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Syracuse University, College of Arts and Sciences

Syracuse Launches Graduate Certificate Program in Medicolegal Death Investigation

Program targets mid-career professionals, including first responders and medical and legal personnel

Oct. 13, 2014, by Rob Enslin

Photo of medicolegal death investigators at crime scene
Photo of medicolegal death investigators at crime scene
Medicolegal death investigation (MDI) is the focus of a new graduate certificate program in the Forensic and National Security Sciences Institute (FNSSI), housed in Syracuse University’s College of Arts and Sciences. 

The Advanced Certificate in MDI is a 12-credit-hour program targeting mid-career professionals. It is offered by FNSSI, in conjunction with the New York State Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services (DHSES).

“We’re proud to partner with DHSES in some of the nation’s first comprehensive educational programs in MDI,” says James T. Spencer, executive director of FNSSI and a Meredith Professor of Chemistry. “The Advanced Program is part of an ongoing effort at Syracuse to better train MDI personnel at multiple levels and from different disciplines.”

The Advanced Program is designed primarily for forensic medical investigators, law enforcement personnel and emergency responders, medical examiners and coroners, military personnel, and medical and legal professionals.

Upon completion, students will have a basic understanding of the science behind the techniques used to evaluate MDI evidence. They also will be familiar with the protocols, resources, legal issues, and interpersonal strategies involved with MDI practice.

“Our goal is to provide ‘real-world’ information to students so that they can perform objective, accurate, and legally defensible medicolegal death investigations,” says Michael Sponsler, FNSSI’s curriculum director who, like Spencer, is a chemistry professor. “It’s important they grasp the scientific principles of biological evidence, whether they’re in a lab, a morgue, or the field.”

The Advanced Program was created in response to a recent congressionally mandated report from the National Research Council, which found serious deficiencies in the nation’s forensic science system and called for major reforms and new research.

In creating MDI curricula, FNSSI has worked closely with federal, state, and local agencies, including DHSES, the National Association of Medical Examiners, and the Scientific Working Group. 

“FNSSI has adopted an aggressive, long-term agenda to strengthening the forensic sciences,” Spencer adds. “The Advanced Program is part of a larger MDI training effort, one that steeped in strong standards and protocols for analyzing and reporting on evidence.”

FNSSI also offers a 12-credit-hour Undergraduate Certificate in MDI for people who have yet to earn a bachelor’s degree, as well as a new M.S. degree in MDI, the first of its kind in the nation.

Common to all FNSSI programs are continuing education opportunities, such as workshops and conferences; access to world-class facilities; and direct interaction with practitioners in the field.

“We encourage students to design programs that meet their needs,” Sponsler adds. “This personalized approach has made us a model of national excellence.” 

FNSSI applies broad, interdisciplinary scientific research and theory to real-world legal and security issues. In addition to multiple graduate and undergraduate opportunities, FNSSI is home to a new state-of-the-art laboratory suite, dedicated to the study of bioforensics and high-energy materials.