By the time he was 10, Tyler Wotring lost count of all the arrests hed made.
As a kid, he logged lots of preteen, summertime games of cops and robbers with his buddies in his Morgantown backyard, and he was always the one with the pretend badge.
It was glorious, uncomplicated fun, as he fondly recalls. Thats because the bad guys were bad, and that was all there was to it.
Theres a lot more to sleuthing today, and Wotring, who graduated this past May with a bachelors from West Virginia Universitys Forensic and Investigative Science Program, says he has a new appreciation of just what it means to deliver justice.
Its really about community service,said the 23-year-old, who grew up in Morgantown and enrolled in WVU after graduating from University High School.I mean, you might be tapping a suspect, but you might also be helping a person who maybe was wrongly convicted for a crime he didnt commit. For me, thats where the real idea of justice comes in.
Which, in part, is where the phenomenally successful WVU forensic program comes in.
In the classroom, students learn the latest sleuthing techniques in the discipline, which has been a marquee major for the Eberly College of Arts and Sciences for the past 11 years.
Outside of the classroom, its internship program is renowned for placing students in police departments and crime labs from Painesville, Ohio, to Pakistan.
Some 45 students (about average for the program) are out and about this summer, completing internships at outlets in 13 U.S. states and Canada.
Those internship sites are as diverse as can be, to give a full range of the industry that is crime fighting.
How diverse? How does the Secret Service sound? And the Los Angeles and Ventura County crime labs in Southern California?
WVU s future sleuths are also logging time this summer at the Miami-Dade County Crime Lab and New Jersey State Crime Lab, while others are making stops at the Greensboro (N.C.) Police Department and U.S. Postal Inspection Service.
And thats just for starters.
As Keith Morris, the programs director, says, the internshipslike fingerprints on a doorknobare when and where careers are cast.
Its really just a common sense thing,said Morris, who came to WVU four years ago after heading South Africas national crime lab system.The internships provide context for the coursework because our students get to really apply the theories theyve been taught. With academics comes awareness. Its like a light gets snapped on.
Wotring agreed. Two summers ago, he interned in Ohio at the Lake County Prosecuting Attorneys Office in Painesville, just northeast of Cleveland.
My classes and everything at WVU had me more than ready for the crime lab,Wotring said.
That was theacademicpart. Awareness came when he was given the opportunity to observe at working crime scenes during his internships.
You see the body, and you see the blood,he said.You see how chaotic it all was. I went out on two murders, and they werent even premeditated. They just happened.
Finding out the how and the why in the aftermath is the job of the forensic professional, he said.
Its more important than ever,he said.You have to really respect what those people do at the crime scene and back in the lab.
WVU s budding sleuths, in turn, are earning the respect of the veteran professionals who oversee their work as they complete their internships, Morris said.
Anytime Im at a conference and people find out Im from WVU , they come up say, �€~Oh, we had so-and-so with us last summer, and they did a fantastic job,Morris said.We love hearing that. It says a lot about the program, but mainly its a testament to the quality of our students.
Students, like Wotring, who will soon be embarking on their own investigations in the pursuit of justice.
There are all the different circumstances and all the conflicting testimonies in cases,he said,but theres no way science is ever going to lie to you.
With 400-plus majors, WVU s Forensic and Investigative Science Program is one of the most popular disciplines on campus.
Along with its undergraduate and graduate offerings, it also maintains a West Virginia branch of the Innocence Project with WVU s College of Law.
The Innocence Project, which is based nationally in New York City, uses DNA analysis and other high-tech, diagnostic procedures to free people who were convicted for crimes they didnt commit.
U.S. Sen. Robert C. Byrd, D-W.Va., secured the funding for the program in 1997 to capitalize on the proximity of a major FBI fingerprint processing center in Clarksburg, just 40 miles from Morgantown in the rolling hills of north-central West Virginia.
The idea, then as now, was to train future law professionals with the best resources at hand so they could go forth for the bureau and other operations working to set things right in society.
Its just one of 20 in the country to be fully accredited by the Forensic Science Educational Program Accreditation Commission.