SHSU Adds Forensic Anthropology Minor

Illustration of skeleton sitting on rock picking at his foot.

With interest peaked by television shows like “CSI” and “Bones” and unique opportunities available at the Southeast Texas Applied Forensic Science Facility, Sam Houston State University added a new minor in forensic anthropology.

“The CSI and Bones shows have peaked people’s interest in forensic anthropology,” said Dr. Joan Bytheway, Director of STAFS and a Professor at the College of Criminal Justice “It’s a field that requires no hard sciences, such as physics and chemistry, but it allows students so solve puzzles in practical ways using science. There are many disciplines that we offer that would benefit from this minor, including criminal justice, forensic science, pre-med, nursing, biology, geography, archeology and chiropractic studies.”

Picture of x-ray of a skeleton.Forensic anthropology is 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. The Forensic Anthropology Minor requires 17 credit hours and includes five courses -- Forensic Science, Foundations of Forensic Anthropology I, Human Osteology, Introduction to Forensic Anthropology and Special Topics (Advanced Techniques in Forensic Anthropology.) The courses provide hands-on applications at the Southeast Texas Applied Forensic Science Facility, one of only four willed body facilities in the United States for the study of forensic science as it applies to crime scenes and criminal investigations.

Photo of bone cells.“Obtaining the Forensic Anthropology minor will instill foundational knowledge needed to pursue a career,” said Robyn Salerno, a SHSU student who is pursuing the minor. “The classes for the minor present the technology and techniques commonly used in the Forensic Anthropology field, but also introduce the many different disciplines within the field…I think the type of people entering and pursuing the field of Forensic Science have an innate curiosity that goes beyond that of an average person. They are critical thinkers, pay attention to detail, observe, and are not afraid to ask questions.”

Photo of a skull.The benefits of the minor will go well beyond criminal justice. It can help educate students about the human body and skeleton for those pursuing degrees in the medical field or develop techniques and skills for those seeking degrees in archeology, geography and forensic science. It also offers the necessary foundation for those who want to continue their education in the forensic science or forensic anthropology fields.

"It’s a really good attribute to have in any of these fields,” said Dr. Bytheway. “It is a great asset to those going into the field of criminal justice who may be working on crime scenes. I get phone calls and photos from police asking if bones are animal or human. For the medical field, it teaches you a lot about the muscular-skeletal system and working with the human body. It also provides a good foundation for classes at the graduate level.”

Photo of bone fragments.In addition to providing a strong background in the human body and osteology, students will have the opportunity to work on state-of-the-art equipment available at STAFS. This includes devices to cut bone and examine bone slides, a digitizer and 3D printer to illustrate bones, and ground penetrating radar to detect human remains in soil. In the final class, students will get a case of their own and be required to identify the victim by age, sex, race, trauma and height.

The introduction of a new minor also will open the door for new research opportunities at STAFS through access to the facility’s collection of modern skeletal remains.

More information on this minor can be found here.

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