Evidence points to popularity of crime-scene class at OC’s Honors Academy

Howard Vogel explains procedures to students during cold case and forensics lab activities at Oklahoma Christian University. (Photo courtesy of Paul Hellstern, The Oklahoman)
Howard Vogel explains procedures to students during cold case and forensics lab activities at Oklahoma Christian University. (Photo courtesy of Paul Hellstern, The Oklahoman)

By Matt Patterson, Courtesy of The Oklahoman

The chemistry lab inside Vose Hall at Oklahoma Christian University appears to have morphed into a crime scene.

There are two bodies on the tile floor of the lab, the apparent victims of gunshot wounds. As the victims lie there, investigators process the scene, looking for clues. Yellow crime-scene tape blocks the entryway.

The simulated crime scene is part of the school’s summer Honors Academy for high school juniors. During two weeks of camp, students who have achieved academic success at their high schools can get a taste of what college is like.

About 150 students from 24 states took part in the academy, filling their time by building robots, designing video games and solving crimes in the forensic science class in Vose Hall.

“At this level, it’s not exactly how it is done, but it gives them the experience and it shows them that it’s not always like it is on TV either,” associate chemistry professor Howard Vogel said of his “In Cold Blood” class. “This gives them a chance to see how hard it can be to process a crime scene.”

Erica Mathis came to the academy from Mountain Home, Ark. She enjoyed her “In Cold Blood” class experience, which included testing dollar bills for cocaine residue. For the record, about 98 percent of the bills tested by the class had traces of the drug.

This is the first year the class has been offered.

“I feel kind of special to be one of the first students,” Mathis said. “Early in the week, we learned about illegal drugs and which ones get the highest penalties. I enjoy the detective aspect of it. You learn how to be careful collecting evidence and to focus on small details.”

Vogel said the students enjoyed the lab work the most.

“This has been a popular course,” he said. “I’ve taught it as a freshman college course, but that would be an entire semester. The fact that the subject of forensic science has been popular on TV shows like ‘CSI’ or ‘Breaking Bad’ has added a lot of mystique to forensics.”

For more information on next year’s Honors Academy, go to www.oc.edu/academics/honors/honors-summer-academy.