The undergraduate program in Forensic Science at The University of Texas at El Paso is a multi-disciplinary collaboration between several academic disciplines relevant to forensic science. Courses are divided into five categories: University core courses, natural science core courses, specialized science courses, forensic science courses, and specialized track courses in the areas of Biology, Chemistry, Geology, and Physics. The degree content is based on the guidelines of the American Academy of Forensic Scientists.
Courses in the University core include 45 semester hours (including 8 semester hours in calculus-based physics and 4 semester hours in first-semester calculus). Courses in the natural science core include 30 additional semester hours in lower-division biology, chemistry, and statistic courses.
Specialized science courses include second-semester calculus, and at least 12 semester hours chosen from a menu that includes third-semester calculus and courses in biochemistry, molecular biology, cell biology, genetics, population genetics, microbiology, botany, zoology, inorganic chemistry, analytical/quantitative chemistry, physical chemistry, instrumental analysis, and pharmacology.
Forensic Science courses include at least 15 upper-division semester hours from which at least 9 semester hours must be chosen from courses in courtroom testimony, introduction to law, quality assurance, ethics, professional practice and background, identification, collection and processing of evidence, and psychology and the law; and at least 6 semester hours must be chosen from forensic biology, forensic chemistry, or microscopy each of which must have a laboratory component, or approved forensic science internships or independent study.
There are two specialized tracks: Biology and Chemistry. Each track includes at least 14 upper-division semester hours in the track discipline that is not listed above.
- The Biology track deals with forensic techniques and analyses involving living organisms and their cellular/biomolecular components and products. A major emphasis will upon human forensics, from the psychology of living persons to the analysis of human hair, bones, blood, tissue and nucleic acids. An alternative option within the Biology track will emphasize analysis of non-human biological substances, including applications not only in traditional entomological forensics, but also across a wide spectrum of botanical and zoological situations. Undergraduate preparation in the Biology track will thus not only support potential graduate work in such advanced fields as forensic pathology, forensic psychology, forensic toxicology, but also in the emerging field of wildlife/biodiversity forensics.
- The Chemistry track focuses on forensic techniques and analyses involving chemicals, fibers, soils, minerals, and other substances. This track prepares students to perform forensic and chemical analysis on a wide variety of materials. This track also prepares students for entry level positions in forensic laboratories as forensic chemists, arson analysts and investigators, and trace evidence examiners.
Each of these tracks is well suited for preparation for eventual graduate work in forensic science disciplines. Moreover, the biology and chemistry tracks are well-suited as pre-professional programs for graduate health related fields.
Visiting judges, lawyers, and law enforcement personnel from both the United States and Mexico offer valuable “real world” education to ensure that students understand the importance of accurate record keeping, chain-of-custody documentation, stringent quality control, and data management in addition to their scientific expertise. The forensic scientist, as an expert witness, must be able to explain complex chemical reactions, the working of scientific instruments, or medical conditions in laymen terms for a jury.
Students graduating from this major would have the benefit of a traditional science program enhanced with criminal justice, criminal psychology, and crime scene art and photography skills.