Entrance: 2021

Leah Vanderbush

B.S in Anthropology, Minor in Forensic Anthropology
Middle Tennessee State University, Tennessee

My passion for the field of Forensic Anthropology began when I took my first Osteology course at Middle Tennessee State University, where I received my B.S in Anthropology with a minor in Forensic Anthropology. During this time, I discovered the Forensic Anthropology Search and Recovery Team, led by Dr. Hugh Berryman. D-ABFA, and Dr. Tiffany Saul. I have them to thank for all my knowledge and training I acquired during my last three years of undergrad. With this team, I was allowed to work alongside Dr. Berryman and Dr. Saul out on scenes, where I learned things like surface scatters, burials, and line searches. Also, during this time, I was volunteering in the MTSU Archaeology lab completing skeletal inventories for Dr. Shannon Hodge, whom I thank for my training in Human Osteology. I chose to study abroad for my field school requirement towards my minor. I was an intern for the Blackfriary Archaeology Field School in Trim, Ireland. I spent 8 weeks training with well-certified Archaeologists in things such as mapping, total station, surveying, preservation of artifacts, sifting, and much more. As time went on, my passion for the field grew stronger. After graduating with my B.S degree, I took a two year hiatus working with the Office of the State Chief Medical Examiner in Nashville, Tennessee. I worked as a data abstractor for the office, abstracting data from counties all over the state. With this job, I was able to make connections with board certified medicolegal death investigators. My current research interests include Forensic Taphonomy, 3D scanning, Post-Mortem Interval, and methods for field investigations. Furthermore, I would like to pursue board certification as a medicolegal death investigator or a field related career in Forensic Anthropology.

leah vanderbush

Savannah Holcombe

B.S. in Anthropology, Minor in African and African American Studies 
Michigan State University, Michigan

I first discovered my passion for forensic anthropology when I was a Junior in high school; I had taken a forensic science course as an elective and was immediately fascinated by the role of the anthropologist within forensic investigations. In order to pursue that career, I accepted admission to Michigan State University, where I earned my B.Sc. with honors in Anthropology with a minor in African and African American Studies. While I was an undergraduate at MSU, I reached out to Assistant professor and board-certified forensic anthropologist Dr. Joe Hefner and was able to arrange weekly times where I could come into the forensic anthropology laboratory and volunteer time to sorting, siding, and cataloguing boxes upon boxes full of old skeletal material that was used and donated by one of the medical colleges. Never having taken an osteology course before, I spent a lot of time looking at the bone and comparing it to that of the hanging teaching skeleton that sat with me in the lab, in order to learn skeletal anatomy. When I was a Junior at MSU, I was awarded as the Dean’s Assistant for the College of Social science, which allowed me to work with Dr. Hefner and Ph.D. candidate Micayla Spiros on research surrounding the use of geometric morphometric methods when estimating sex of the human scapula. I presented my research project in the form of a digital poster presentation at the University Undergraduate Research and Arts Forum, where my project won a first-place award in the Anthropology section. After graduating from MSU, I knew I wanted to continue my education and pursue my master’s degree in forensic anthropology. I am here at Mercyhurst to gain field experience and professional knowledge in an immersive, fast-paced environment. After graduating from the program, I plan to pursue my Ph.D. in forensic anthropology, and eventually achieve board-certification. I would like to ultimately work with a combination of academia & research, field/case-work, and humanitarian efforts. My research interests are broad, but lie particularly with estimating the biological profile, especially ancestry, trauma analysis, and taphonomy.

savannah holcombe

Sheana Ramcharan

B.S. in Forensic Chemistry, B.A. in Anthropology, Minor in Forensic Anthropology 
SUNY Buffalo State College, New York

I’m originally from Suwanee, GA and moved to Buffalo, NY for both of my undergraduate degrees. I graduated summa cum laude from SUNY Buffalo State College as a dual-degree student in Forensic Chemistry and Anthropology with a minor in Forensic Anthropology. During my undergrad, I conducted 2 research projects and an Honors Thesis. My first research project was conducted at The Buffalo Zoo studying the pair bonded relationship in Golden Lion Tamarins which was presented at the SUNY Student Research and Creativity Convention in Spring 2020. My second research project was conducted using records from Forest Lawn Cemetery in Buffalo, NY examining the relationship between marital status and causes of death in adult males and was presented at the SUNY Student Research and Creativity Convention in Spring 2021 and at the Regional Science Consortium in Fall 2021. My Honors Thesis was creating biological profiles for 10 human skeletal remains in the SUNY Buffalo State College Anthropology collection. I completed my undergraduate internship at Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center (ranked 14th nationally) in the Molecular and Cellular Biology department where I focused on Pancreatic Cancer research. All of these experiences led me to Mercyhurst University for my Master's of Science in Forensic and Biological Anthropology. In the future, I plan to pursue a PhD in anatomy or skeletal biology in order to become a Board-Certified Forensic Anthropologist. My research interests include Postmortem Interval (PMI), skeletal trauma, forensic drug analysis, and cancer biology. I would also like to work with Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA) in identifying missing in action soldiers.

