Forensic Investigation: Seeking Justice Through Science

Gregory Miller, Associate Professor of Chemistry, Southern Oregon University, Ashland, Oregon

A 2004 SENCER Model

In recent years, dozens of individuals have been exonerated of capital crimes and released from life imprisonment, and even death row, due to new forensic technology that proved their innocence. The Forensic Investigation course, developed at Southern Oregon University, capitalizes on a new public awareness of forensic science to connect science content to the important civic questions raised by our criminal justice system. Although the course is taught by a chemist, forensics draws on many scientific disciplines and outside experts from the faculty and the local community participate as guest presenters.

The course is organized around well-known criminal case-studies that highlight particular forensic techniques and the scientific content upon which they depend. Trace evidence and fingerprint detection require an understanding of computerized quantitative and qualitative analysis, sampling, and spectroscopy. Arson and explosive investigation draws on organic and inorganic chemistry and atomic bonding. Forensic Toxicology and DNA evidence rests on a knowledge of biology, including immunology, cell structure, and genetics. Forensic pathology and anthropology draws on soft-tissue and skeletal anatomy, physiology and demography, while ballistics and vehicular crimes require an understanding of physics, including mass, force, momentum, and gravity. All of this scientific knowledge is used in a specific legal and ethical context where individual rights, criminal law, public opinion, and societal biases play a role.

The course involves three hours of interactive lecture and discussion and three hours of laboratory work each week where students experience trace evidence collection, fingerprinting, ballistic analysis, blood-typing, and DNA fingerprinting. A key feature of the course is classroom interactive technology – EduCue’s Personal Response System. This technology keeps students involved in class discussions by giving them the ability to share their opinions anonymously on controversial topics, or to vote on what they feel is the appropriate forensic technique to apply to a given case before, during, and after the content of the techniques are taught. The responses often facilitate discussion of the pros and cons of a given method and can be used to monitor student understanding of complex topic during class.

Learning Goals

  • To provide students with a foundation of knowledge in scientific methods and principles as they apply to criminal investigation
  • Allow students to apply appropriate scientific principles to societal issues
  • Allow students to appreciate the power and the limitations of science with regard to forensic study
  • Allow students to recognize that scientifically optimal solutions to societal problems may result in conflict with important human values
  • To build in students the capacity to resolve complex issues with intelligence, compassion, and understanding
  • To develop in students a healthy initial skepticism by nurturing a demand to support assertions
  • To promote student critical thinking and allow informed choices to be made when faced with conflicting ideas
  • To familiarize the student with available scientific resources and allow them the opportunity to remain an active learner as both science and society continue to evolve

Linking Science and Social Issues

What are the capacious civic questions or problems addressed in the course?

In the past decade, dozens of individuals have been exonerated of crimes for which they have been convicted and/or imprisoned. Popularized by the news and dramatic media, these shocking occurrences have come to light largely due to advances made in the multidisciplinary fields of forensic science. Forensics is now championed as the proof previously lacking in eyewitness testimony and identification.

Society is and always has been intrigued by crime and mystery. Including some of the most popular on television, no fewer than twenty televised programs deal with solving crime and catching those persons responsible. Perhaps it is our fascination with death or a hope that justice will prevail should our own innocence be lost at the hands of an unknown assailant that gives these shows their widespread popularity. Unfortunately, television writers do not believe technical accuracy should stand in the way of a good mystery.

Whatever the case, the Forensic Investigation course developed at Southern Oregon University capitalizes on this popularity and deals with the methods and technologies of solving crime in America and abroad. The course allows students to observe how society has been changed by forensics and how forensic science has been changed by society. Along with the content of a typical forensic science class (outlined below), this class examines forensic methods as they relate to a sense of justice in the United States. Attention is given to wrongful convictions, the ethics of crime scene processing and criminal prosecution, moral aspects of defending suspects where the probability of guilt is high, the role of the media in criminal prosecution, and the fact that societal bias can exist in a scientific technique or method. It is felt that this course, as outlined below, not only gives students a fundamental background in many scientific principles (wrapped in a very interesting package), but also allows students to grasp and appreciate both the power and limitations of scientific methods or techniques.

