Thus Spake Zuska

Professor of the Year Donna C. Boyd

Congratulations to Donna C. Boyd, professor of forensic anthropology at Radford University! She is one of four professors (and the only woman) to be honored as Professor of the Year for 2006 by the Council for Advancement and Support of Education and the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. Professor Boyd was quoted in the Chronicle of Higher Education announcement of the award as follows:

“When you have unrecognizable human remains, our job is to try to identify it. Media depictions of forensic anthropology, like CSI and Bones, are a double-edged sword. They have brought in a lot more students — more than I can handle. But the downside is they have some unrealistic expectations. They’re expecting DNA evidence to be done in an hour or two; in reality it’s six months to a year. They’re expecting everything to be resolved, when in fact, a whole lot of cases aren’t — a lot of my cases are still in the medical examiner’s office after all these years; we don’t know who they are. Also there’s this feeling that it’s a glamorous occupation. It’s not, and it’s difficult. To do forensic anthropology, you have to get an advanced degree.

“The No. 1 goal is to make what you’re teaching real to students. So I try to show students how the science can be applied to real-life situations. I teach them in the lab with real human bones and fragments. I take them out into the field on real cases. I try to give them multiple hands-on opportunities. We do mock crime scenes outside. We also do real fires and disasters like plane crashes.

“Students start off the course not knowing any bones — nothing. Each student starts with a box with most of the 206 bones of an adult person. I’ll say: Your project is to identify this person by the end of the semester — their sex, size, age, race, and maybe how they died.

“The dead are speaking to us.”

It may not be glamorous; it may be difficult. But she sure does make it sound fascinating, doesn’t she?