sheana ramcharan

Jenna Mulrooney White

B.A. in Anthropology, Minor in Forensic Science
The University of Delaware, Delaware

I began my college career with an art conservation background at The University of Delaware. My undergraduate advisor Dr. Vicki Cassman helped guide me towards Anthropology, specifically Forensic Anthropology. For my capstone courses I completed a Biological Anthropology tutorial with research into the canine-premolar cutting complex of great ape and hominid lines, as well as an independent study in Forensic Taphonomy. My coursework with Dr. Cassman included investigating degradation of Chinchorro mummies in the museum of San Miguel de Azapa, Chile, where she worked towards enhancing preservation. During the summer before and after graduation I took several short courses to further supplement my education. My research interests currently lie in taphonomy and distinguishing clandestine burials. Upon completion of the Master’s program, I intend to work in the field as a medicolegal death investigator and ultimately obtain a Ph.D. in Forensic Anthropology.

jenna mulrooney white

Kaitlyn Schoonover

B.S. Biology, B.S. Applied Forensic Sciences, Concentration in Forensic Anthropology
Mercyhurst University

During my first four years at Mercyhurst, I worked to earn dual degrees, participated in the Honors Program, and studied abroad in Ireland. I also had the opportunity to work as a department work study, where I gained experience with our donated collections, processing both zooarchaeological and human remains, as well as having the opportunity to work as a summer fellow for the department, gaining administrative and casework experience. During my senior year, I completed a thesis entitled “Morphometric Comparison of Eight Small Animal Species of Long Bones to Juvenile Human Long Bones for the Purpose of Identification in a Forensic Context” in which I created dichotomous keys and a digital database that can allow people to distinguish between different species. I hope to expand this research in the future to include a wider variety of species. I work a lot with the Artec 3D Space Spider, a 3D scanner which enables us to create a permanent record of skeletal remains or other objects which is more detailed than photos. I worked alongside Dr. Dirkmaat and others to create a virtual osteology course so that others can learn osteology, even if they don’t have access to a physical osteological collection. My research interests include 3D scanning technologies and its use in a forensic setting, zooarchaeology, and human rights investigations.

kaitlyn schoonover

Colleen Krall

B.A. in Psychology, Minor in Classical History, B.S. in Applied Forensic Sciences, M.S. in Criminal Justice
Boston University, Mercyhurst University, University of Cincinnati

I completed my bachelor’s degree at Boston University, where my love of anatomy and biology led me to major in psychology with a focus on the interplay between neurophysiology and the complex psychological mechanisms of personality and development. With the intent of pursuing a career in behavioral analysis, I enlisted in the U.S. Army as a Human Intelligence Collector. During my four years in the Army, I had the opportunity to study Korean and immerse myself in the culture by traveling to Seoul. This experience broadened my passion from individual psychology to collective cultural and linguistic norms. I also completed my M.S. in criminal justice at the University of Cincinnati where I focused on biosocial criminology. The program culminated in a thesis on epigenetic mechanisms in development and the implementation of research driven community programs which decrease criminogenic risk factors by combatting systemic racism and the differential opportunities felt in lower socioeconomic communities through community stakeholder investment. After completing my enlistment in the Army, I decided to pursue a career in forensic anthropology, where I could continue to engage my love of anatomy while also working in the field and aiding in criminal investigations. This brought me to Mercyhurst University where I completed a second bachelor’s degree and am excited to continue my education with the master’s program. Upon completion of my master’s degree, I hope to pursue a Ph.D. in Neuropsychology or Cognitive Neuroscience to further deepen my understanding of cognitive development and the neurological and genetic mechanisms that underlie it. I also hope to work with human rights organizations both domestically and abroad.

