Alum Takes Her Forensic Science, DNA Skills to Alaska Lab

By Purnell T. Cropper | July 1, 2011

By Larry Atkins

Jennifer Maryanopolis ’07M is a Forensic Scientist for the Alaska Scientific Crime Detection Laboratory. The disciplines in which she does casework include controlled substances toxicology, firearms/toolmarks biology, trace evidence, questioned documents, latent prints crime scene, and digital evidence.

For three years, she worked as a chemist for the Massachusetts State Police Crime Laboratory DNA Unit, where she performed DNA analysis on forensic casework as well as autosomal and Y-STR DNA analysis, conducted administrative and technical reviews of casework, and provided expert witness testimony in the field of Forensic DNA.

“Honestly I have always loved science, specifically biology,” says Maryanopolis. “When I was in college, I took several courses in the area of forensics and had one professor who made me realize that this was what I wanted to do with my life.”

How did she end up in Alaska? “At the time I was working for the Massachusetts State Police Crime lab and wanted a change of pace. It was either switch professions or switch labs. Since I enjoy what I do, I started looking for openings at other labs. Alaska happened to be looking for an experienced DNA analyst, so I applied and a few months later packed up and moved across the country.”

Maryanopolis believes that her work provides a valuable service to the public. Among the highlights she cites include “clearing someone’s name after they have been accused of a crime and testing has shown they did not do it.” She notes that DNA testing is getting even better. “The field of forensic DNA testing is moving toward being able to test samples that have very low amounts of DNA. The new kits that are coming out can test for much smaller amounts of DNA than 10 years ago.”

Maryanopolis says Arcadia prepared her well for her forensic science career. “My positive memories revolve around the people I met and the classes I took during my two years at Arcadia. I feel that the program truly prepared me for finding a job in the field of forensics. The faculty made sure that we had all the courses required to obtain a job. I was actually hired by the Massachusetts State Police before my last semester.”

“You definitely need to have a degree in a natural science such as biology or chemistry to work as a forensic DNA analyst. Take a few classes in the various fields of forensics if possible, such as DNA, toxicology, and drug chemistry to see which area you may like best. I would say getting your B.S. or B.A. in a science like biology or chemistry would be best, and then you can go on and obtain your master’s in a specific discipline.”

“It’s a misconception that it’s just like what they see on TV, that I work every aspect of every case and can ‘solve’ a case in less than an hour,” she adds. “This is definitely not the case! I work only a small portion of the case. I do not interview suspects. I do not collect evidence, and it takes weeks for me to complete DNA analysis. I have a small role on a team that is filled with other forensic scientists, law enforcement, and lawyers.”

Larry Atkins teaches Journalism at Arcadia University.