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Applied Forensic Sciences

The Mercyhurst University Department of Applied Forensic Sciences offers a multi-disciplinary major dedicated to educating students in matters related to science, forensic science, society and the law. Students receive a solid natural science education, bolstered by the thematic forensic science courses. The program advances the student’s knowledge of science-based forensic fields of study by advocating critical thinking and problem-solving skills. Classroom learning is strengthened by strong, hands-on components of many courses. The Applied Forensic Sciences Department stresses the importance of reasonable and ethical behavior in regard to the field of forensic science to all members of the department: faculty, staff and students.

The Applied Forensic Sciences Department includes an Undergraduate Bachelor of Sciences Degree program as well as a Graduate Certificate program and a Master of Science in Anthropology program which have a primary focus on Forensic and Biological Anthropology. Both the undergraduate and graduate programs present state-of-the-art techniques in forensic sciences and forensic biological anthropology in the classroom, and provide a variety of practical, hands-on opportunities both in the field and in the laboratory.


The development of the undergraduate Applied Forensic Sciences Program represents the first truly multidisciplinary major at Mercyhurst that incorporates the major natural sciences (biology, chemistry, physics) and mathematics within the core curriculum. The program includes four concentrations:

  • Forensic Anthropology
  • Criminalistics/ Forensic Biology
  • Forensic Chemistry
  • Investigative Forensics

The Mercyhurst core curriculum is enhanced by these four specialized concentrations which meet student interests while reflecting the changing face of forensic science.



The Master of Science in Anthropology is a two to three year intensive and immersive program that includes three primary tracks:

  • Forensic and Biological Anthropology
  • Archaeology
  • Geoarchaeology

The Forensic and Biological Anthropology concentration focuses on:

  • Archaeological recovery of outdoor crime scenes
  • Comprehensive analysis of human skeletal remains in the laboratory
  • High end statistical analysis and interpretation of the biological significance of those remains

Graduate courses prepare students for the application of Forensic Anthropology to real life cases. Students play a major role in processing real forensic cases under the direction of department professors Dr. Dirkmaat, Dr. Garvin, Professor Cabo-Perez, and Dr. Altes. Graduate students are involved in all phases of the cases—from initial recovery and documentation in the field to processing, photographing, and analyzing the remains in the laboratory.


Graduate Certificate

The curriculum of the new Graduate Certificate Program is based on Mercyhurst’s faculty experience with their successful Masters of Science Program in Forensic and Biological Anthropology. In particular, the Graduate Certificate Program in Forensic and Biological Anthropology is aimed at addressing the most common training gaps and needs observed among the applicants to those programs. For example, students with strong backgrounds in archaeology, may need to improve their training in osteology or quantitative skills, and vice versa.

To complete the Graduate Certificate program, students will construct their own curriculum for the school year according to their research interests to meet a minimum 5-course requirement. Courses will run from late August to late May with the option to stay on during the summer to provide help with cases, complete summer courses, and/or conduct research.


Field Experience 

The Applied Forensic Science Department prides itself on being one of the only programs in the country with opportunities to work with real evidence and human remains. Students learn osteology from the department’s large collection of modern and archaeological human remains. Donated remains are processed in our autopsy-style lab and undergraduate students have the opportunity to help process remains along with the faculty and graduate students. In addition, students have the opportunity to practice their skills in a variety of areas. The department is constantly updating their zooarchaeological collection and students get the chance to take part in the processing of animal remains. Students also take part in crime scene processing classroom exercises and participate in practical labs through the department. These labs are designed to simulate real crime scenes and allow students to experience crime scene photography, blood spatter analysis, casting, and fingerprint identification and processing – just to name a few.


Cost and Career Information

In compliance with the “gainful employment” regulations under Title IV of the Higher Education Act, as amended, Mercyhurst is disclosing certain cost and career information to prospective students. You can view this information by clicking here.


Contact Us

Applied Forensic Sciences Department
Mercyhurst University
501 East 38th Street
Erie, PA 16546-0001


Dr. Dennis C. Dirkmaat, Ph.D., D-ABFA
Department Chair and Professor of Anthropology

Kathi Staaf
Administrative Assistant
Department of Applied Forensic Sciences
Office: Zurn 119A
Phone: (814) 824-3119
Fax: (814) 8243627

Note: If you are calling in regard to admission packets please contact Elizabeth Bross in Admissions (814) 824-3364



Dennis Dirkmaat
Ph.D., D.A.B.F.A
Director, Department of Applied Forensic Sciences, Master of Science in Anthropology: Forensic and Biological Anthropology Concentration, Forensic Anthropology Summer Short Course Programs
Office: Zurn 119A
Phone: (814) 824-2105

Heather Garvin
Assistant Professor
Office: Zurn 60
Phone: (814) 824-3953

Kristina Altes
Office: Zurn 60
Phone: (814) 824-3148

Luis Cabo-Perez
Director, Forensic and Bioarchaeology Laboratory, Director, Graduate Student Research, Department of Applied Forensic Sciences
Office: Zurn 119C
Phone: (814) 824-2981

Mr. Dennis Donovan
Adjunct Professor
Office: Zurn 64
Phone: (814) 824-2031