colleen peters

Haley Roniger

B.S in Chemistry 
Lake Erie College, Ohio 

My collegiate journey started at Lake Erie College, a small private school in northeastern Ohio, where I earned my B.S. in Chemistry. While at Lake Erie College I was fortunate enough to secure an internship at the Lake County Crime Laboratory (OH) where I did research on fentanyl, fentanyl analogs, and Ohio’s Pharmacophore Rule which is currently state code. This internship allowed me to utilize a myriad of analytical instruments (GC/MS, HPLC, FTIR) and learn more about the innerworkings of a crime lab. This experience solidified my interest in the forensic sciences and is the major factor that pushed me to earn my M.S. in forensic toxicology from the University of Florida. While working toward my M.S. I worked as a QA/QC scientist at a medical marijuana cultivation facility where I could work with GC/MS and HPLC on a daily basis. Although most of my academic career has been devoted to chemistry and/or toxicology, I wanted to learn even more and extend my knowledge past the toxicological side and joining the Forensic and Biological Anthropology program at Mercyhurst was the way I wanted to do it!

haley roniger

Tempest D. Mellendorf

B.A. in Anthropology, Emphasis in Archaeology, Minor in Biology 
Northern Arizona University, Arizona 

I graduated in 2021 from Northern Arizona University where I earned my B.A. in Anthropology with an emphasis in Archaeology and a minor in biology. As an undergraduate, I traveled to San Ignacio, Belize to participate in an archaeological field school called the Belize Valley Archaeological Reconnaissance Project. I spent four weeks excavating at the Maya site of Xunantunich. This field school provided me with hands-on practical knowledge in conducting archaeological methods such as how to document an archaeological excavation unit, take site photographs, mapping, using datums points, how to graph and measure stratigraphic levels of a unit. I also completed an internship at the Coconino County Office of the Medical Examiner. Here, I shadowed and assisted medicolegal death investigators, forensic technicians, and forensic pathologists. As of now, my research interests include medicolegal death investigation and skeletal trauma analysis. I seek to first obtain my master’s degree in Forensic and Biological Anthropology at Mercyhurst University. Then I plan to apply to Ph.D. programs in Forensic Anthropology for a future career in a medical examiner’s office, Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA), or Disaster Mortuary Operational Response Team (DMORT).

tempest d. mellendorf

Allyson M. Simon

B.S. in Anthropological Sciences
The Ohio State University, Ohio

I graduated in 2020 with honors research distinction from The Ohio State University, where I earned my B.S. in Anthropological Sciences. I also completed a secondary major in English and minors in Forensic Science and Spanish. As an undergraduate, I was a part of two research projects examining how the age estimation methods used by researchers can affect reconstruction of past demography. With my research advisor Dr. Mark Hubbe, and Dr. Melissa Clark, we investigated the implications of applying different age estimation methods (Transition Analysis and traditional methods) to a prehistoric sample from Ohio. This project inspired my undergraduate thesis, which focused on whether the informative distributions for ancestry and sex used in Transition Analysis age estimation are accurate in the Hamann-Todd Collection. In addition to my research, I participated in the Blackfriary Archaeological Excavation of a medieval monastery in Trim, Ireland. This work gave me a new perspective on how the documentation procedures we use in the field are integral to the preservation of these artifacts and sites. I interned with Lyman Jellema in the Department of Physical Anthropology at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History for two summers. I assisted with the maintenance of the human skeletal collections and helped visiting researchers locate items and collect data. I also repaired a damaged classroom skeleton that was missing bones using 3D scanning and printing. My past experiences inspired me to pursue a master’s degree in Forensic and Biological Anthropology at Mercyhurst University. Following the completion of my master’s degree, I intend to earn my Ph.D. in biological anthropology.

allyson m. simon

Entrance: 2022

Dakota Bell

A.A. and B.S. in Forensic Chemistry, Minors in Biology, Criminal Justice and Forensic Science
LoneStar College – North Harris, Sam Houston State University, Texas

I started my college career at LoneStar College – North Harris in Houston, TX. I received the Honors Chancellor Fellows Scholarship that allowed me the opportunity to go to China twice for two-week periods and participate in regional honor conferences. I then transferred to Sam Houston State University in Huntsville, TX where I graduated summa cum laude with a Bachelor of Science in Forensic Chemistry with Honors. I was able to build up my foundation in both chemistry and biology, doing a small project in my microbiology class on the human microbiome. During my senior year at Sam Houston, I had the opportunity to volunteer at the Southeast Texas Applied Forensic Science Facility. There I was able to get hands on experience working with human bones and viewing the decomposition process. That is where my interest in forensic anthropology grew. My research interests include human skeletal variation, forensic taphonomy, trauma analysis, and mass disaster recoveries. I want to one day obtain my Ph.D. or my M.D.. However, until I accomplish that, and after I obtain my master's degree, I would like to work as a medicolegal death investigator.

