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Teens work the crime scene

High school students learn investigative techniques during UW-P's Forensic Science Camp.

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Posted: Wednesday, July 31, 2013 12:00 am | Updated: 5:15 am, Wed Jul 31, 2013.

PLATTEVILLE, Wis. -- CSI-Platteville began Tuesday with an extensive investigation near the University of Wisconsin-Platteville Pioneer Farm.

Yellow crime scene tape stretched in front of a small, ranch-style house. The body of a deceased male -- a mannequin clothed in a plaid shirt and khaki slacks -- lay in the frontyard, with spent shell casings nearby. Two investigators stood near the scene. One took pictures as the other took notes. Inside the house, investigators collected evidence, including fingerprints, and analyzed blood drippings.

The activities are part of a weeklong Forensic Science Camp sponsored by the UW-P Office of Continuing Education. Twenty-four high school-age campers spend the week investigating a simulated crime created by UW-P political science professor John Rink. They are divided into two, 12-person teams -- prosecution and defense -- and spend the week investigating from their team's point of view.

Reyna Hernandez, 17, made the trip from Houston, having learned about the camp at her school from UW-P recruiters.

"It's a great experience to have hands-on activities," she said. "You get a good idea about what it's like to be a forensic scientist."

Erin Lalor, 17, of Oregon, Wis., signed up immediately after receiving a post card about the camp in the mail.

"It's really cool," she said. "I'm interested in doing science, and here you learn every step of the crime scene, from lab work to courtroom."

The university's forensic investigative crime scene training house was prepared for the scenario on Tuesday. White Tyvek protective suit-clad youngsters conducted the physical investigation. It included sketching, measuring, taking photos and collecting evidence.

Campers also spent time learning forensic science with professor Diana Johnson, who introduced them to blood-spatter patterns, fingerprint recognition and matching bullet casings.

The chemistry aspect, taught by professor Joseph Wu, included how to extract DNA and analyze chromatography, spectroscopy and microscopy.

The week culminates with a mock trial on Friday, when parents join the group and serve as jurors. The students will present their cases, acting in specific roles assigned earlier in the week. The parents will deliberate and decide a verdict based on the evidence presented.

Nina Golimowski, 16, of Marinette, Wis., said her mother already was excited about serving on the jury. Golimowski learned about UW-P's criminal justice program at a college fair at her high school.

"I thought this was pretty cool, and I wanted to do it," Golimowski said.

So did others. According to Beth Harbin, UW-P youth program coordinator, there was a waiting list of 57 people on Monday.

Rick Place, investigator for the Grant County Sheriff's Department, spent most of Tuesday at the camp, assisting and answering questions.

"It's a great opportunity for young adults to explore and see if this is something they want to do in the future," he said. "This will help them decide what field they want to get into. I enjoy working with them."

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