Congress considers $700K for SEMO forensics lab

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Southeast Missouri State University could expand its offerings for students of forensic science if a spending item U.S. Sen. Kit Bond inserted into the federal budget survives Congressional scrutiny.

Bond announced Thursday that he won approval for $700,000 to build and equip a "state-of-the-art teaching and research laboratory for forensic education." The item, included in the appropriations for commerce, justice and science programs, must win full Senate approval and undergo review in the U.S. House to remain in the budget.

The College of Science and Mathematics has been seeking money for the lab for several years, but it was included in Southeast's requests for direct appropriations for the first time last year, said Dr. Chris McGowan, dean of the department. And this is the first time the request has been included in a budget bill, he said.

The funds would be used to improve the training for graduate and undergraduate students of forensic science, McGowan said. Labs in Magill Hall would be renovated and new equipment, including gas chromatographs and equipment capable of doing DNA analysis, would be purchased with the money.

"In addition to supporting the students, this would be a research lab, too, used by faculty to support their research," McGowan said. "We would be looking at new things that might be done in a crime lab in the future and testing new methods."

The appropriation is one of three targeted at Cape Girardeau County out of a total of $6 million statewide in the appropriations bill. The other area earmarks are:

* $500,000 for the Missouri NASA Math, Science and Technology Education Enhancement Program. This is an annual appropriation that supports statewide outreach and support for science education for a program headquartered in Cape Girardeau.

* $1.5 million for the Missouri Sheriff's Methamphetamine Relief Team, or MoSMART. This program also receives annual support from Bond and U.S. Rep. Jo Ann Emerson for a program administered from the Cape Girardeau County Sheriff's Department.

Students of forensic science share equipment in general laboratories dedicated to the chemistry department of the college, McGowan said. If the funds survive, the college would be able to create a dedicated area for the students and faculty to work.

The $700,000 appropriation would cover the full cost of the renovation and equipment. The money will not be used to hire additional faculty, he said.

The Missouri State Highway Patrol operates a crime lab in Cape Girardeau that at one time was operated by Southeast. The school has a good working relationship with the lab, with students attending internships there, McGowan said.

Southeast is affiliated with the Midwest Forensic Research Center, a program run out of Iowa State University that also provides support for forensic education with grants. The money will help Southeast's participation with the center's casework assistance program, Bond said in a news release.

If the appropriation is approved, it would be part of the federal budget for the year beginning Oct. 1. McGowan estimated that work could begin sometime in 2010 with a target for having the lab ready by fall 2011.

rkeller@semissourian.com

388-3642

Pertinent addresses:

1 University Plaza, Cape Girardeau, Mo.

122 S. Ellis St., Cape Girardeau, Mo.

222 N. Pacific St., Cape Girardeau, Mo.

216 N. Missouri St., Jackson, Mo.

Map of pertinent addresses

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