NJIT, aiming to introduce Newark HS students to STEM fields, announces Forensic Science Initiative

The New Jersey Institute of Technology is putting the money it recently received from the government to good use.

On Thursday, the school announced a program to introduce Newark high school students to forensic science as a pathway to college – and a STEM education – with the launch of the NJIT Forensic Science Initiative.

The initiative, to be known as FSI, is backed by $1.4 million in seed money from the U.S. Department of Education, which the state is distributing in the second round of its Governor’s Emergency Education Relief fund.

NJIT officials said FSI will welcome its first students in the summer of 2022 with a five-week intensive experience at NJIT featuring class work, lab work, field research, tutoring and college preparation counseling. That fall, the students will start an introductory course that includes working with a professional on a capstone research project and attending a forensic conference. 

At the same time, students will continue to receive tutoring and counseling through NJIT’s TRiO program. Also, NJIT will help high school teachers become certified to eventually teach forensic science in their own schools.  

NJIT President Joel Bloom said the initiative aligns with the educational vision and mission of the school.

“We feel an obligation to truly prepare students for success, not just review their admission submissions,” he said. “Newark Public Schools students will be the ultimate beneficiaries of this initiative by being prepared to enter and succeed at NJIT and go on to careers in the STEM fields of their choosing.”

Bloom said FSI complements other NJIT efforts designed to introduce Newark high school students to college, including its highly successful Math Success Initiative and Honors Scholars Program. Collectively, they seek to increase the number of Newark residents who attend NJIT and ultimately pursue careers in STEM, and other fields.

NJIT launched its B.S. in forensic science in 2018, becoming the first university in the state to offer such a program. The fast-growing field includes jobs such as medical examiner, crime scene investigator, crime lab analyst and digital forensic examiner, forensic ballistic expert and bloodstain pattern analyst. Enrollment in the program has grown three-fold since its inception, according to its director, David Fisher, a former criminalist. 

The College of Science and Liberal Arts will manage FSI in partnership with the university’s Center for Pre-College Programs.

Kevin Belfield, dean of NJIT’s College of Science and Liberal Arts, said the school chose forensic science for its initiative because high school students often find it more interesting and accessible than biology, chemistry, physics or mathematics – while introducing students to them all.

“Because It incorporates topics from all of these subjects, it can serve as a ‘stealth’ mechanism to help students develop competency and preparation for college-level STEM work,” he said. “It also opens pathways in related fields.”

Jacqueline Cusack, executive director of the CPCP, agreed.

“We want students to know more by being exposed to this field,” she said. “This is a fantastic opportunity to get their interest piqued, to get them informed, to give them more options – that’s what you want. You want students to know more so they can be more informed about their decisions.”

Also, by certifying high school teachers in forensic science, NJIT will provide the professional development that educators want but can’t always get due to budgetary constraints, Cusack said. Such training also empowers schools to expand their curriculum. 

NJIT’s $1.4 million grant is part of a pool of $28.5 million in federal money that the N.J. Office of the Secretary of Higher Education is distributing under GEER to more than 30 colleges and universities in the state and comes as higher ed emerges from a year of challenges wrought by the COVID-19 pandemic. As such, the money will enable institutions to invest in programs that expand college and career opportunities, particularly for first-generation college students.