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News from the Forensic Anthropology Center

Spotlight: Haslam Postdoctoral Fellow Charity Owings

graduate students in parkDuring her almost two years as a Haslam postdoctoral fellow, Charity Owings has worked at the FAC to generate baseline entomological data and test hypotheses related to decomposition using the large human donor population at the ARF. Specifically, she has sampled insects from almost 100 human donors to build both reference datasets on previously undocumented events, such as the delay in blow fly arrival and colonization of remains, and test accepted, yet previously unvalidated, standard methods used in forensic entomology to estimate the time elapsed since death. During these research endeavors, Owings and PhD student Hayden McKee-Zech also discovered the first record of an invasive blow fly species in Tennessee (found breeding at the ARF), which they have since published and for which they received a Student Faculty Research Award to further study the microbiome and pathogenic capacity of this organism. Owings has also been involved in training domestic and international law enforcement agencies in forensic entomology and proper evidence collection at the ARF, and currently teaches a one-hour class on forensic entomology which has nearly tripled in size in the past year. Currently, this is the only forensic entomology class in the country that utilizes human remains for instruction and training purposes. During the remainder of her time in the Department of Anthropology, Owings plans to continue conducting and publishing her research, as well as teaching both students and professionals. 

Professional Training: F-Track

The field of forensic anthropology is experiencing unprecedented growth, and the FAC recognizes that coursework alone may not prepare graduate students for the professional challenges they may face in their careers. Therefore, the FAC has developed F-Track (Forensic-Track), an extra-curricular program that provides a pathway towards independent forensic casework and professional instruction. The casework modules allow students to incrementally gain and practice specific skill sets on different cases mentored by faculty and staff. This culminates in a proficiency test that, when passed, allows them to become a primary analyst and sign case reports. This is an important milestone as they can then be called to testify in court. On the professionalization side, students provide outreach lectures to the community, apprentice as team leaders and lab assistants in training courses for external professionals and students, and ultimately become course instructors. This combination consortium between traditional academic learning and practical experience provides the best preparation for students as they enter their professional careers. To date, three students have become primary analysts and multiple students are team leaders in short courses. The unique F-track training program is continually improving with student input and serves as a roadmap to lab accreditation for the FAC, a goal that would advance our students, serve our community, and strengthen the department. Moreover, F-Track helps maintain the leadership of the Department of Anthropology in forensic anthropology education and training.