STAFS Facility Caters to Vast Academic Interests

Parting dense acreage of piney woods and tucked into the outskirts of Huntsville, Texas lies a national treasure for law enforcement agencies and academic disciplines across the nation: Sam Houston State University’s Southeast Texas Applied Forensic Science Facility (STAFS).

STAFS, one of six willed-body donor programs in the United States that specializes in human decomposition research, has received national recognition for both the subject matter of their work and their significant contributions to society.

“The mission of the STAFS facility is to expand our working knowledge in a variety of fields, including anthropology, biology, geology, chemistry, forensic science, and criminal justice,” says Joan Bytheway, STAFS director and professor of criminal justice. “We utilize our findings to honor our commitment to humanity and to victims without a voice.”

Work being done at STAFS

To commemorate individuals and the families of individuals who donated their body to the facility, STAFS hosts a memorial service held in the College of Criminal Justice annually in May.

The facility is comprised of two portions: an outdoor research facility and the STAFS laboratory.

The outdoor research facility is located within the Center for Biological Studies’ 247-acre parcel of land adjacent to the Sam Houston State Forest, while the STAFS laboratory offers state-of-the-art equipment for researchers from various fields.

The facility has worked with numerous law enforcement agencies from across the nation, but the principal usage of the facility is applied research, or how to identify victims and process clues and evidence to determinetime and nature of death. Courses are available to students as part of their core curriculum or professional forensic analysts and police authorities through the College of Criminal Justice. 

Bytheway says it is not uncommon for working professionals or students to have shared interests in an independent study, dependent on the focus of the individual.

“The wonderful thing about the research being conducted at STAFS is that multiple areas of study can benefit from the same body," she notes. "For example, microbiologists and entomologists can obtain their data and then ultimately the anthropologist utilizes the skeleton." 

The potential for crossover cases and shared interests made STAFS a logical fit for the College of Criminal Justice’s Forensic Anthropology minor. The minor caters to many disciplines including criminal justice, forensic science, pre-med, nursing, biology, geography, archeology, and chiropractic studies.

In addition to academic and law enforcement practices, STAFS has opened its doors to the community, offering courses to high school teachers and practitioners of various disciplines, hosted on the facility grounds. Recent courses include Criminal Investigations/Courtroom, Advanced Crime Scene Investigation, and Forensic Entomology/Digital Forensics.

For more information about Sam Houston State University’s Southeast Texas Applied Forensic Science Facility, visit

Do you have questions related to this article? Please contact Elliott Cochran.

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