What basic science is covered?

This course is incredibly broad in scope covering aspects of biology, chemistry, physics, computer science, psychology, and criminology. It is open to students of all majors at Southern Oregon University as part of our general education curriculum. Although “taught” by a single faculty member in the Department of Chemistry, the ability to successfully teach this class has been made possible through collaboration with other departments and faculty. Included in this collaboration is an ability to call on guest speakers – both University faculty and community members alike.

Forensic Content Basic Science Covered Societal Issues Addressed
Trace Evidence and Latent Fingerprint Detection -Quantitative vs. qualitative analysis
-Sample Integrity
-Scientific Method
-Ethics of crime scene processing; should all U.S. citizens and visiting foreign nationals be fingerprinted?
Arson and Explosives Investigation -Basics of Chemistry (atoms, compounds, bonding, inorganic vs. organic substances, and polarity)
-Defending those who are guilty
Forensic Toxicology and Pharmacology -Organic functional groups and characteristics -Concentrations and partial pressures -Basics of Immunology -Should specific drugs be legalized in America?
DNA Evidence and Serology -Basics of Biology (cell structure, DNA including structure and replication) – Intro to genetics -A history of wrongful convictions in the U.S. and the pros and cons of a national DNA database
Forensic Pathology and Autopsy Procedures -Soft tissue anatomy -Physiology and mechanism of death -The role of the media in criminal prosecution
Forensic Anthropology and Odontology -Skeletal anatomy -Demographics of age, sex, and race by exact measurement -Forensic science is not immune from societal bias
Ballistics and Vehicular Accidents -Basics of Physics (energy, mass, work, force, momentum, gravity)
Forensic Psychology and Criminal Profiling -Personality traits -Nature vs. nurture debate
-The dangers of stereotyping and racial profiling in criminal cases

The Course

A major priority in the design of this course is the engagement of students as scientists and citizens. This is accomplished through the variety of techniques described below.

Forensic Investigation: Seeking Justice Through Science Syllabus

Download (PDF, 115KB)

Course Statistics

When has the course been offered: First offering – Spring Quarter 2001; Most recent offering – Summer 2004

Average number of students: 40

Course Level: Chemistry 300, Chemistry 301 (optional lab)

Prerequisites: Completed Explorations sequences in Science, Social Science, and Arts

Course Management (Policies, Procedures, Logistics)

The forensics course consists of 3 weekly hours of “lecture” and a 3-hour laboratory period. One instructor teaches both the lecture and lab sessions as there are no TAs at SOU. Because this course is offered as a “Synthesis and Application” class, the laboratory is an optional component
and more emphasis is commonly placed on in-class demonstrations. The lectures are very interactive with a typical class consisting of approximately 1/3 lecture, 1/3 debate or discussion (typically cases or societal issues), and 1/3 demonstration.

Forensic Investigation makes use of classroom interactive technology – EduCue’s Personal Response System ( This technology is used to keep students involved in class discussions by giving them the ability to share their opinions (mostly anonymously). For example, students are asked to vote on what they feel is the appropriate forensic technique to apply to a given case before, during, and after the
content of the techniques are taught. The class results often facilitate discussion of the pros and cons of a given method. This technology is also used to monitor concept understanding and to allow students to “voice” their opinion on controversial topics or methods without fear of personal confrontation with peers having different views.