dakota bell

Shelby Feirstein

B.A. in Anthropology, Minors in Forensics, Genetics, and French   
North Carolina State University, North Carolina   

My name is Shelby Feirstein, and I am a North Carolina State University alumna with a B.A in Anthropology and minors in forensics, genetics, and French. I achieved honors from the University Scholars and the Anthropology Honors programs. As an undergraduate I pursued internships in a variety of disciplines, ranging from crisis intervention programming to integrating climate resiliency at the federal level, all the way to medical technologies patent searching. I also volunteered as a researcher in NC State's Osteology lab where I gained hands-on experience processing and defleshing animal carcasses for the faunal teaching collection. In the summer of 2021, I attended a Forensic Anthropology Field Methods Short Course at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville where I honed skills in mapping, excavation, osteology, and surface remains and burial recovery in an outdoor context. In the summer of 2022, I lived in Cyprus for five weeks partaking in an archaeological field school at the prehistoric site of Makounta-Voules in the Troodos Mountains. This experience helped to develop my archaeological field methods, including setting up trenches, excavating, mapping, using datum points, and documenting stratigraphic layers of trenches. All these experiences have not only advanced my understanding of professional etiquette and expanded my technical abilities but solidified that I am on the right path. Now here I am at Mercyhurst University with the opportunity to work toward a career in forensic anthropology with a focus on disaster management and human rights.   

shelby feirstein

Elizabeth ‘Libby’ Hagan

B.A. in Anthropology
University of Louisville, Kentucky 

I graduated with honors from the University of Louisville, where I earned my B.A. in Anthropology with a concentration in Forensic Anthropology. At the start of my undergraduate experience, anthropology was the furthest thing from my mind. I was a biology major with aspirations for medical school; however, after my first anthropology lecture, I was hooked. I changed my major to anthropology and never looked back. As an undergraduate, I explored courses and topics related to cultural and biological anthropology as well as archaeology, but it soon became clear that forensic anthropology was my passion. While at UofL, I was fortunate to travel with my department to Mira de Aire, Portugal, where we excavated hundreds of archaeological elements and analyzed the Neanderthal presence. Additionally, I began volunteering with the Center for Archaeology and Cultural Heritage (CACHe), where I assisted with the morphoscopic analysis and assessment of the university’s skeletal collection to effectively cross reference individuals within the collection with historical burial records. Similarly, I assisted with the creation of skeletal inventories, biological profiles, and culminating forensic case reports for both the university collection and indigenous remains that we are actively working to repatriate. My education, training, and experience have prepared me for an advanced degree in forensic anthropology from Mercyhurst University.  

elizabeth hagan

Cheyenne Hindman

B.S. in Forensic Science, Concentration in Anthropology
Mercyhurst University

I completed my freshman year of college at Mercyhurst North East with honors, but I still felt lost because I had no idea what I wanted to major in. I transferred to Mercyhurst Main Campus my sophomore year after I heard how great the Forensics program was. I was also an athlete so learning how to manage time with a challenging major while playing a sport was very humbling, but I was able to learn what I was passionate about outside of athletics. During my undergraduate here I was able to gain the hands-on experiences by being in our bone lab and attending processing’s when I was available. Outside of Mercyhurst I was able to observe a few autopsies in counties closer to my home in Slippery Rock PA. I have a strong interest in osteology, and I am looking forward to learning more about this topic and others such as taphonomy and archaeology. I have done a lot of in country traveling throughout my life and I hope to continue my travels within and without of the U.S. while hopefully pursuing a career in death investigation.

cheyenne hindman

Kylee Kilzer

B.S. in Applied Forensic Sciences, Concentration in Forensic Anthropology, Minor in Psychology of Crime and Justice
Mercyhurst University

During my undergraduate career at Mercyhurst, I completed research on:  Social justice issues in mass fatality incidents; Mass graves during the Holocaust; and Human Trafficking causes and prevention. I also provided research assistance to Graduated students on the potential effects of allometry of morphoscopic ancestry estimation. Having the opportunity to work as a department work study, I gained experience working in recovery scenes, processing human and zooarchaeological remains, and analyzing and cataloging our donated collection. As a Mercyhurst Summer Fellow within the Forensic Science department, I was a part of the team gaining case experience and processing knowledge. Utilizing the Mercyhurst Study Abroad Program, I traveled to Greece. My research interests include mass fatality incidents, human rights, and human identification.

