Tokarz Lands Forensic Chemist Job Through Internship

July 29, 2011 Purnell Cropper

By Larry Atkins

Sally Tokarz ’07M has been a Forensic Chemist for NMS Labs in Willow Grove, Pa., since 2006. In her position, she analyzes and identifies controlled substances and pharmaceutical preparations using chemical, microscopic, and instrumental methods of analysis, and produces reports and supporting documents concerning evidence analysis, findings, and conclusions. She also gives expert testimony regarding analytical testing in local, state, and federal courts, as she has testified 16 times as a Drug Chemist. Tokarz is a member of the American Academy of Forensic Sciences and the Mid-Atlantic Association of Forensic Scientists.

Tokarz taught biology, chemistry, and anatomy and physiology as a high school science teacher in Miami, Fla., for a year before enrolling at Arcadia for graduate work. “I decided to leave teaching because I knew that I wanted to go back to school and get my master's and work in the forensic science field. Now that I have done that I would like to in the future teach on the college level while working in the field like many of my professors did while I was in school.”

As to what attracted her to forensics, she says, “I always really enjoyed the laboratory portion of my science classes while in school. So, this type of work is a really good fit for me and I enjoy it. Forensics is such an interesting and dynamic field, I really feel like my work makes a difference.”

While at Arcadia, she had a summer internship at NMS labs in the criminalistics department. At the end of her internship, a forensic chemist position became available at NMS, and she was offered the job. “It was a great opportunity. I started my training while finishing up my classes in the program and was doing actual casework before I graduated.”

Now a Level II Forensic Chemist, Tokarz finds her work challenging but rewarding, “I love my job. The thing I like the most is that it is not monotonous. Things are always changing in the field....One of the biggest challenges in the field is keeping up with the new emerging drugs that people are abusing. It is our job to be able to have methods and testing procedures in place to identify these drugs.”

Tokarz praises Arcadia’s Forensic Science program and says that it helped her to prepare for her career. “I think the biggest strength of the Arcadia program was the fact that our core forensic classes were taught by professionals who were working currently in the field. The experience and knowledge that they could bring to our classes was so beneficial to us as students looking to go into the field. The program prepared us by utilizing tools such as mock trials and casework, oral boards and research opportunities.”

In describing her experience as an expert witness in trials, Tokarz says, “Testimony is a big aspect of what we do as forensic scientists. One of the biggest challenges is being able to express to a judge and jury the technical aspects of the science—in my field, the chemistry—in a manner that is understandable for the lay person. I take what I do very seriously because the reports that I issue and the testimony I give in court is directly affecting someone’s life...that is a big deal. I do feel like that when I do testify it is a chance to educate those involved in the court on what I do as a chemist scientifically to get those results.”

In addition to testifying and her promotion to Level II, Tokarz says that among her career highlights is teaching a seminar class once a semester on Forensic Chemistry at Arcadia.

She advises future forensic scientists, "Focus on the sciences as they are the backbone of all that we do. I also think that finding internships are very important. They give a true representation of exactly what someone in forensics does on a day to day basis. Overall I think that it is just important to find something that you love to do and it makes it much easier to go to work everyday."

Larry Atkins teaches Journalism at Arcadia.

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