Case Studies

Each of the listed content areas is introduced with a real-life case study to draw student interest, provide a frame of reference, and stimulate thinking. If possible, many local cases are used in the course of each term (i.e., I-5 killer Randall Woodfield). However, there are a number of compelling national cases that have been used with great success:

Forensic Content Case Studies Used
Trace Evidence and Latent Fingerprint Detection -Richard Ramirez (LA Nightstalker)
-Wayne Williams
-DC snipers
-O.J. Simpson
-Jason Massey
Arson and Explosives -Pan Am 103 bombing over Lockerbie
-Oklahoma City Federal Building bombing
-Intentionally set forest fires
Forensic Toxicology and Pharmacology -Marilyn Monroe
-Stella Nickell
-John Belushi
DNA Evidence and Serology -Green River killer
-O.J. Simpson
-Jeffrey MacDonald
-Anastasia Romanov
-JonBenet Ramsey
-Unknown Soldier of Vietnam
Forensic Pathology and Autopsy -Medgar Evers
-Louise Woodward
-David Koresh and the Branch Davidians
Forensic Anthropology and Odontology -Joseph Mengele
-The Romanov family
-Ted Bundy
-Captain Anthony Shine
Ballistics and Vehicular Accidents -John F. and Bobby Kennedy
-DC snipers
Forensic Psychology and Criminal Profiling -Aileen Wuornos
-Susan Smith
-Great Train Robbery of southern Oregon

The lecture portion of each of the major content area is accompanied by a corresponding Power Point presentation. This presentation is made available to the students (via the web or Blackboard) prior to the class. The presentations serve as outlines the students can follow and I encourage them to bring printouts of the file(s) to class. Students spend less time copying words and definitions and (in theory) more time listening
to examples, listening to classmates voice their opinions, and/or thinking about the material being presented.

Understanding Context

Forensic Investigation makes use of in-class demonstrations to reinforce concepts or methods that are not practical to perform in lab. Typical demos include color tests, chromatography, luminol detection, and latent fingerprint identification methods. The class also benefits from the fact
that our instruments are on our campus commuter network. Using this network, it is possible to show the class how to set up and run instrumental methods. For example, the GCMS, with the help of our sample changer, can be set up and run from the classroom. Students watch data as it is collected in real time (while we do other things, of course).

Laboratory Exercises

The Forensic Investigation course is offered with an optional laboratory. As in any science, lab work allows the student hands-on experience with
lecture topics and promotes a more secure understanding of the steps and procedures of a forensic technique. A laboratory sequence to compliment
Forensic Investigation has already been tested. The 10-week lab general education lab includes the following topics:

  • Trace Evidence Analysis – including hair, fiber, and glass.
  • Latent Fingerprinting Methods – including powders, iodine, ninhydrin, silver nitrate, and cyanoacrylate fuming.
  • Gunpowder and Ballistics – (bullets can be obtained from a local firing range or a class can actually test fire weapons at the proper location and with the proper guidance); lead and nitrite residue analysis is quickly and easily performed in the lab.
  • Drugs in Blood – a toxicology lab featuring gas chromatography/mass spectrometry.
  • Chromatography of Ink and Handwriting Analysis – for aiding in the identification of suspects.
  • Blood Typing and DNA Fingerprinting – which introduces blood typing methods, gel electrophoresis, DNA fingerprinting strategies, and luminol detection of blood.
  • A Mock Crime Scene – where students employ learned laboratory methods to solve a fictitious crime. In springs of 2002-4, the faculty in the Departments of Biology and Chemistry graciously provided fingerprints and hair samples and became “suspects” for this lab. The lab is performed in teams of 3 or 4 students over the course of 3-4 weeks.
  • Writing and Communication Skills – The students file a report of their “crime scene” findings with their instructor and present their findings
    to the class as a group. Another student team acts as a defense attorney for the “defendant” in the case. The remaining students act as the jury. The entire process can really demonstrate exactly how hard it can be to “prove” a case although the evidence may only point at a single suspect.

Guest Speakers

Finally, Forensic Investigation makes use of guest speakers. To this point, speakers have included the lead Arson Detective for southern Oregon (and his accelerant detecting dog) and the Chief Deputy Medical Examiner of Jackson County. Both speakers presented local cases that reinforced concepts covered in class, addressed aspects of dealing with the media in regard to community sensitivity, discussed their background and the qualifications for their line of work, and spoke to the issue of fighting crime on smaller and smaller state budgets.

