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USM School of Criminal Justice, Forensic Science and Security Preparing Students for Future as New Home Awaits

Fri, 06/07/2024 - 08:45am | By: Van Arnold

In a world where criminals constantly scramble to elude detection and prosecution, The University of Southern Mississippi (USM) is preparing students for substantive careers in the law enforcement/judicial community.

USM’s School of Criminal Justice, Forensics Science and Security (CJFSS) offers distinctive programs in criminal justice and forensic science designed to equip students with the foundation necessary to excel within the modern justice system, while utilizing the latest technology in forensic science.


Dr. Brenda Rowe, Director of the School of Criminal Justice, Forensic Science and Security, stands in front of what will become the school’s new home next year.

As CJFSS Director Dr. Brenda Rowe points out, several required courses are focused on a “real world” application of knowledge.

“Our capstone courses (for both criminal justice and forensic science majors) are designed to prepare students for tasks and challenges associated with employment in their respective areas,” said Rowe. “Additionally, criminal justice majors must complete CJ 201, which is designed to enhance professionalism and success in both academics and employment.”

The school offers undergraduate degree programs in criminal justice and forensics. Students can also pursue a master’s degree in criminal justice. Recently, the school added a minor in security studies. Forensic science majors are required to complete an internship or field study. Students majoring in criminal justice are strongly encouraged to complete an internship.

Approximately 450 students currently are enrolled in CJFSS degree programs. The school employs 14 full-time faculty members, with customarily up to five adjunct faculty employed over the course of an academic year.

Rowe notes that criminal justice majors tend to seek careers in law enforcement (federal, state, and local), corrections, court systems, or case management.

“Some go on to work in behavioral health or other social service,” said Rowe. “Many of our criminal justice majors plan to further their education in law school or graduate school.”

She explains that forensic science majors pursue jobs in crime scene investigation, toxicology, fingerprint analysis, serology, DNA analysis, firearms/ballistic analysis, and forensic anthropology. They too often seek secondary degrees.

The U.S. has experienced a shortage in law enforcement professionals over the past several years, and a recent Thomson Reuters White Paper scrutinizing the future of law enforcement agencies and their practical use of data and technology revealed some alarming numbers:

  • 48 percent of respondents said that understaffing was seen as the biggest problem law enforcement faces today.
  • 92 percent reported that their agencies suffered from understaffing to some degree.
  • 31 percent said budgeting issues were a top challenge.
  • 33 percent said finding and adopting new and up-to-date technologies was a top challenge.

“Local law enforcement agencies have been experiencing shortages for the last five-plus years, if not longer,” said Rowe. “Mississippi LEAs have been particularly vulnerable due to budgeting issues. There have been noticeable staffing shortages in case management, behavioral health, and corrections. Local jails and prisons are struggling with recruitment and retention.”

Added Rowe, “Forensic science has not been immune to shortages. Crime labs are battling backlogs across the U.S.”

Abigayle Benz, a senior from Sylacauga, Ala., completed an internship last summer with INTEGRA Forensics, an Alabama-based accident reconstruction firm. She continues to work for the company.

Benz explained that most of her internship consisted of summarizing depositions. However, she did have an opportunity to help conduct field work in a couple of instances.

“We inspected the brakes on a semi-trailer that had been in an accident, collected data from cars that had been totaled in wrecks to see speed and braking reaction times, and we took photos of a wrecker truck that had been overturned that could be put into a program to simulate the wreck,” said Benz. “From the experience, I gained a better understanding of how forensics work, and I was able to apply the things I’ve been learning in class.”

The school’s mission to prepare students for opportunities in law enforcement is being substantially enhanced with the transition to a new, permanent home. Located in the tight quarters of Arthell Kelley Hall since the mid-1970s, the school is slated for a move into the Human Performance and Recreation Building, which formerly housed the School of Kinesiology and Nutrition. Renovation and construction are already underway on the $16.6 million project that has an anticipated completion date of June 2025.

Plans also call for construction of a 5,000-square-foot annex to the current building for use as an academic courtroom, which will enable students to engage in experiential learning activities. Other features include a computer lab, conference rooms, a faculty workroom and a student lounge that will provide a space for students to collaborate and socialize.

“CJFSS faculty, staff, and students are very excited about the school getting a new home in about a year,” said Rowe. “The new building will allow all CJFSS faculty to have offices in the same building, which will facilitate easier student access to faculty office hours and enhance collaboration among CJFSS faculty and staff. Additionally, we will have more lab space, which will allow for improvements in lab scheduling and will provide space for new equipment to be used as it is acquired.”

Dr. Chris Winstead, Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, expresses profound pride in the work produced by everyone connected with the school.

“In addition to being experts in their own academic areas, the faculty are well-connected with numerous agencies across the state and nation,” said Winstead. “Our students are engaging in internships in locations ranging from our local area to some of the largest departments in the nation. Many of our graduates will use their Southern Miss education to benefit us right here at home, while others will choose to pursue careers in other areas. It is really up to the student, but the possibilities are endless.”

Rowe stresses that faculty are working hard to implement changes to the forensic science curriculum that will lay the foundation for the school to pursue Forensic Science Education Programs Accreditation Commission (FEPAC) accreditation. Expectations are high for continued growth in forensic science and criminal justice enrollment.

“We expect to see growth in enrollment in the Security Studies stand-alone minor, as word is spreading about this exciting new minor,” said Rowe. “Criminal justice majors will find they have increased flexibility for course scheduling with the implementation of criminal justice curriculum changes that allow for more electives. Our faculty will continue to provide opportunities for students to interact with professionals in the student’s chosen field by inviting guest speakers and facilitating connections with potential internship partners.”

Rowe continued, “CJFSS faculty and staff are looking forward to all the good things that will come with our move into a new building. We can’t wait to see students take advantage of all the great opportunities they will have in our new home and with the implementation of our curricular changes.”

To learn more about the School of Criminal Justice, Forensic Science and Security, call 601.266.4509.