Students have also had the opportunity to work on the myriad of archaeological skeletal cases that are regularly accessioned into the forensic lab. Towson University students are getting practical experience unrivaled by other forensic science programs.

In addition to our assistance to law enforcement, TU students are showcasing their skills in a regional forensic science challenges hosted by Mount St. Mary’s University that draw competitors from as far away as Toronto. Students work in teams to process a mock crime scene, package evidence, write a report, prepare crime scene photographs and sketches, and testify to their findings. Homicide detectives, crime scene personnel, and forensic science professors work together to judge submitted student portfolios. This event provides an occasion for students to showcase their skills to prospective employers and obtain feedback that will enable them to strengthen those skills before going on the job market.

Maryland Natural Resources Police homicide detectives and a forensic investigator from the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner packaging evidence recovered by the FSSO.

Through partnerships such as these, Towson University students have the opportunity to forge relationships with individuals actively working in the forensic discipline and demonstrate that they have the skills and the confidence to perform the work, under pressure, outside of the safety provided by the classroom. As one student said, “These opportunities have solidified my career choice and boosted my confidence because I no longer think I am cut out for the job. I know I am cut out for the job.” Another said, “The real-world applications of skills prepare you for a job in the field more than a lecture ever would.” Above all, our partnerships enable us to demonstrate to the academic and law enforcement communities that Towson University produces the highest caliber forensic students that are competitive candidates for employment in the discipline.

FSSO students competing against forensic students from other schools in a Crime Scene Challenge hosted by Mount St. Mary’s University.