Alumni Spotlight: Shamika Kelley
Aug. 29, 2023
SHSU Media Contact: Campbell Atkins
After receiving her doctorate in criminal justice from Sam Houston State University, Shamika Kelley has made strides in the field and became the first director of the New Orleans Crime Lab since 2019 in January and the first Black woman crime lab director in the state of Louisiana.
“Forensics has always been in my DNA, pun intended,” Kelley said. “But I also gained an appreciation for data at Sam. What helps me now in my career as a crime lab director are the tools I learned as a student in the doctoral program. Learning how to learn was the most essential tool for me.”
The City of New Orleans itself has lacked its own official crime lab since the Gulf Coast was devastated by Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Instead, samples are typically sent to the Louisiana State Police lab in Baton Rouge.
Fueled by a lifelong passion for forensics and an urge to see proper justice carried out, Kelley has worked tirelessly since her January hiring to build a team capable of earning their lab accreditation in the new crime lab facility.
“I am naturally someone who is passionate about helping people, and I like science, so I’ve blended the two in my career,” Kelley said. “It is about justice for me; not only for the victims but for the wrongly accused. It is about being there for the citizens of New Orleans in the best way that I can and giving them a DNA lab they haven’t had since Katrina. Everything in my life and career has led up to this moment and equipped me with the tools needed to give that to them.”
Kelley is looking to earn the New Orleans Police Department Crime Laboratory accreditation from the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) National Accreditation Board for DNA and drug chemistry testing. The majority of her first eight months on the job has been spent getting to know the staff, understanding the area’s history and the policies currently in place at the lab as well as the NOPD.
“While I’m doing that, concurrently I have been developing a needs assessment,” Kelley said. “This has been a very complex endeavor, especially with the multiple units in the crime lab we are maintaining while, at the same time, enhancing other units.”
An accreditation assessment for the advanced crime scene and firearms units is set for the end of August. In the meantime, Kelley is also focusing on processing cases.
“We have been partnering with the Louisiana State Police for our sexual assault kits as well as other evidence that we plan to outsource,” Kelley said. “We are hoping to get the outsource project started in late summer or early fall.”
Kelley is a native of the state and earned her bachelor’s degree in biological sciences from Louisiana State University. She then attended the University of North Texas Health Science Center in Fort Worth, where she met a number of influential individuals in the field who helped advance her career path. After earning her master’s degree in forensic and investigative genetics, she took a job as a criminalist at the Houston Police Department Crime Lab. The lab sought independence from the HPD and, in 2014, became the Houston Forensic Science Center (HFSC). She worked for the establishment from 2010-18.
“While I was there, I worked my way up the ranks and became a supervisor,” Kelley said. “I then decided to do something more and impact my community in a different way, and that’s when I sought out my doctorate in criminal justice at SHSU. But, at the same time, I remained a consultant with the HFSC and worked on outsourced cases for them.”
In the midst of earning multiple degrees and advancing her career in numerous ways, Kelley is also a mother of three and has always found time to balance her busy life and loving family.
“My husband Jason is my lifeline, I couldn’t do this without him,” Kelley said. “When they say it takes a village, it really does. I have the best support system around me and I am so blessed by that. They have helped me be able to juggle those things and make sure that, when I come home, I can take off the crime lab coat and put on the mama hat. It is all about being able to switch between the roles God has blessed us with.”
Family has fueled Kelley’s inspirations since the early days of her journey. She first felt the calling to follow forensic science due to watching the television program “Forensic Files” with her father. They watched the show together every week while Kelley was in high school.
“Around that time, I Googled how to become a forensic scientist and learned about the different fields,” Kelley said. “I knew I loved biology and genetics, and that’s when I determined I wanted to be a forensic DNA analyst specifically. Ever since then, I’ve been following the path.”
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