Evaluating Learning

Research and Writing Projects

Students are asked to write and submit one term-long assignment. This may be either a short research paper on a forensic technique of their choosing or a case study portfolio. The paper should be in an acceptable scientific format and cite appropriate references. Examples are provided. This paper allows the student an opportunity to further investigate a topic covered in class or research forensic content that was not addressed by the course while, at the same time, giving them experience with scientific literature (including electronic research tools such as the General Science Index and analysis of science journal articles). For a case study portfolio, students are asked to compile a collection 4-6 related cases. For instance, the cases may be related in that they are all cases where innocent people have been convicted of a crime, they all deal with serial killers, or they all deal with the identification of skeletal remains. The students summarize each case in about one typed page. The summary must include a description of the forensic science that applies to the case. The students then summarize any observed trends in the cases in one final page.

National Evaluation

As part of SOU’s evaluation of this course, our class will fill out a brief evaluation of the course online. Please go to the following website to complete the short questionnaire at or near the end of the quarter:

The course ID number is 714708853 and the password is scienceisfun.

Please bring me a printout of the screen obtained upon completion of this short questionnaire with your name written plainly on the front. Remember, the forensics gods are watching and will smile on you in the future for your effort. Your online answers are completely confidential.
Thank you!!


Grades will be based on the total number of points accumulated during the term and will be determined as follows:
100%-90%,A; 89%-80%,B; 79%-70%,C; 69%-60%,D.

There will be two 100-point tests and a 100-point comprehensive final. The final exam score, if it is higher, will replace your lowest test score. In the event a test is missed, your final exam score will doubled.

You will also be responsible for one term-long case study assignment, which will be turned in as a short portfolio of 4 to 6 cases no later than Friday, June 4. For this portfolio, each student will decide on a theme that will be consistent in all of the cases you choose (i.e., a specific serial killer, identification by facial reconstruction, or people who have been wrongly convicted). The purpose of this assignment is to compare and contrast a sample of similar crimes or scenarios and summarize trends observed in a short critical essay (4-8 typed pages). Each case should first be presented as a one-page (or so) summary highlighting specific instances where forensic tools have been instrumental in solving (or attempting to solve) the case. Further details will be given in class. See me anytime in my office for clarification. The only restriction to this assignment is a student cannot detail a case that is one we have covered in class. See me (or the class bulletin board) make sure we will not be using any of your potential cases in lecture this term. The portfolio is worth 100 points.

Assessment and Evaluation

Student assessment in the Forensic Investigation course is based on two mid-term exams and one comprehensive final examination. Students are also graded on their research paper or case study portfolio. Currently, there is no verbal communication aspect to the course. Those students that have the opportunity to enroll in the optional laboratory are also assessed based on their written lab reports (including their final report where they make a written case for the guilt of their suspect). These students are also evaluated on the presentation of their forensic findings. These presentations are given before the class with all other members serving as the jury for our mock crime scenarios.

The effectiveness of the course and instructor are gauged using Southern Oregon University’s evaluation tool, as well as, the online SALG tool developed for just such a purpose (to gauge how students feel they have progressed in certain areas).

Background and Context

Forensic Investigation: Seeking Justice Through Science, a course meeting at Southern Oregon University. Gregory Miller, Associate Professor of Chemistry, Department of Chemistry, Email:, Phone: (541)552-6408.

Who created the course?

Associate Professor of Chemistry

Department of Chemistry
Southern Oregon University
Ashland, OR 97520


5/2000 – Ph.D. in Chemistry, The University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa, AL. Research Advisor: Professor Russell Timkovich.

5/1994 – B.S. degree in Chemistry. Northwestern State University of Louisiana, Natchitoches, LA.

