Hamline University is breathing new life (and plenty of simulated death) into a house on Holton Street in St. Paul. The Hamline-owned property was repurposed this fall semester to be a lab for Dr. Jamie Spaulding’s Crime Scene and Death Investigation course.
When it comes to forensic investigation, Dr. Spaulding, Hamline’s assistant professor of forensic science and a graduate of the nationally-recognized West Virginia University forensic science program, puts a premium on experiential learning and places great value on introducing students to the many challenges of the field.
“This house allows us to create very realistic scenarios for students, giving them the opportunity to hone their investigation skills in a low-stakes environment rather than encounter these challenges for the first time at actual crime scenes,” Spaulding said. “I need them to make their mistakes here and learn from them so that they can be fully prepared in the real world.”
Later this month, the class will undergo an even more immersive exercise: Hamline’s annual After Hours Crime Scene. This exercise initiates with very little notice: students receive a call during the opening hours of a chilly November day and report to an on-campus crime scene. Over the following pre-dawn hours, students investigate a staged murder outside Hamline – complete with mannequin victims, footprints, bullet casings and a St. Paul Police presence. Students are tasked with collecting evidence, taking photos, documenting the scene and ultimately authoring a crime scene report.
"There are very, very few places that have students in the middle of the night out there actually doing the real world work, which is the only way I think I can appropriately train students to do this work,” Spaulding said.
The AHCS and the crime lab house, along with Hamline’s overall breadth of forensics science courses, are a true rarity in the Midwest, as Hamline is the only Minnesota university with a forensic science major – and has one of the few forensics programs in the Upper Midwest.