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High School Students Become ‘Investigators’ at University’s Summer Camp

One of the University’s most popular summer programs for high school students, the Crime Scene Investigation Academy enables those interested in a career in criminal justice, investigations, and/or forensic science to gain hands-on experience in the laboratory and while processing and investigating a mock crime scene.

July 27, 2022

By Renee Chmiel, Office of Marketing and Communications

Student investigators photograph the crime scene house.

Sofia Astarbi recently led a team of fellow investigators as they processed a crime scene at a house in West Haven. She guided several of them through the yard as they took photographs of the exterior of the house. Then, inside, donning their lab coats, they began documenting a crime scene in one of the rooms.

Astarbi, who will be a senior in high school this year, had this hands-on opportunity as a participant in the University of New Haven’s Crime Scene Investigation Academy. While the crime scene they processed was fake, the procedures they followed and the tools they used were real.

“I’m very interested in philosophy and why killers commit the crimes they commit,” explained Astarbi, who hails from Staten Island, NY. “I’m interested in the mental and the scientific sides of a crime. I really liked working with bodily fluids in the lab. I’m not yet sure what field I want to work in, and this opens more doors for me.”

‘I’ve always been interested in forensic science’

Astarbi was one of nearly two dozen students to take part in one of two sessions offered at the University of New Haven this summer. Among the University’s most popular pre-college summer youth programs, the academy provides a unique and immersive experience for students entering grades 10 through 12 during the upcoming academic year.

Halle DiGioia, one of Astarbi’s fellow “investigators,” took several photos of the exterior of the University’s crime scene house, where the mock crime scene was staged. They included the photos in their presentation to a panel of real investigators – the culminating event of the program.

“I’ve always been interested in forensic science,” said DiGioia, a native of Wallingford, Conn., who will begin her senior year of high school this fall. “We discussed forensic science a lot, and I realized I like that more than criminal justice. I’m also interested in the psychological side, which is very interesting.”

Students prepare to process the crime scene in the University's crime scene house.
Students prepare to process the crime scene in the University’s crime scene house.
‘These students are very curious’

As part of the program, students learn about the history of policing and investigations. They discuss the 4th Amendment of the US Constitution, exploring what it means for people to be protected from unreasonable searches and seizures. They also learn how to correctly and legally obtain a search warrant.

Students collaborated to “apply” for a search warrant, and Daniel Maxwell, MPA, a distinguished lecturer of criminal justice and a retired police officer in Madison, Conn., who co-directs the program, signed off on it. He hopes students learn about the processes and procedures of crime scene investigation.

“These students are very curious, and they’re learning things very quickly,” he said. “They’re asking a lot of good questions. This program is very helpful for students who want to go into this field, and some also realize they don’t want to do it, which is also valuable. It is a lot of fun, and it’s refreshing to see students this young who want to get into this work.”

Halle DiGioia documents the exterior of the crime scene house.
Halle DiGioia documents the exterior of the crime scene house.
‘It gives me a taste of what’s to eat’

Earlier in the week, before processing the mock crime scene, students gained experience in the laboratory, learning about the important work of forensic scientists and preparing them to investigate the mock crime scene. They cast footwear impressions and learned about alternative light sources as well as bagging evidence.

Manuel Villanueva, a member of the police explorers in his hometown of Windsor Locks, Conn., was excited to gain more hands-on experience in the field. He says the academy offered him opportunities he would not otherwise have been able to have.

“The people at the academy have made an impact in the field – including the professors who have been teaching us,” he said. “Their expertise has been very helpful. It’s been great to get to do so much. I think I want to do this type of work, and I want to gain more knowledge now. It gives me a taste of what’s to eat.”

Students swear to tell the truth as they obtain a search warrant from Prof. Daniel Maxwell.
Students swear to tell the truth as they obtain a search warrant from Prof. Daniel Maxwell.
‘100 percent what I want to do’

Developed for high school students who are interested in criminal justice, investigations, and/or forensic science, the program aims to help them gain a deeper understanding of the reality of crime scene investigation. Students learn that it is not like what they have seen on television.

For Micah Mfuko, a rising high school junior from Hamden, Conn., it was this hands-on opportunity to learn more about crime scene investigation that attracted him to the program. He particularly enjoyed processing the mock crime scene at the University’s crime scene house.

“I’ve always been interested in forensics and true crime,” he said. “I was curious to see how it works in the real world. It’s very hands-on. It is 100 percent what I want to do.”

Micah Mfuko photographs the mock crime scene.
Micah Mfuko photographs the mock crime scene.
‘I want to go to the University of New Haven’

On the last day of the program, the students presented what they found at the crime scene to their parents, demonstrating what they learned during the program. Maria Torre MS, a forensic science lecturer at the University who co-directs the academy with Prof. Maxwell, says the program offers high school students unique opportunities they would not otherwise have during the summer.

Manuel Villanueva is ready to enter the crime scene.
Manuel Villanueva is ready to enter the crime scene.

“It’s great to see students who are so interested and engaged,” she said. “To see them realize how much they’ve learned in just a few days is incredible, and you see these lightbulb moments. They don’t realize how much they’ve learned. Many of these students will be doing this kind of work again, and this program is a good jumping off point.”

For DiGioia, the rising senior from Wallingford, Conn., it wasn’t just the opportunity to further explore forensic science and crime scene investigation that was so valuable. She was also excited to learn more about the myriad career possibilities in the field – as well as the programs at the University of New Haven.

“I’ve always looked at the University of New Haven as a great school for this type of work,” she said. “This academy helped me see what I want to do. I’m also interested in the psychology side, and I like photography. There are a lot of classes related to these areas at the University, and I want to go to the University of New Haven.”

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