kylee kilzer

Emily Kachelhofer

B.S. in Biology, B.A. in Anthropology
Birmingham-Southern College, University of Alabama at Birmingham, Alabama

I earned my first bachelor’s degree in Biology from Birmingham-Southern College in Birmingham, Alabama. I discovered my love for anthropology during a trip to South Africa with my professor, Dr. Jason Heaton, in 2019. We worked at the Swartkrans and Sterkfontein archeological sites outside of Johannesburg and studied Australopithecus africanus fossilized remains. I went on to get a second bachelor’s from the University of Alabama at Birmingham, and I graduated in 2022 with a degree in Anthropology. During the summer of 2022, I participated in a field school through ArchaeoTek in Canada. I took a month-long course in Romania that focused on juvenile osteology within the context of the Székelys people of medieval Transylvania. My professor, Dr. Jonathan Bethard, introduced me to fragmentary osteology and the ability to determine as much as possible about an individual through their bones. After graduating from Mercyhurst University, I hope to use my master’s degree to work towards victim identification in a human rights and forensic context.   

emily kachelhofer

Caroline Knowlton

B.S. in Anthropology, Minor in Museum Studies and Dance   
Texas A&M University, Texas

While I have always been interested in archaeology and science, it was during my first year at Texas A&M University that I was introduced to forensic anthropology in an introductory biological anthropology course and discovered my love for the field. I focused on classes in human osteology and paleopathology during undergrad and earned my B.S. in Anthropology from A&M in 2021. The summer after my first year of undergrad I attended a week-long course in forensic anthropology with the Irish Archaeology Field School (IAFS). I was fortunate to return to IAFS as an intern for the Discovering St. Aidan’s Monastery field school in Ferns, Ireland, and the next summer field season as a teaching assistant. During my time in Ireland, I gained experience with excavation techniques, site documentation, and post-excavation artifact processing and attended many lectures on osteology and bioarchaeology. My research interests broadly include biological profile estimation techniques and forensic taphonomy. After I obtain my master’s from Mercyhurst, I’m interested in working in medicolegal death investigation and/or with human rights organizations.  

caroline knowlton

Dorothy ‘Dorrie’ Missimer

B.A. in Criminal Justice, Concentration in Forensic Investigation, Minor in Anthropology     
Stockton University, New Jersey

I have always had an interest in the criminal justice system and forensics. I took my first Forensic class in high school and started my college career at Camden County College. It was there that I attended my first osteology course. Although I knew I wanted a career in forensics, learning about anthropology and osteology in this class cemented that I wanted to specialize in forensic anthropology. I transferred to Stockton University and continued to study forensics and discovered an interest in Medico-Legal Death Investigation. I concentrated on forensic anthropology through an independent study in metric and non-metric methods of identifying sex and ancestry in skulls. I received a B.A in Criminal Justice with a concentration in Forensic Investigation and a minor in Anthropology. After graduation I attended a HD Forensics course at Mercyhurst. Attending this course made me realize I wanted to pursue a master’s degree at Mercyhurst. I would like to have a career in Medico-Legal Death Investigation as well as use my knowledge in forensic anthropology to do some humanitarian work.  

dorothy missimer

Hannah Skropits

B.S. in Forensic Science, Specialization in Forensic Chemistry, Minor in Chemistry     
Bowling Green State University, Ohio

Before starting college, I became interested in forensic anthropology from watching the TV show Bones. My family encouraged me to explore my interest in order to better understand what the field of forensic anthropology was. While I was still in high school, I was presented with an opportunity to shadow Dr. Dirkmaat and his graduate students from Mercyhurst as they worked to recover a set of human remains that were found in my hometown. This experience solidified my interest in forensic anthropology. After high school, I attended Bowling Green State University where I received my bachelor’s degree in Forensic Science with a Specialization in Forensic Chemistry. Even though my bachelor’s degree was not in forensic anthropology, I remained interested in the field and stayed in contact with Dr. Dirkmaat and had another opportunity to shadow him on an outdoor crime scene recovery. After graduating with my bachelor’s degree, I knew I wanted to study forensic anthropology, which brought me to Mercyhurst. My current research interests include forensic taphonomy and post-mortem interval. I hope to pursue a career in medicolegal death investigation upon receiving my master’s degree.  

hannah skroptis