Chemistry class collaborates with Huntsville PD

Featured Articles News Sam Houston State University News

Bridging Theory and Practice: SHSU Forensic Chemistry Students Engage with Huntsville Police Department

At Sam Houston State University, professors can provide students with firsthand experiences thanks to community collaborations. Chemistry professor Darren Williams has partnered with Huntsville Police Department (HPD) for 10 years, allowing his students to benefit from meeting and interacting with crime scene investigators and learning about the resources the department uses for real investigations.

Williams was able to establish the partnership thanks to a gap between his third and final exams for the forensic chemistry course he leads. Instead of cramming in more textbook chapters and other material, he decided to look outward.

A chance encounter with then-sergeant Ken Foulch at a local event led to the professor and sergeant discussing his course and the possibility of a tour of HPD. Williams knew this would offer his senior-level students a great opportunity to be exposed to a potential career environment.

“My students will graduate with a Bachelor of Science in Forensic Chemistry and will probably be in the lab,” Williams said. “I think it is great for them to connect with the police, who are the first to encounter the forensic evidence to get their perspectives and level of care of the crime scene.”

As Williams explained, students get to connect with numerous aspects of the work handled by the police department. Their tour encompasses the divisions of patrol, training, victim services and investigations. They also are taken to the evidence storage facility, to understand the chain of custody and how it moves through each of the divisions before ending in storage.

“We discuss the essential importance of the chain of custody in class, and then the students get to see the detailed procedures surrounding the handling of evidence in real life,” Williams said. “This external reinforcement of class material greatly increases the students’ perception of the value of their degree and field of study.”

Overall, students throughout the years have expressed gratitude for the opportunity to tour HPD. In the end-of-semester student feedback, they refer to the tour as a positive experience for learning real-life applications of lessons and for giving them a break from the standard lecture. Williams, though, has had the joy of witnessing their appreciation of the trip firsthand. 

“The reactions are evident in the faces of the students when we take photos with the canine police officer, the riot response vehicle or inside the facility,” Williams said. “This tour is a highlight of their final semester at SHSU.”

Click here to return home.