Professional Experience

9/1999 – Assistant Professor of Chemistry, Southern Oregon University, Department of Chemistry

1/1998 – 8/1998 – Adjunct Instructor of Chemistry, The University of Alabama, Department of Chemistry

8/1995 – 5/1999 – Instructor of Chemistry, The University of Alabama, College of Nursing and Center for Teaching and Learning

8/1995 – 1/1996 – Interim Laboratory Coordinator, The University of Alabama, Department of Chemistry

8/1994 – 5/1996 – Graduate Teaching Assistant, The University of Alabama, Department of Chemistry

8/1993 – 5/1994 – Undergraduate Teaching Assistant, Northwestern State University of Louisiana, Department of Mathematical and Physical Sciences

Refereed Publications

  1. Miller, G.T., Mackay, D.Q., Standley, M.S., Fields, S.L., Clary, W.M., and Timkovich, R. Expression of Pseudomonas stutzeri Zobell c-551 and its H47A variant in Escherichia coli. Prot. Exp. Purif., 2003, 29, 244-251.
  2. Miller, G.T., Hardman, J.K., and Timkovich, R. Solution conformation of the Met-61 to His-61 mutant of Pseudomonas sutzeri Zobell ferrocytochrome c-551. Biophys. J., 2001, 80, 2928-2934.
  3. Miller, G.T.; Zhang, B.; Hardman, J.K.; Timkovich, R.T. Converting a c- Type to a b-Type Cytochrome: the Met61 to His61 Mutant of
    Pseudomonas Cytochrome c-551. Biochemistry, 2000, 39, 9010-9017.
  4. Carraway, A.; Miller, G.T.; Pearce, L.; Peterson, J. The Alkaline Transition of Bis(N-acetylated) Heme Undecapeptide. Inorg. Chem. 1998, 37, 4654- 4661.

Professional Affiliations

American Chemical Society – Division of Chemical Education

American Chemical Society – Division of Biological Chemistry

Association of American Colleges and Universities – Associate Member

National Center for Science Education

Grants Received

National Science Foundation Major Research Instrumentation – 2001
$158,000 to establish a central modern biotechnology research facility at SOU

National Science Foundation Major Research Instrumentation – 2001
$293,000 toward the purchase of the Department’s 400 MHz Bruker Avance NMR

M.J. Murdock Charitable Trust – 2002
$213,000 for equipment and instrumentation to complete the Biotechnology and Organic Spectroscopy Research Facilities

SOU Professional Development -2002
$6,650 for Biotechnology Research Facility supplies and consumables

Science Education for New Civic Engagements and Responsibilities (SENCER) – 2001
$3,500 Course Development and Conference Travel Award

Teaching Roles and Responsibilities at SOU

My primary teaching responsibilities at Southern Oregon University include our yearlong biochemistry course for majors (Ch 451-453) and lab (Ch 454-455), as well as, the Forensic Investigation class developed as our model SENCER course. Additionally, I teach in our general and organic chemistry laboratory sequences and I teach Introductory Chemistry for non-majors. I have also recently been involved in our Chemistry Information course and co-taught an evolution seminar class in the Biology Department.

Teaching Goals and Philosophy

Five years of teaching at Southern Oregon University has reinforced a belief I developed during my experience as a graduate teaching assistant and instructor at the University of Alabama: an effective teacher is different things to different students. Each student comes to me with a unique history, both academic and personal. This history influences the way an individual student approaches a subject, the way each student absorbs and processes course content, and, perhaps most importantly, the perception each student has regarding his or her academic ability.

As a faculty member in science, I see my objective being the same in both major’s chemistry and general education courses. That objective is to make the material I cover accessible to my students regardless of whether the student in question is the brightest and most ambitious in my very competitive senior-level biochemistry lecture or the introductory chemistry student with a poor background in science. Teaching effectiveness, to me, is the ability to make course content accessible to every student by means discussed below. “Accessible” material, it is important to note, is not synonymous with “easy” and does not lessen the responsibilities of the student. On a similar note, teaching effectiveness and student learning, although inseparable, do not always go hand in hand. It is only when both instructor and student understand and commit to their individual roles in education that true learning can take place.

