Last month, NJIT announced that this fall it will begin offering New Jersey’s first Bachelor of Science program in forensic science. This first-of-its-kind degree program will fulfill a critically important and unmet need for New Jersey’s students and its forensic science community.
The 120-credit degree will represent the only undergraduate program in the New York metropolitan region designed from its outset to meet the rigorous standards set by the leading accrediting body in this important field, the Forensic Science Education Programs Accreditation Commission (FEPAC).
Never has there been a better time to develop such a program at a New Jersey university than now.
The forensic science field is in a period of remarkable transition, stemming from the ever-increasing demands of the courtroom for exact science, as well as rapid technological advances in the ways experts are able to gather and analyze minute quantities of materials to draw sound conclusions in the lab.
In fact, the evolution of the forensic science field and its many new subfields is now spurring demand for talent which is outstripping the supply of trained forensic experts in crime and investigative labs, both at the federal and state levels.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics predicts employment opportunities for forensic science professionals will grow 17 percent through 2026, much faster than the average for all occupations. New Jersey is already among the country’s top three metropolitan areas with the highest employment level for forensic professionals.
In developing our program, we’ve received feedback and overwhelming support from top law enforcement officials and agencies within federal and state forensic science communities, including New Jersey’s State Toxicology Laboratory, Office of Forensic Science North Regional Laboratory and county sheriffs’ and prosecutors’ offices across the state.
One response in particular, from Mathew Wood, forensic sciences laboratory director at the Ocean County Sheriff’s Office, aptly described the urgent need we believe we will be addressing with the program’s arrival.
Wrote Wood: “In the past, staffing many laboratory positions has been a challenge, relying on graduates from out-of-state programs for employment candidates. Additionally, New Jersey laboratories have been burdened with growing caseloads, and it has been difficult to develop and research new methods and techniques for forensic examination. Having a program in New Jersey will provide these labs with high-quality students to fill available and future needs.”
Given NJIT’s STEM roots, many components for the program were already in place — both in terms of research facilities and distinguished faculty with expertise in trace evidence analysis, DNA identification, forensic microscopy and evidence law. It was simply a matter of developing a new, robust series of “forensic science core courses,” as well as collaborations with leading forensic experts and investigatory sites throughout New Jersey.
Many of our collaborators were eager to support our program’s internship and co-op opportunities, and will offer vital real-world experience for New Jersey’s future forensic scientists at crime labs and investigation offices throughout the state.
New Jersey is also home to a number of companies that provide analytical products to the forensic community. NJIT’s forensic science program will be a natural collaborator with these firms to ensure our graduates are proficient with state-of-the-art analytical techniques and instrumentation.
Not only is our program equipped to train today’s forensic professionals as leaders capable of advancing the field of forensic science, it has also been designed to prepare the state’s future experts for some of the significant changes to come in the field over the next decade.
Currently, there is a strong sense in the professional forensics community that within the next five to 10 years, certain job positions in the field will require a nationally recognized, accredited degree. Unlike any forensic science program in the region, our program was designed from its outset to meet FEPAC accreditation. A team of practicing professionals in the investigative and forensic sciences was assembled as our program’s external advisory board, providing critical input for the development of our program and professional experience for students from its inception.
We believe our new program will meet the immense wave of enthusiasm and need from aspiring professionals and law enforcement throughout the state, bringing New Jersey residents a challenging STEM-focused forensic science baccalaureate program and a regional center for research and professional development that will serve the forensic community for years to come.
Joel S. Bloom is president of New Jersey Institute of Technology; Kevin D. Belfield is dean of NJIT’s College of Science and Liberal Arts.