Joel Stepanchick ’07M, serologist for the Pennsylvania State Police Crime Lab in Bethlehem, Pa., plays a dynamic role in crime investigation. Serving in the highly sought-after position, he demonstrates his forensics expertise in the lab and at crime scenes and courtrooms throughout Schuylkill, Berks, Bucks, Lehigh, Northampton, Montgomery, and Chester counties.
A graduate of Arcadia’s Forensic Science master’s program, Stepanchick uses tests and techniques that he learned as an intern on a daily basis. He performs tests on items of physical evidence to identify bodily fluids and hairs as being animal or human. He also performs bloodstain pattern analysis, which occasionally requires him to visit the crime scenes of homicides. His lab also receives evidence in assaults, rapes, robberies, and burglaries. After testing evidence, Stepanchick prepares samples and sends them to the state's DNA laboratory for further testing.
Stepanchick, a native of Schuylkill County, Pa., initially was attracted to Arcadia’s Forensic Science program because of its convenient location, FEPAC accreditation, and the guaranteed internship with the Center for Forensic Science Research & Education. The internship, which is in association with NMS Labs, a nationally recognized forensic testing laboratory, proved to be the most helpful element of the program when pursuing a job in the field.
“Internships are very difficult to find in the field of forensic science, so having a guaranteed internal internship that was led by actual working forensic scientists was a great feeling,” he says. “The internship allowed me to gain real-life experience using various forensic testing methods on pieces of mock evidence. So when I obtained my job in the field of forensic science, I was already educated on the testing procedures and had hands-on experience using those procedures on items of evidence.”
Prior to attending Arcadia, Stepanchick earned a Bachelor of Science in Biology with a minor in Chemistry from Misericordia College in Dallas, Pa. He realized how much he enjoyed the lab work that goes with biology and chemistry courses. Watching a TV show about forensic science one night on the Discovery Channel helped him to realize that he could use those lab skills to help solve real crimes. From that point on, he was sold on the profession, which continues to become more popular and competitive.
In addition to laboratory and crime scene investigation, Stepanchick’s position also requires him to prepare lectures to district attorneys, detectives, investigators, and nurses on proper evidence collection and preservation. He also must occasionally testify his results in a court of law.
“The rigorous mock trials I experienced at Arcadia helped to prepare me for real life courtroom testimony,” he says. “I can't even explain how confident and prepared I was for the first time I had to testify in court.
“I like that my role in crime investigation could potentially help to bring justice to a criminal or even demonstrate the innocence of a suspect. I also enjoy the fact that I work in the lab that covers the county where me and my family live as well as the surrounding areas.”
Stepanchick stresses that he didn’t get his dream job overnight. Prior to finding his current position, he worked at a pharmaceutical and environmental-testing laboratory in Lancaster, Pa., which he says was also a rewarding experience.