How many times have you heard comments such as, “Nothing ever changes in Huntington” or “Too bad Huntington can’t be like it was in the good old days?”
For many reasons “the good old days,” which weren’t always good, are gone. But it’s also wrong to assume that Huntington never changes or improves.
A few weeks ago my husband and I had the privilege of visiting the Marshall University Forensic Science Center (MUFSC) and talking with its director, Terry Fenger. This program and its facilities are among the most impressive recent developments in Huntington.
Many of us have driven by the MUFSC located on the grounds of Marshall’s old Fairfield Football Stadium and not given much thought to what goes on in the building. In reality we have CSI-Huntington right here.
While the TV CSI programs show us drama and problem-solving in a 60-minute time slot, the MU Forensic Science Center does much more. Dr. Fenger pointed out that it encompasses actual DNA testing and digital forensics investigative labs as well as offering a highly selective two year master’s graduate program with four different emphases. These include DNA technologies for Human Identification, Forensic Chemistry, Digital Forensics and Crime Scene Investigation. Nationally, this is one of 10 accredited programs in forensic science.
Aside from the formal graduate program, the MU Forensic Center also provides training programs and help with projects for established law enforcement organizations. Miami-Dade (Fla.), South Charleston and Huntington police departments have received help in testing for DNA on property crimes, and the Los Angeles Sheriffs Department requested aid in dealing with a backlog of sexual assault cases.
Many of these projects are supported by the National Institute of Justice. Marshall’s forensics program is also part of CODIS (Combined DNA Index System). Marshall is the only university in the nation with this type of facility. In other states the state police have the CODIS facilities under their jurisdiction.
A few years ago my husband and I missed the last connecting plane from Charlotte to Huntington and had to spend the night in a motel near the Charlotte airport. We were surprised to find that the entire van load of people going to catch the morning plane to Huntington were police personnel from Nebraska coming for a week-long training program at the forensics center.
Since then we’ve learned that in the past six years, well over 1,000 forensic professionals from just about every state, the FBI and even some foreign countries have come to Marshall’s cutting-edge facility for training in programs on DNA, computer digital forensics, crime scene investigations, sexual assault nurse training and paternity evaluations. New technologies, including robotics, continue to be added.
Because of the MU Forensic Science Center, many professionals visit Huntington. While graduate students stay for two years, the professionals coming for specific training usually stay one week during which time they not only get to see our community but use our hotels, restaurants and stores. Economic impact data indicates that this program has brought millions of dollars into our local economy.
The entry room to the Forensic Science Center has a small metal cage with a football jersey to commemorate the original building and the tragic MU plane crash. It is fitting that this original meaningful site has now become home to future science. For those who insist that nothing ever changes in Huntington, the evidence is clear. Marshall’s Forensic Science Center is an impressive change.
Diane W. Mufson is a licensed psychologist. She is a former citizen member of The Herald-Dispatch editorial board and a regular contributor to The Herald-Dispatch editorial page. Her email is firstname.lastname@example.org.