By Marc R. Masferrer, University Communications and Marketing
Almost 80 kids and family members put their forensic skills to work, partnering with volunteers from the University of South Florida to solve a doggone crime as part of a community learning festival.
The “crime” — the destruction of a dog toy left behind inadvertently at a dog park — wasn’t real.
But program participants, with assistance from Edie Banner, an adjunct instructor of integrative biology on the Sarasota-Manatee campus; and Casey Bansavage, a crime scene analyst with the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office, used investigative and scientific techniques that simulated those used by real criminal investigators to crack the case.
Co-sponsored by the USF Sarasota-Manatee campus, UnidosNow and the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office, “Forensic Super Sleuths: Destruction at the Dog Park” on April 22 was one of numerous activities during the Remake Learning Days, a 10-day event organized by the Patterson Foundation of Sarasota and designed to reinforce the maxim that “learning happens everywhere.”
In this case, learning what happened to Zoe the German shepherd’s favorite toy, Manny the monkey, took place at the Sarasota-Manatee campus’s teaching labs at Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium in Sarasota.
Solving the case was a job for “the Canine Police.” There were five possible culprits: four dogs and, the prime suspect, a cat named NaOMe.
During their investigation, the Canine Police learned about the importance of carefully observing a crime scene; how to gather and test evidence; fingerprinting — or in this case, nose-printing; examining hair and fiber samples with a microscope; and extracting and examining DNA evidence.
“Learning by doing really makes a connection to what is being learned in the classroom,” Banner said. “The Forensic Sleuths had the opportunity take on the role of scientist and see how their analysis of the evidence is used to back up an investigation. How cool is that! Seeing families participate together in the investigation and getting to ‘who done it’ is priceless.”
The sleuths also were exposed to fields of study at the Sarasota-Manatee campus that some of the younger participants might want to pursue as they consider their college plans, dovetailing with UnidosNow’s mission of creating education opportunities for Hispanic youth.
Using what they learned, investigators determined the culprit responsible for the destruction of Manny the monkey was not the cat but a 1-year-old, 10-pound terrier mix named Rudy.
Organizer Victoria Ramirez, manager of the USF Sarasota-Manatee campus labs at Mote Marine, said participants gave the program high marks on feedback forms.
"We asked for suggestions and the most common response was, ‘Nothing,’ it was perfect and we should do it monthly!” Ramirez said. “We accomplished what we set out to do and then some: Inspiring kids to learn more about science.”