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By Leslie Fitzwater

From Sherlock Holmes to Nancy Drew; from Perry Mason to Matlock, who doesn’t love a good mystery? Curious clues, hidden evidence and an unlikely suspect can capture anyone’s attention.

But what about in real life? How are crimes investigated and solved outside the world of make-believe? It’s no mystery that the trail to crime scene investigation begins with an education in forensic science.

West Virginia, which is ranked by FBI Uniform Crime Statistics as having the fourth lowest crime index in the country, may be low on crime, but it’s high on the list of states with exemplary forensic science programs. West Virginia University, Marshall University Forensic Science Center and Mountain State University’s Martinsburg and Beckley campuses offer outstanding programs for students interested in careers in crime scene investigation, law enforcement or forensic science research.

Mountain State University Martinsburg Campus is located in the state’s historic Eastern Panhandle, just a short drive from the nation’s capitol, and offers a Bachelor of Science degree in forensic investigation. The Martinsburg Campus presents unique, hands-on learning opportunities, including a crime scene investigation house and automobile, both full of evidence just waiting to be “uncovered.” Senior level students sometimes are called upon to provide support to regional law enforcement investigations, and may also have opportunities to assist local law enforcement agencies with “cold case” investigations. Forensic investigation graduates have found employment as crime scene investigators, fingerprint technicians and homicide investigators.

The Marshall University Forensic Science Center (MUFSC) in Huntington offers a Master of Science with areas of emphasis, including DNA analysis, forensic chemistry, computer forensics, crime scene investigation, and forensic microscopy. The master’s program is accredited by the Forensic Science Education Program Accreditation Commission, making it one of the few such graduate programs in the country. MUFSC admits 20 students yearly with graduates going on to work for the FBI, Secret Service, and other federal, state and local agencies.

Director Terry W. Fenger, Ph.D., said MUFSC is a national resource for state and local law enforcement with state-of-the-art accredited DNA laboratories providing forensic testing, training and support in digital forensics. The center is the authorized West Virginia Combined DNA Index System (CODIS) database laboratory.

“Marshall is the first university to partner with a state police forensic science lab to develop and maintain a CODIS database from which DNA profiles of convicted offenders may help solve crimes,” he said.