An effective teacher is one that is both interested in and knowledgeable about the subject matter. It is my hope that all teachers have an interest in the subjects they teach. Being knowledgeable in a discipline, however, requires time and dedication. Two of the courses I teach every year are biochemistry (Ch 451-453) and forensic science (Ch 300). Both are young sciences and the course material is evolving on a year-by-year basis. It is important that the lectures, assignments, demonstrations, laboratories, and exams change with the science. I try to evolve with my course by evaluating new textbooks, reading the literature, and staying active with my own research projects involving capstone students.

An effective teacher is one that is enthusiastic about the course and subject. Enthusiasm is contagious in a classroom. There are specific reasons why I chose chemistry and biology as career fields. There are exciting and society-altering discoveries made each week. There are unanswered questions to investigate and future questions that, as yet, have not been posed. I try and share the “discovery” aspects of science with my students.

An effective teacher is one that is available to his or her students. I encourage students to come see me in my office and, literally, never close my office door. Students need to be able to communicate with their professors and not just about yesterday’s lecture or next week’s test but about next year’s hurdles or life after college. Students have questions about their future; who better to help them find answers than those of us that have previously sought similar advice?

Research and Other Activities

Along with great aid from my students, I am currently active in three different research projects. I have also been fortunate to serve as research mentor to 10 senior chemistry or biochemistry majors in the five years I have been at SOU.

Our first research project is an investigation of conserved amino acid residues in the bacterial cytochrome c-551 isolated from Pseudomonas. We are currently studying the third of five site-specific mutants generated to better understand structure-function relationships in this class of electron transport protein.

Our second area of research involves the cloning and expression of synthetic genes coding for Conus (Cone snail) peptide toxins. These toxins are being heterologously expressed in E. coli. Evolution has created peptide toxins with great specificity for cellular receptors. We are looking at E. coli as a cost effective and rapid way to produce these peptides, which can be used as models for future pharmaceuticals.

Finally, our research group is looking to characterize the venom of the Western ringneck snake (Diadophis punctatus). There have been conflicting reports in the literature as to whether this species is venomous. As one of the most common snakes in southern Oregon, there clearly exists an opportunity to expand our knowledge in this area.

Aside from my teaching and research responsibilities, I am heavily committed to science education for K-12 students (ACS – Division of Chemical Education, ACS Kids and Chemistry, and Project Kaleidoscope) and aiding SOU in the recruitment of high-caliber science undergraduates.

Where is Forensic Investigation Taught?

Southern Oregon University is the premier academic resource for southern Oregon and neighboring counties in California. Enrolling 5000 undergraduates and 500 graduate students in 35 degree granting programs, it is distinctive among Oregon’s institutions of higher learning. The 175-acre campus sits at the crux of the Siskiyou, Western Coastal, and Cascade Mountain ranges and within a two hours drive of three national
parks, 5 “wild and scenic” rivers, the tropical Pacific coast, and the arid conditions of the Eastern Oregon deserts. The University aspires to enhance its contribution to the region and Oregon by positioning itself as one of America’s finest contemporary public liberal arts universities. Recently inducted into the Council of Public Liberal Arts Colleges (COPLAC), the University is well on its way to realizing its vision of being regionally responsive and nationally recognized.

What is the Course’s Role in the Undergraduate Curriculum?

Over the past several years, SOU has, in stages, revised its General Education program. The guiding principles for SOU’s General Education Program are closely aligned with the SENCER philosophy. Specifically, the last sentence of the following paragraph addresses inclusion of problem-based material and case histories in the courses. SOU is especially interested in utilizing the SENCER approach and our involvement in the workshops to develop new, upper division Synthesis courses (See Item IIA, below) and to improve our assessment of both the Explorations and Synthesis components of our general education program.

Forensic Investigation is a Synthesis and Application course. This class, although commonly taken by biology and chemistry majors (especially those with an interest in forensic science), does not count towards a major or minor in any of our academic disciplines.

