Living-Learning Communities Enhance Education, Fuel Passion
Living-Learning Communities Enhance Education, Fuel Passion

by Jackie Hennessey
UNH Today Contributor

It was Welcome Week, and Erin Murdoch ’17, a resident assistant in the Forensic Science Living-Learning Community (LLC) gathered the 100 new first-year residents for a scavenger hunt, one unlike any students said they’d ever gone on.

They broke up into teams and went to South Campus and over to Dodds Hall, to Kayo Field and Maxcy Hall. The clues took them “to all the places on campus they’d need to know, like the Registrar’s office, and many of them didn’t know what the Registrar’s office was or where it was,” Murdoch said.

Students in the engineering LLC.

At each stop was a clue and then a bit of evidence: a Mountain Dew can to dust for fingerprints, bloodstains to investigate, a hand-written letter to take over to the forensic science lab for analysis. Along the way, they met forensic science faculty members. “We got to see what our major was like even before we took our first class,” Justin Gaumond ’19 said.

Each task required them to solve problems and lean on each other – students they didn’t know even a handful of days earlier. “It was really great,” Matthew Salvie ’19 said. “It got us thinking right away, and it was a fun way to get to know pe¬ople.”

When they finished, they met back at Westside Hall for pizza and to talk about all they’d discovered. They also traveled together to a ropes course, where they had to climb over and around obstacles. Laura Jankowski ’19 said the two events challenged and bonded them. “I had new friends, and I also knew I chose the right college,” she said.

Allee Santorelli ’19 liked having to decipher clues to find evidence while navigating her way around campus. “We gained hands-on experience with forensic science techniques — fingerprint analysis, bite-mark comparisons and handwriting comparisons,” she said.

During the scavenger hunt, Santorelli met Christopher O’Brien, assistant professor of forensic science. A couple of weeks later, during his office hours in the Westside lobby, O’Brien was talking about wildlife forensics and his students’ research work.  “He said it’s his job to get us riled up about the injustices occurring to innocent animals, and, in his research, he gets to do the cool stuff,” she said.

That was all Santorelli needed to hear.

She met with him again to ask how she could get into the lab. Soon enough, she was assisting his graduate students with their wildllife forensic research projects. She began to wonder about all the different kinds of work she could do in forensic science and hopes to work with O’Brien on her honors thesis.

She and Jankowski said they often talk to friends at other universities who say they’re not able to delve into their majors until their second or third year. “I have the chance to do research in the first semester of my first year,” Santorelli said, adding that she knows it will give her an advantage when she starts her career. Of her LLC experience Santorelli said, “It’s everything I could have hoped for.”

This is an excerpt of a feature story that appeared in the spring issue of the UNH Magazine.

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