Forensic student inspired by groundbreaking of new crime lab

Mary Ralston's Tweet from the groundbreaking

Mary Ralston will graduate before the new Kansas Bureau of Investigation forensic science center opens in October 2015, but it only makes her more excited for her future as a forensic scientist in Kansas.

“After graduation I hope to work for the KBI or a similar type of lab,” said Ralston, who attended Wednesday’s groundbreaking and shared her excitement on Twitter. “I want to work at the KBI and in the forensic science field because it combines science and criminal justice and is not only challenging, but also very rewarding.”

“As a forensic scientist, you combine morals, ethics, science and the law to test evidence and help to determine the innocence or guilt of a suspect,” said Ralston, who is one of about 30 forensic chemical science majors at Washburn now. She’s also involved in the Leadership Institute, recently taking third place in an International Leadership Association simulation competition.

Regardless of where she is working when the new facility opens, Ralston hopes to attend the ribbon cutting. The 100,000 square foot building, with a $55 million price tag, will be top of the line, exceeding industry standards in the amount of space per scientists and in terms of equipment. Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt called the groundbreaking the beginning of a “new era of forensic science in Kansas.”

For KBI, the new facility means being able to recruit top talent in the specialized field of forensics. The current laboratory is in the basement of a former school on Taylor Street that was built in 1928.

For Washburn, having the facility on campus will mean academic partnerships unmatched anywhere else in the country. Because KBI scientists will be able to serve as adjunct faculty it will mean the ability to offer specialized training in programs not currently offered, such as digital forensics and forensic accounting in the future. It also will allow for broader and deeper study in programs that are offered now, including criminal justice and forensic chemical science. Opportunities for advanced students to intern with KBI also are being developed.

Ralston said it was inspiring to hear so many leaders from different agencies and institutions discussing the problems facing the forensic science field in Kansas and taking action to address them.

“They worked together to come up with viable, long-term solutions to those problems,” she said. “I think the future of forensic science in Kansas is going to vastly improve; this new lab will help recruit and retain forensic scientists, like myself, for years to come.”

Washburn officials think so, too. At the ceremony Wednesday, Washburn President Jerry Farley told the nearly 300 people gathered that having KBI’s laboratory on campus will “bring prestige to our campus” and elevate the University’s standing among young people who know they want to study in the forensics field. “This is going to be great for our campus.”

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