“The purpose of general education at Southern Oregon University is to nurture a commitment to sustained learning that encourages students to question assumptions, to reason critically, and to synthesize ideas from many different realms of knowledge and intellectual endeavor. To prepare students for active and responsible participation in their personal and public lives, general education courses develop critical and creative thinking, effective communication, literacy, and adaptability. Courses develop a student’s ability to arrive at thoughtful and informed judgments by exploring ways in which individuals, communities, and cultures have confronted and imagined the problems and possibilities of existence. The learning objectives for the science component (see below) include hands-on opportunities for students.

Guiding Principles:

  1. General education at SOU should reinforce critical and creative thinking, effective communication, literacy, and adaptability throughout a student’s entire college experience.
  2. General education at SOU should consist of both common experiences shared by all students and similar experiences specifically designed for students in different majors.
  3. General education at SOU should contain a significant component that is interdisciplinary in nature and focused on relationships among disciplines.
  4. General education at SOU should contain a significant component that is multicultural and international in nature.
  5. General education at SOU should provide a guided tour (an overview) of various disciplines including examples from the arts and humanities,
    the sciences, and the social sciences.
  6. General education at SOU should provide each student with significant depth in several different disciplines.
  7. General education at SOU should provide all upper division students with an opportunity to interact, in an academic setting, with students
    from a wide variety of disciplines.”

The current General Education program consists of the following components (Total quarter credits are at least 45, but are most likely to range between 48 and 52):

I. Lower Division:

A. University Colloquium: An innovative, year-long course for first year students which emphasizes critical thinking, problem solving, and communication skills.

The program focuses on the critical skills necessary for university students to become a part of a thriving intellectual and social community. Faculty serve as both instructors and advisers during the first year, unless the student has already chosen a major. Class sizes are limited to 24 students. Several “enrichment” sections are offered for those students seeking a faster-paced and more in-depth experience around ethical issues. The course is structured so that students keep the same meeting time and instructor for the entire academic year. All students are engaged in a common curriculum, and yet, because of inevitable differences among the students and the faculty, different sections experience it in a variety of ways. All sections apply common standards, pursue common outcomes, and include similar assignments and experiences.

B. Explorations: Lower-Division Sequences: Two course sequences from each of Arts and Letters, Science, and Social Science and one course in
Quantitative Reasoning.

These courses provide students with an understanding of the ways of knowing common to disciplines within the school area, and the ways in which those disciplines help us to understand the problems and concerns of our lives. Coursework from any department may be incorporated into any sequence as long as it fully addresses the relevant School-area based learning objectives. Sequences could be developed around a topic or theme, and incorporate perspectives and faculty from multiple disciplines, including Business. The Quantitative Reasoning requirement may be satisfied by completion of either a stand-alone course or by completion of an Explorations sequence that incorporates the quantitative reasoning learning objectives.

All of the Explorations sequences must do the following: (1) Develop in a significant way all of the School-area based learning objectives, (2). Provide an opportunity for students to demonstrate their proficiency with these goals, (3). Reinforce academic skills of critical reading, reasoning, written and oral communication, and (4). Contain pedagogy geared toward active learning.

The learning objectives that are applied to Explorations sequences in Science and to the Quantitative Reasoning courses are as follows:


  • Understand the interaction between science, technology, ethics, and other human affairs.
  • Correctly use the language and concepts of more than one science discipline and appreciate connections between individual disciplines.
  • Explore the use of science as a means of communicating unambiguously about the physical world.
  • Use the following methods of observational and experimental science as appropriate: generate and test hypotheses, make observations, design and carry out experiments in a laboratory or field setting, use appropriate tools (including mathematics) to analyze results, recognize limitations of equipment used, communicate experimental results.
  • Make informed decisions on scientific questions based on reason rather than authority by differentiating real from pseudo science, evaluating
    sources of information, understanding the domain and limitations of scientific inquiry, reading critically in science, and drawing conclusions
    based on scientific evidence.

