For some, examining human remains and determining the source of blood splatter might make them a bit queasy. For others, these tasks within criminal justice careers are incredibly invigorating and rewarding.
This summer, 18 high school students and recent graduates got a rare opportunity to participate in Saint Leo University's CSI Camp. During the week of June 16, the youngsters got to live on campus, eat at the dining hall and participate in several unique classes and field trips. This was the second year in which the camp was offered.
Specifics of the CSI Camp
The participants mainly came from the Tampa Bay area, but a few made the trek south to the campus from Pennsylvania, New York and Rhode Island.
Four Saint Leo criminal justice faculty members assisted in putting on the event throughout the week – Joseph Cillo, Charlotte Braziel, Philip Neely and Robert Sullivan. Robert Diemer and Nikki Heister played a role in organizing the camp as well.
Visiting a local forensics lab was a big highlight of the camp. Hands-on classes held on campus each day covered sketching, photography, human remains and other related crime scene investigation subjects commonly practiced in criminal justice careers.
In addition to one-of-a-kind exposure to CSI environments, they got to have some fun going bowling, playing putt-putt golf and eating dinner at some popular restaurants in the area.
Exploring a Forensics Unit
On one morning, the campers took a trip to the Pasco County Sheriff's Office facility in nearby Land O'Lakes, Fla. The focus of this trip was the forensics unit of the facility.
The students learned about the three types of fingerprint patterns – whorls, arches and loops. They learned how to do castings, which basically involves creating a mold of the sole of a shoe or tire treads, for instance.
The group also got to lift fingerprints off of a Chevy Malibu that was involved in a case of a Pasco deputy who was killed in the line of duty. They used brushes with a feather-like material and tape to lift fingerprints off the vehicle. They then transferred these fingerprints onto index cards for future examination.
The students also got a glimpse into the evidence locker. This is where any pieces of evidence from crimes – clothing, weapons, drugs and even vehicles – are stored for 99 years after a case is officially closed. This particular sheriff's office facility maintains over 750,000 pieces of evidence.
The forensics unit is one of the first in the nation to get a dog. Known as K9 Phi, the three-year-old yellow lab is unique in that he is considered a certified law enforcement official. He goes beyond the typical duties of other dogs within police forces. He can sense bodily fluids, decomposition, missing persons and other key aspects of crime scenes. He has been paired with forensics investigator Heidi Sievers.
From the Students' Vantage Point
Chris Machado, a 17-year-old going into his senior year at Archbishop Stepinac High School in White Plains, N.Y., says his cousin is a Saint Leo alumnus and initially heard about the school through him. But it was an online search that helped him discover the CSI camp.
"I basically typed in 'criminal justice camps' on Google and this one came up," he says. "I said, 'Mom, I want to go down there for this.'"
Another student, Abigail Gangemi-Hague, recently graduated from Nazareth Academy High School in Philadelphia. The 18-year-old is set to start classes as a freshman at Saint Leo University this fall. She was a returning participant in the camp after first attending in 2018.
"I found out about this camp through CollegeBoard.com," she says. "Saint Leo has really good food, and the residence halls are really nice and clean."
Delaney Sullivan, whose dad teaches at Saint Leo University and was helping out with the camp, is a 16-year-old at Hernando Christian Academy.
"I came for a day of this camp to see what it was like last year, and I thought it was really cool," Sullivan says. "So, I decided to go to the whole camp this year. I could see myself having some type of job within one of the criminal justice careers out there."
Sullivan, who lives in Brooksville, Fla., says she thoroughly enjoyed visiting the forensics lab.
"Seeing the photos of the different ways people can die was so interesting," she says.
Emily Powell, 17, attends Durant High School in Plant City, Fla.
"It was really interesting going into the lab, seeing the technology and getting to see what it will look like when I get to work in one someday."
She says having the chance to live on a college campus for a week has also been fun.
"Getting a preview into college life and what it's like has been so cool," she says.
Powell has made friends with several of the campers, including Laila Huffman and Jordan Chavis.
"I hope to have these friendships for a long time," she says.
Fingerprinting at the forensics lab was one of her favorite aspects of the camp.
"When I was younger, I'd get those little forensics kits from Walmart. Now, I can honestly say I know exactly how the process works and everything involved."
Aiden Kinney's mom, Randi, works at Saint Leo and found out about the camp through her.
"I really liked learning about fingerprinting," he says. "It's not how it looks like on TV. It's just a computer in a corner that someone uses by typing in a name and then getting the name of the person whose fingerprint the investigators obtain. It was also really cool getting to take fingerprints off an actual car."
Kinney, 17, attends Pasco High School in Dade City, Fla.
"This camp has been a really cool experience overall," he says. "It's been fun staying in the residence halls because you kind of feel free."
He says he's also learned so much from the classes taught by the criminal justice faculty.
"My favorite class was on human remains," Kinney says. "It's pretty amazing how the human body decomposes. The body is like an open book, almost like its own witness. It can't talk to you, but it can provide a large amount of evidence to a case."
A Unique Connection
Saint Leo University offers associate through doctoral degrees in criminal justice and has had a strong footprint in this discipline for many years. In addition, Saint Leo criminal justice students have been doing field placement with the Pasco County Sheriff's Office for a long time
"Saint Leo University is considered a recognized recruiting arm of the Pasco County Sheriff's Office," says Cillo, one of the professors involved in the CSI camp. "Our faculty members are constantly in contact with them. It's a very unique relationship. They have told us that when they get an intern from Saint Leo, they know they're getting someone who is vetted and is going to perform very well."
Many of the students in the CSI camp just might be on their way to future criminal justice careers with this agency or others around the country.