Forensic anthropology at Washburn offers television-like opportunities

Kenzie McCoy

Washburn students can now receive a degree for excavating dead bodies, analyzing trauma and evaluating bones.

While these tasks may seem like a scene out of Fox’s crime-based show “Bones,” it’s become a reality at Washburn’s newly opened KBI building, which opened its doors on Nov. 2, 2015.

Washburn’s sociology and anthropology department now offer a bachelor’s degree in anthropology with a forensic concentration, allowing students to closely work with the KBI building, which hosts many different students and degrees such as: forensic anthropology, forensic investigation, forensic chemical science, digital forensic and criminal justice.

Mary Sundal, professor of anthropology and sociology, has been teaching Washburn’s forensic anthropology class for three years, but said she’s excited about the new changes and opportunities that the KBI building has brought for her students this year. Students will be trained in skeletal biology, how to map trauma before, during and after death and how to properly excavate remains.

“I really enjoy teaching over in the KBI lab space,” said Sundal. “A lot more practical training is going on. Instead of just hearing about it – I mean, there’s such a difference when you are listening to a teacher lecture about something rather than you get to experience it and learn it yourself. It’s a completely different learning environment.”

Although forensic anthropology was not in the initial plans to collaborate with the KBI building, Sundal and the anthropology and sociology department quickly initiated plans to integrate forensic anthropology into the KBI’s new programs.

“We heard that the KBI was going to have this building on campus and we very quickly tried to show the importance of anthropology in the forensic setting and then I’ve worked very closely with Dr. Cheryl Childers, the [anthropology and sociology] department chair, to help create this new bachelor’s of science degree,” Sundal said.

Although currently teaching professors will be teaching lower-level anthropology courses for this new degree, higher-level classes, such as osteology, forensic anthropology and case studies, will be taught by Sundal and a new instructor. Currently, Washburn is in the process of hiring a forensic anthropologist to teach upcoming upper-level courses for this degree.

Sundal also said that although many people may equate this new forensic program to the popular forensic-style television series “Bones,” the real world of forensic anthropology is quite different from a television series.

“There’s a lot of factual information in [“Bones”] but obviously anytime things go for the television production value, it’s not necessarily what happens in a laboratory setting,” said Sundal. “‘Bones’ would probably be the ideal; like you have all this fancy equipment, but that’s not really what’s going to be happening.”

Tara Guinotte, a junior occupational therapy assistant major and student ambassador, had the opportunity to give tours of the KBI building.

“A lot of the student ambassadors joked that we wanted to change majors after giving tours of the KBI because everything was so cool and new,” said Guinotte.

Guinotte also said she is an avid watcher of “Bones” and was curious about Washburn’s forensic anthropology program.

“I gave tours during my Netflix binge-watching experience of the ‘Bones’ series and I hadn’t really thought of anthropology as a possible major, and I think it’s really cool that Washburn students have that opportunity,” said Guinotte. “I thought ‘Bones’ was really interesting, so it would be interesting to see how close Washburn students have to the opportunities that the characters on ‘Bones’ do.”

Currently, all the forensic programs working with the KBI building are meeting once a month to discuss possible internship and scholarship opportunities for students.

“From the student perspective, this is a tremendous opportunity,” said Sundal. “There is not a program at the bachelor’s level like this anywhere in the Midwest, so it’s a unique opportunity and with the space that we now have over at the KBI, the class size is limited, so students will get a lot of hands-on instruction. I see potential for a lot of growth.”