First-Hand Forensics

Like the fictional Dr. Indiana Jones—professor by day, international man of intrigue by night—Dr. Tom Jourdan leads a dual life. In May, you could find him at UCO’s Forensic Science Institute teaching a classroom full of students, but prior to that, he was jetting off to Amman, Jordan, to work on a project for INTERPOL, the International Criminal Police Organization. “Every trip means I come back with new material for my courses,” says Jourdan.

Dr. Jourdan

While completing his own degrees in business administration and chemistry (including specialties in biochemistry, organic chemistry and nuclear chemistry), Jourdan met FBI analysts working on projects using nuclear chemistry. Their work stayed with him. After a brief teaching stint, he realized that joining the FBI was a “natural evolution” for him. “I kept hearing in my head that old adage, ‘those who can, do; those who can’t, teach.’ I thought, ‘why not?’”

Dr. Tom JourdanAs an FBI field agent and laboratory examiner, Jourdan’s career took him around the world. His forensic chemistry background had him working on such high profile cases as the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, the Pan Am 103 bombing case out of Lockerbie, Scotland, the Oklahoma City Murrah Federal Building bombing, as well as the UNABOM case. After leaving fieldwork, he became the liaison between the FBI and the Department of Energy labs, a position that kept him traveling from coast to coast on a regular basis.

In March of 2006, Jourdan was approached by his boss at the FBI, Dr. Dwight Adams, a UCO and OU graduate. “Dr. Adams and then UCO President Webb had been discussing the formation of a forensic science institute at UCO. President Webb had a law enforcement background so this project made sense for him.” Jourdan was asked to come on to help develop the Institute—a request which came very near to his FBI retirement eligibility date. It felt as though he was being handed the perfect opportunity for a second career.

Jourdan went on to assist Dr. Adams in setting up the Forensic Science Institute, the first of its kind in Oklahoma. “Dr. Adams has a biology background and I have a chemistry background, so our disciplines did not intersect—between the two of us, we could cover all the topics necessary for the program.” Only one caveat was made by Jourdan before agreeing to work on this venture. “I agreed to be the assistant director but wanted to be a chemistry professor also.” This dual appointment was the first of its kind at UCO, but it was an important distinction for Jourdan. After years of field and lab work with the FBI, Jourdan was back full circle to the classroom.

One of a Kind

During his years with the FBI, Jourdan was responsible for selecting agents to hire, but those with only a criminal justice or forensic science background weren’t the ones who made the cut. He felt his agents needed to be more well-rounded in their knowledge. “Those without the second degree looked academically weak.” Jourdan discovered that Adams felt the same way about agents. “We asked ourselves, how can we make the kinds of people we wished we could have hired?”

To that end, the Forensic Science degree must be part of a double major, and can be coupled with any number of other disciplines. “A writer could couple it with an English degree. Couple it with a Funeral Services degree for a job as a coroner. Someone who wants to work in victim support could couple the forensic science degree with a sociology degree,” says Jourdan. Add biology for a job in DNA analysis or serology or an art degree to become a forensic artist. The possibilities are vast.

There are undergraduate and graduate programs available in the Forensic Science Institute. Says Jourdan, “many of our students find technical work with their undergraduate degrees—at places such as the Analytical Research Labs here in OKC, OSBI Laboratory, the FAA Laboratory, as well as the Medical Examiner’s office. We also have 93% placement rate from our graduate program,” which has very stringent enrollment criteria.

Real-World Training

Dr. Jourdan’s continued work as a consultant to both INTERPOL and the International Atomic Energy Agency means that his real-world experiences can be used to teach the next generation of forensic scientists. “Even though I’m retired from the FBI, I stay active in the atomic energy community,” says Jourdan. “Every project I work on involves some type of training for me,” training which is then brought back and informs future course work.

What’s next for UCO’s version of Indiana Jones? Next month, Dr. Jourdan is heading to Lima, Peru to work on a project with INTERPOL, and a trip to Cuba with the International Atomic Energy Agency planned for October. From there, it’s anyone’s guess.

Learn more about UCO’s Forensic Science Institute at www.uco.edu/forensics.

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