Quantitative Reasoning:

  • Use mathematical symbols to represent real-world phenomena, answer questions based on linear and non-linear mathematical relationships, and express mathematical statements in plain language.
  • Understand the logical distinction between facts, assumptions, and conclusions, and demonstrate the ability to move from facts or assumptions to mathematically valid conclusions.
  • Create appropriate visual displays of data, compute appropriate summary measures (e.g. mean, variance, or trend), and recognize numerically
    implausible data or conclusions.

II. Upper Division:

A. Synthesis and Application: Upper-division interdisciplinary courses, one from each of Arts and Letters, Science, and Social Science.

These courses emphasize the ways in which multiple disciplinary perspectives illuminate different facets of understanding. They assume more intellectual maturity of students, and permit greater depth of study than is the case with the lower-division “explorations” sequences. Synthesis courses build on the foundation laid in the Colloquium and the explorations sequences to reinforce students’ written and oral communication, critical
reading, and reasoning abilities. Synthesis courses might be interdisciplinary (or multidisciplinary) within one of the three school areas, but preferably are multi-school. Any of these courses could also include a business component. Faculty from all involved disciplines often collaborate in course planning or instruction.

B. Capstone Experience: Though not strictly part of General Education at SOU, a Capstone Experience, which is designed to bring focus to and provide richer understanding of the major field of study, is a required component of all undergraduate degree programs. In most of the Science programs and Environmental Studies, the capstone is a team or individual research project related to the student’s field. Usually, the final stage of the capstone project is an oral presentation of professional caliber.

Resulting Projects and Research

The Forensic Investigation course has become one of the most popular courses offered at our University. Almost unfortunately, this class fills on the first day of registration. Students comment favorably on the use of demos and the PRS often claiming the class always kept their attention. Based on the success of this class, SOU is now offering two additional Synthesis and Application classes offered around a forensics based theme: a Computer Forensics class (CS 346) and a Criminal Investigations course in our Criminology Department (Cr 407). The first allows basic principles of computer science to be introduced as students learn about cyber crime, the fastest growing category of crime in the U.S. The second teaches students the introductory aspects of criminology including scene preservation and detective work through a crime-based class.

It can be hoped that other instructors at SOU will look at Forensic Investigation as a model course for capturing student attention. The students who have taken Forensicsbecome the biggest advocates for the class. It is satisfying that these students recommend the class not only for what the course teaches, but also they way in which the course is taught.

Addendum to Forensic Investigation

The most recent change to the course involves forensics students designing and implementing plans through which they help lessen crime in Southern Oregon community. This is an assignment that students work on in teams and have the entire term to complete. Students have worked with local police departments, helped organize neighborhood watches, and printed literature for parents on keeping kids safe (from strangers, drugs, alcohol, etc). They are charged with designing a plan to make a difference in the community, implementing the plan, and summarizing their idea in a written paper where they discuss strengths and weaknesses of their idea and can offer a budget for continued success.

In the summer and fall of 2005, select members of the class have volunteered with the Tommy Foundation (local chapter of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children). These students have helped fingerprint children in the community at the parent’s request using digital software. The students also help make parents aware of what to do if a child should go missing including distribution of packets of literature, educating people on the Amber Alert system, and handing out kits designed to help parents save children’s DNA for comparison to evidence. Our next event is Saturday, August 6, at Hawthorne Park in Medford, OR, and is co-sponsored by a local television station and the Tommy Foundation.

Related Resources

Below you will find related news articles, bibliographies, web sites and SENCER documents related to the Power of Water

SENCER Resources

Below are resources from SENCER documents and publications related to the Power of Water Course


Reinventing Myself as a Professor: The Catalytic Role of SENCER by Terry McGuire

Why Should You Care about Biological Diversity? by Eleanor J. Sterling, Nora Bynum, Ian Harrison, Melina Laverty, Sacha Spector, and Elizabeth Johnson (PDF)

Ektina, E. and Mestre, J.P. 2004. Implications of Learning Research for Teaching Science to Non-Science Majors, 1-26.