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Recent Graduate Dives In To Forensic Work

July 9, 2010

Stephanie Banuelos, who earned her master's degree in May, will begin her career as a drug chemist for the Laredo Texas Department of Public Safety at the beginning of August.

Some people with a profound fear of drowning would keep as far as possible from larger bodies of water. Recent Sam Houston State University graduate Stephanie Banuelos became a lifeguard.

Banuelos kept swimmers safe for two summers at a water park near her hometown of Galveston. She was an undergraduate student then, in SHSU’s forensic chemistry and criminal justice programs.

As a graduate student in SHSU’s forensic science program, she took the same approach to her studies: jump right in.

SHSU has given her the chance to do just that, giving Banuelos first-hand experience in her career in forensic toxicology by practicing it as a student. Having graduated in May, she will move at the end of this month to Laredo to work as a drug chemist for the Texas Department of Public Safety.

“I chose SHSU for graduate school not only for its familiarity, but also because I knew it possessed many forensic instruments that are readily available in crime laboratories,” she said.

She also knew that the forensic science program offers a 10-week, full-time internship in a functioning forensic laboratory. Her internship was with the Southwestern Institute of Forensic Sciences in Dallas, which also serves as the Dallas County Medical Examiner’s Office.

Her duties included analyses on unknown tablets, powders and liquids using forensic instrumentation to detect for the presence and concentration of controlled substances.

“I also presented to an audience of science professionals on the topic of method validation and participated in improving the performance of one of their instruments that was not currently in use,” she said. “It was an invaluable experience.”

On campus, Banuelos conducted research with Sarah Kerrigan, who directs the Forensic Science program as well as SHSU’s new Sam Houston Regional Crime Laboratory, staying at SHSU through July after graduating to complete her work.

Funded by the National Institute of Justice, the research project involved studying the prevalence of emerging psychedelic amphetamines. Banuelos assisted in the development of validated analytical methods for screening and quantifying these amphetamines in biological specimens.

Banuelos said her interaction with professors and cohorts has created the stimulating, supportive environment she hoped for in graduate school.

“What has stood out most is the special interest that the professors share in the learning experiences of their students,” she said. “The coursework is designed to challenge students to apply their prior knowledge in the sciences to forensic casework.

“The support that fellow students extend to each other amazes me. We challenge each other and want to see each other succeed.”


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