New Director of Forensic Science Sets Bar High for Program

Demos Athanasopoulos, Director of Forensic Science

Demos Athanasopoulos,
Director of Forensic Science

There’s a name for the growing demand for forensic science expertise. It’s called “the CSI effect.”

“It’s really a term that is used widely in the field,” explains Pace University’s new Director of Forensic Science Demos Athanasopoulos. Not only are popular television shows inspiring students to consider a career in forensic science, he explained, they’re also having an effect in courtrooms creating an increased demand for the skills.

“It’s a cultural issue. These shows somehow passed to the public the impression that everything has to be supported by forensic evidence, so courtrooms more and more are demanding it. The time when somebody saw something and reported it and that was enough evidence is gone forever. Now they want DNA, they want trace analysis. Even the juries are more demanding for technical articulation of the exchanged information in the courtroom,” he explained.

It is with this increased demand in mind that Athanasopoulos, a 16-year faculty member in the Chemistry and Physical Sciences Department and a founding member of the forensic science program, has set the bar for his program – to be the best in the country.

There are two key ingredients to success and Pace has them both, he says. The first is location and the second is scientific infrastructure.

“My vision is to take the weakness of our program – which is the space limitation – and make it a strength,” he said. What the program lacks in square footage of real estate, it makes up for in its affiliations with major forensic labs including the Crime Lab of the New York Police Department,  the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, and the DEA local laboratories. The department’s five clinical professors and entire adjunct faculty maintain full time affiliations with these law enforcement agencies, bringing the latest achievements of the forensic science into the classroom.

In many cases, these labs provide internships for graduate students, and even job opportunities after graduation.

“Yes, you can go study forensics in a rural location campus and you can have two square miles of labs, but you are not going to find the expertise in the forensic field of New York City anywhere else,” he added.

In addition, the forensic science department is looking to upgrade its facilities, starting with installing a new state-of-the-art DNA sequencing lab.

There is one downside to the “CSI effect” according to Athanasopoulos, and that’s a glamorizing of the industry. Sometimes students register for the major and don’t realize that there is actually a lot of science involved.

“It’s not just flashing the badge and being well dressed,” he said. “But for the most part, our students are prepared for a rigorous training in the sciences.”