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Put to the Test

From left: Dr. Dennis De Luca, Malorie Kulp, Andrea Lang and Justin Masin

Most, if not all, Ohio Northern University students participate in an internship at some point in their college careers. Internships are where the rhetoric meets the road and the students truly learn if the path they are on is the right one for them.

And that’s just what happened to three ONU forensic biology students who were given the opportunity to work at crime labs.

Justin Masin, a senior forensic biology major from Raleigh, N.C., traveled to Salt Lake City last summer for a 10-week internship with the Utah Department of Public Safety’s Bureau of Forensic Services. He wasn’t sure what he’d be working on as an intern, but he hoped it would involve DNA, his area of interest. “As long as I could have glanced into the DNA lab, I would have been happy,” he says.  But Masin did more than glance at the lab. He tested Promega’s Plexor HY Quantitation Kit, which is used to determine the mass of DNA found in minute samples.

More than 2,000 miles away in Baltimore, Md., then-seniors Andrea Lang, BS ’11, and Malorie Kulp, BS ’11, were settling into life as interns with the Baltimore City Police Department Crime Laboratory. They quickly adjusted to the fast pace of the lab and set to work on how to make it even faster with new DNA analysis technology.

“At first, it was kind of scary. It’s a real crime lab. They are really doing something important here. And I wondered, ‘How do I measure up?’” Lang says. Classroom work at ONU more than prepared them.

Lang and Kulp conducted validation studies of Promega’s Powerplex 16 Hot Start amplification kit, a new, faster method for profiling DNA from a single, or known, source.

All three students conducted validation studies of new DNA analysis technologies that their respective labs were considering adopting. This type of work is typically reserved for graduate-level students, so it was rare for undergraduates to perform. Also rare was the opportunity to present their findings at the Southern Association for Forensic Scientists’ annual meeting in Charlotte, N.C., in September.

“This opportunity that we had is because of ONU and, especially, Dr. De Luca, because he has helped prepare us for these internships and to be confident in what we know,” says Kulp. “Most students just don’t get this opportunity.”

Dr. Dennis De Luca, associate professor biological sciences, knows how to prepare his students to successfully work in crime labs. “We are fortunate here at ONU in that we have the proper forensic equipment and scientific background to truly teach the forensic science necessary to prepare the students for careers in forensic laboratories,” he says. A former forensic DNA analyst for the Cuyahoga County Coroner’s Office, he understands how important the internship experience can be. That is why ONU’s forensic biology program requires its students to complete an internship.

What are the take-a-ways from this experience for Lang, Kulp and Masin? More than the obvious hands-on, real-life experience they gained, the internships affirmed their individual desires to pursue careers in DNA analysis. Kulp and Lang even ended up with jobs after graduating in December, something they directly attribute to their internship experiences.

To learn more about forensic biology at ONU contact Dennis De Luca.