Mercyhurst takes forensic anthropology expertise to graduate level

It may not quite be as glamorous as CBS’s hit television show, CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, makes it look, but forensic anthropology has become a burgeoning field as law enforcement experts realize the advantage of having specially trained scientists decipher crime scenes. The addition this fall of a master of science in forensic and biological anthropology at Mercyhurst College in Erie, Pa., will allow anthropology and criminal justice students to take their forensic training to the next level.

“With the creation of this program we hope to produce some of the most competent, experienced and academically well-rounded students of forensic anthropology in the world,” said Dennis Dirkmaat, Ph.D., D.A.B.F.A., associate professor of anthropology and director of both the undergraduate and graduate forensic anthropology programs at Mercyhurst. “But we also want to revitalize the field by redefining the discipline to include both the in-depth study of human bones as well as the proper archaeological recovery of those remains.”

The new master’s program is built on the foundation of the successful and well-respected undergraduate and post-baccalaureate forensic anthropology programs in place within the Mercyhurst anthropology department since 1991, and the highly popular forensic science undergraduate degree launched in summer 2002.

The undergraduate forensics program represents the first truly multidisciplinary major at Mercyhurst, and includes courses in anthropology, biology, chemistry, physics, geology and mathematics, all arranged around four concentrations: forensic anthropology, criminalistics, forensic wildlife investigation, and forensic chemistry.

By adding this master’s program, the first in the country to focus primarily on a comprehensive basic training regimen in the combined fields of forensic and biological anthropology, Mercyhurst will take its undergraduate and post-baccalaureate programs one major step farther. Students will focus on state-of-the-art analytical techniques used in the forensic anthropology laboratory and develop expertise in crime scene recovery methodologies, skills acquired through both rigorous classroom learning experiences and significant hands-on opportunities in the field and in the laboratory.

“Graduates of our program will possess a combination of skills in this discipline unmatched by graduates of any other academic institution. Their academic and experiential credentials will serve them well in either the pursuit of a higher academic degree, or make them extremely desirable to law enforcement agencies at all levels of government,” said Dirkmaat.

Most graduates of this master’s program will continue in a doctoral program within the disciplines of forensic anthropology, biological anthropology, criminal justice or forensic sciences. Others will utilize their degree with local, state or federal agencies that handle crime scenes. 

For more on the Mercyhurst Archaeological Institute and the forensic science programs, visit

Mercyhurst launched its graduate program offerings in 1978 with a master of science in administration of justice, followed by a master of science in special education (1982), and a master of science in organizational leadership (1998). Also added this fall is the master of science in applied intelligence, which was approved by the state board of education in June 2004.

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