National Forensic Academy Collegiate Program offers real-world experience for UT Martin students

Nine students from the University of Tennessee at Martin spent the month of July processing fingerprints, blood spatter patterns, DNA evidence and ballistic data as part of the National Forensic Academy Collegiate Program held in Oak Ridge.

The three-week program, established in 2012, is an abbreviated version of the 10-week National Forensic Academy for current law enforcement professionals. Both programs are conducted by the UT Law Enforcement Innovation Center. Eighty-five students have participated over the last four years, representing all three University of Tennessee campuses and 18 colleges and universities from 10 other states, as well as Australia.

“The program was developed in response to the increasing demand for higher education to produce graduates with real workforce skills,” said Dr. Brian Donavant, associate professor of criminal justice at UT Martin and instructor of record for the collegiate academy. “Historically, students have often needed to major in chemistry and then work for several years in law enforcement just to get their foot in the door. This program enables us to provide an unparalleled practical experience for our students that will make them more competitive as they seek jobs in this growing area.”

Donavant coordinates the program’s academic components, including course design, delivery, assignments and assessment. All students participating in the program must enroll at UT Martin for the summer semester and will earn nine course hours in return for their involvement. “This is the only higher education program endorsed by the Tennessee Association of Chiefs of Police, and all member agencies give hiring preference to our graduates,” Donavant explained. All academy instructors are law enforcement professionals and some of the most renowned experts in their respective fields. According to Donavant, 84 percent of program graduates are employed full-time within their first year.

The 2015 program session concluded with a graduation ceremony July 31 recognizing 18 students for their participation. Nine UT Martin students attended this session, alongside two students each from UT Chattanooga and Tennessee Technological University, and one student each from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville; Dyersburg State Community College; Eureka College in Illinois; Campbell University in North Carolina; and the University of Western Sydney in Australia.

Kaylee Cook, a senior from Cornersville, found a new passion while at the academy, and hopes the experience will set her apart from other job applicants. “My favorite portion was the latent fingerprint labs. The instructors we had were great and taught me more than I could have imagined. I loved the hands-on labs; we were actually dusting and lifting prints,” she said. “I feel that the experience and information I learned will set me apart from other potential candidates. I learned so much and made so many great connections there to help me with my job hunt.”

“I’m a senior this year and wanted to prove to myself that I can do all the things that this course offered,” said Danielle Mansfield, a senior from Arlington. Mansfield benefitted most from the opportunity to attend an autopsy at the Knoxville Regional Forensic Center, where she learned how to approach the gritty details of forensic work with an objective viewpoint. “This experience tested my ability to separate myself from the situation. You have to be able to take yourself out of a situation emotionally in order to examine the details with an open, unbiased mind,” she explained.

“This program sets me apart from the thousands of criminal justice majors out there. It provides the students the hands-on experience that agencies are looking for during the interview process,” Mansfield said. “Instead of coming out of college without any real experience, this program allows us to get our hands dirty and to use some of the equipment and techniques that we will utilize in the field.”

Mansfield plans to pursue a career in blood spatter or fingerprint analysis and ultimately work for the FBI. Cook hopes to experience a little of everything by working her way through basic patrol, K-9 and SWAT units, eventually becoming a special investigator for the TBI.

Other UT Martin students participating this year were Alan Friend, a junior from Memphis; Jessica Hargrove, a junior from Waynesboro; Joe Hudgins, a senior from Sardis; Jason Klutts, a junior from Halls; Christian McAlister, a junior from Greenfield; Dustin Menzies, a senior from Parsons; and Ashley Neumair, a junior from Paris. All the students are criminal justice majors except Klutts, who is an integrated studies major.

For more information about the UT Martin criminal justice program or the National Forensic Academy Collegiate Program, contact Donavant at 731-881-3510 or by email at


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