by Michelle Chernicoff
FIU’s Global Forensic and Justice Center does not resemble the dimly lit laboratories typically portrayed on crime shows, nor does that style of melodrama pervade its halls. Instead, the center aims to distinguish truth from fauxrensics.
Established five years ago, GFJC provides students with a chance to explore forensic science in innovative ways in and outside of the traditional lab space.
Florida has the highest rate of employment for forensic technicians, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. In a competitive job market, standing out is imperative for forensic science studies graduates.
“There will always be a need for the traditional sciences,” explains Kenneth G. Furton, executive director of GFJC. “But forensic scientists can bridge the crime scene to the courtroom with novel technologies and innovative research approaches. We’re able to move with the changing needs of the real-world to better prepare our graduates in this competitive field.”
Forensic science is the use of scientific methods or expertise to investigate crimes or examine evidence that might be presented in a court of law.
Beyond the Lab
Its research initiatives have made GFJC one of the top-funded programs at FIU in just five short years. This includes working with the Nicole Wertheim College of Nursing & Health Sciences for a grant to train sexual assault nurse examiners in rural and underserved areas of Florida. The partnership also secured state funding to build the first on-campus victim advocate center, slated to open in late 2023.
“Forensic science can be applied to many areas of our lives,” explains Furton. “We’re partnering with other departments and colleges for groundbreaking research including legal psychology, the environment and veterinarians. Even music can have a forensic need.”
Learning from the best
GFJC is one of the oldest forensic science academic programs in the United States and home to three of the nation’s most highly cited forensic scientists. Furton is joined by Max Houck and Jeffrey Wells, all three having been recognizing by their peers for contributions to the field. The center is also home to the top-funded principal investigators at FIU.
“I chose FIU to study forensic science because it is one of the top research universities in this field and in the country,” says Kaylyn Keith, set to earn her Ph.D. in chemistry in 2026. “When I asked mentors and leaders in forensic science about choosing a university to do my graduate studies, they all said that FIU published an impressive amount of research every year and was always on the cutting edge.”
At the undergraduate level, students can start focusing their career path with a certificate while typically majoring in fields such as chemistry or biology. For advanced degrees, students can delve into research with one one of FIU's three graduate-level programs, including doctoral programs with forensic tracks. GFJC also offers a unique Professional Science Master’s (PSM) in Forensic Science.
“The PSM program is built to prepare future leaders of these laboratories,” explains Houck, program director. “This 16-month degree combines the science with the business side of running and maintaining a working laboratory.” The PSM-FS program now offers two tracks: forensic science management and the new veterinary forensic investigations in partnership with the ASPCA. Both are online programs that allow students from around the world to earn degrees from just about anywhere and allow enrollees to continue at their current jobs while elevating their knowledge and preparing themselves to lead in the field.
“I’ve learned I’m capable of challenging myself do to more than I’m used to,” says Brittany Moreno, PSM ’23. She works in the crime scene unit at the Institute of Legal Medicine and Forensic Sciences (IMELCF) in the country of Panama and completed the FIU coursework in-between her 24-hour shifts. She’s one of six PSM students working for the agency who are set to graduate this year with a degree in the forensic science management track.
GFJC works with forensic industry partners to provide students access to the latest technology, giving graduates a competitive advantage in their career search. “A bachelors degree is required to work in most forensic laboratories, and increasingly labs are requiring additional credentialling or graduate studies,” says Furton. “What sets our students apart is they have hands-on experience such as working with rapid DNA or standoff chemical detection. We want our students to walk into a job interview ready to serve the public with these innovations we have in our labs.”
The center conducts training and research in the Thermo Fisher Rapid DNA Center of Excellence, located in Largo, Florida. Other industry partners, like Foster+Freeman, a manufacturer of crime scene tools, are working with GFJC to bring in innovative research and training opportunities to students.
“In five years, we’ve built the largest and one of the most comprehensive forensic science academic centers in the world,” says Furton. “And I can confidently say, we’re just getting started.”