Practical experiences prepare criminal justice students for their careers

An actor in lifelike moulage makeup filled Emergency Management students in on the circumstances surrounding a simulated tularemia outbreak.

Students in two Radford University Department of Criminal Justice classes had unique opportunities to get some hands-on experience in their field without ever leaving campus.

On March 24, students in Emergency Management conducted a mock “biosecurity” crisis simulation in Heth Hall.

During the simulated exercise, students investigated a hypothetical biohazard: an outbreak of tularemia, a contagious bacterial infection. They first interviewed actors using moulage makeup to appear as infected individuals. From there they determined how the outbreak began and developed a suitable response plan.

About 50 people participated in this exercise. The students and actors were joined by professional representatives from local police and health departments.

Students in the course have studied the core concepts of incident command and response this semester.

“We are testing for the ability to successfully design a response structure that will address all of the issues that this scenario brings to the table in as efficient and timely manner as possible,” said Stephen Owen, course instructor and professor and chair of the Department of Criminal Justice.


During a break in the action, students discussed how to respond to and control the hypothetical tularemia outbreak.

Heth Hall was a flurry of activity as students tried to get their calls right. They were charged by Owen and the professional advisors to use the exercise to expand their knowledge further beyond the desk and textbook.

“I think it gives us more experience,” said student Allyson Yates. “There are a lot more people involved in a situation like this, or even a smaller situation, when you need to figure things out.”

The next week, students enrolled in Criminal Investigation Theory arrived in the Hurlburt Student Center and were confronted with a murdered mannequin, a “bloody” weapon, strewn papers and a giant stuffed rabbit.

Although the March 31 scene was a fake, it took some students a moment to wrap their heads around it. After that, however, it was time to get down to business. Working in teams, they took turns photographing, measuring, cataloguing and collecting every piece of evidence in the room.

Students carefully cataloged and collected evidence during the Burke's mock crime scene.

 “The importance of this is that students get to integrate the theory with the practice,” said Tod Burke, class instructor and professor of criminal justice. “What they learned in the classroom they’re now going to apply.”

Burke puts his students through several practicums in a given semester, but the mock crime scene remains a perennial favorite for students and professional first responders who volunteer their time to offer assistance and advice.

With several teams of students going in and out of the room and handling the evidence, it is important to have a clear chain of command. Sophomore criminal justice major Patrice Malone volunteered to head up that chain and act as the “chief” for the investigation.

“The crime scene TV shows don’t really show you that much, but this gives us the hands-on feel of what we need to do and at what time in the investigation,” Malone said.

Although mistakes were made – better to do it in class than on an actual crime scene, according to Burke and participating professionals – the students were able to maintain a decent hold on the investigation process.

Owen and Burke are just two of the 14 full-time faculty members who are dedicated to incorporating practical experiences into the academic environment. Faculty members are routinely recognized for excellence in teaching, research and university service.  In addition, faculty members publish books and articles, make presentations at national conferences, provide expert testimony, and work with the local criminal justice community.

The department makes numerous opportunities available to students. Students may participate in a variety of student organizations, complete an internship program and participate in other activities sponsored by the department.  The department also offers travel study programs and sponsors a variety of special events, including Criminal Justice Month and guest speakers. 


Tyler Golden uses a tape measure as Lauren Robinson prepares to measure the distance from part of the victim as they collect information at a mock crime scene in Hurlburt Student Center.

Apr 1, 2016
Lisa Sheffer / Dan Waidelich