A student lights a candle to honor the 19 families and the loved ones they have donated for scientific research to the Southeast Texas Applied Forensic Science Facility in Huntsville.
That experience – as well as a desire to help others – brought her to the College of Criminal Justice and its Forensic Science program. Rippley is now a graduate research assistant at the Southwest Texas Applied Forensic Science Facility (STAFS), which studies the application of forensic sciences to the human body and the vast amount of evidence that can be gleaned from the careful recognition, collection and preservation of that evidence.
Rippley was one of two students to share their experiences at the annual Memorial Service at Sam Houston State University to honor the families and the loved ones they have donated to the facility for scientific research.
"The body tells a whole new story post-mortem, and there are many unknowns still left to discover from studying the natural decomposition of the human body," said Rippley. "Not only is the information beneficial for research purposes, but the knowledge can be relayed to law enforcement officials and other professionals in various fields."
Rippley, who began as a volunteer at STAFS, used research at the facility to present a poster at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Forensic Sciences and to publish an upcoming paper in the Journal of Forensic Sciences.
She is not alone. The STAFS facility can be used for research by experts in many different scientific fields, including anthropologists, toxicologists, DNA analysts, criminalists, geologists, entomologists, microbiologists and chemists. It also creates a modern skeletal collection that allows future researchers to observe and analyze.
In addition to promoting research in many fields, STAFS also serves as an inspiration to students. Steven Noser, a recent graduate from SHSU, completed an independent study project at the facility.
"Every single day I spent there I felt as though I was challenged to learn something new, and when I went home, I felt as though I was so far behind I had to keep learning," said Noser. "This new found sense of learning was not something that I could have done on my own."
Noser said it was the individuals and families who have donated their bodies that make this learning opportunity possible.
"Albert Pines wrote 'What we do for ourselves dies with us. What we do for others and the world remains immortal,'" Noser told family members and friends gathered at the Service of Remembrance. “You and your loved one’s noble decision has made a lasting impression on my life."
Rippley also is grateful for the opportunities available at STAFS, one of only four facilities of its kind available in the country. "Author Laura Esquivel remarked, 'When do the dead die? When they are forgotten,'" Rippley said. "Your family member will never be forgotten because they have now become a valuable asset to science and medicine that will allow them to live forever in the lives they save and those that they save from becoming forgotten."