Seven people sitting at a table with five people at the other end of the room standing up
Students in the FBI Richmond STEM Collegiate Academy at VCU participated in roundtable and hands-on exercises, as well as one-on-one conversations with FBI representatives. (Contributed photo)

VCU and the Richmond FBI Field Office partner for inaugural FBI Richmond STEM Collegiate Academy

Students enjoy the opportunity to learn more about the FBI and career opportunities within the bureau.

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Jessemia Meekins made a pact with herself not to pass up opportunities that came her way while studying at Virginia Commonwealth University. That’s why she wanted to participate in the inaugural FBI Richmond STEM Collegiate Academy at VCU in the Department of Forensic Science.

“Having the chance to learn from and listen to professionals in the field of forensic science wasn’t something I would ever give up,” said Meekins, a junior and member of the VCU Honors College, majoring in forensic science through the College of Humanities & Sciences. “Plus, my middle school self who grew up watching all of the fictional TV shows of forensic science couldn’t give up the dream to be face to face with somebody who actually lives that dream of mine every day.” 

The FBI Richmond STEM Collegiate Academy at VCU, held this year from Oct. 18 to Nov. 8, was the first FBI-sponsored collegiate academy in the United States with a science, technology, engineering and math focus. The event was hosted by VCU's Department of Forensic Science.

“That STEM focus was very forward thinking of the Richmond FBI Field Office,” said Tracey Dawson Green, Ph.D., professor and chair of the Department of Forensic Science. “They understand the role scientists play in their bureau. They have scientists in many different roles across the bureau. They knew there was a push for hiring STEM graduates, and they came to us for that purpose. We are really happy about that.”

Students learn what FBI career opportunities would be a good fit

The academy helps expose students to the diversity of roles within the FBI.

“Of the 34,000 employees at the FBI, only about 11,500 are agents,” said Stanley Meador, special agent in charge of the FBI’s Richmond office. “Other roles range from a lab technician to an intel specialist. Folks don’t know about the various positions. We want to educate them on how to pursue these career paths.”

During the first week of the four-week academy, students received information about opportunities at the FBI for both postgraduate programs and student internships.

Five people standing in a semi-circle around a woman talking
Fifty students, including both undergraduates and graduates, attended the FBI Richmond STEM Collegiate Academy at VCU. (Contributed photo)


“Another really fascinating portion of the academy was that we learned about different high-profile cases that we see in the media that were worked on by the people talking to us,” Meekins said. “Hearing the different techniques and ideas that they generated to further a case along was really inspiring because they started in a similar place as I am now. They got to testify on some amazing cases.” 

One of the misconceptions about the bureau is its size, Meador said.

“People are shocked that the New York Police Department is larger. They have 35,000 employees, 1,000 more than we have. We do have 56 field offices and 84 international offices, but we are not as big as most people would think we are,” Meador said.

Students enjoy the interactive learning environment

Fifty students, half of them undergraduates majoring in forensic science and half seeking master’s degrees in that program, attended the VCU academy.

Each evening, students had the opportunity to participate in roundtable or hands-on exercises. They also engaged in one-on-one conversations with FBI representatives.

“We want to be as impactful as possible with our community,” Meador said. “VCU was an opportunity to move that ball forward on the collegiate side."

Meekins enjoyed hearing from the FBI Evidence Response Team.

“I liked seeing the different technologies in real time,” she said. “The last few weeks were my favorite because we learned more about laboratory work and some of the different cases the agents in the room had been a part of.”

Elkin Howard, a first-year graduate student pursuing a master’s in forensic science with a concentration in forensic chemistry/trace evidence, has always been interested in the FBI.

“I participated in the FBI Richmond Collegiate Academy because since high school my ultimate goal has been to work for the FBI as a forensic scientist, so I took this as a golden opportunity to learn firsthand about what the FBI has to offer and what I can do to become a stronger applicant,” he said.

The mission of the FBI resonates with Howard.

“It is the same as the oath I swore as a commissioned U.S. Army officer to protect this country and its citizens. But the difference is they protect primarily from the inside, and I would be able to spend more time with my family while still being a part of something larger than myself if I worked for the FBI,” he said.

Now that he has attended the program, Howard has expanded his interests into working at the Terrorist Explosive Device Analytical Center (TEDAC) Lab or in the Chemical Biological Countermeasures Unit, he said.

A woman standing next to a screen giving a presentation to a room full of people
The FBI Richmond STEM Collegiate Academy at VCU exposed students to the diversity of roles within the FBI. (Contributed photo)

“They offer opportunities for forensic examination that I can definitely see myself doing,” Howard said. “The science behind law enforcement excites me, which is why I am where I am today and look forward to beginning my career, wherever it leads me.”

He urges STEM majors to participate in the next academy. Dawson Green plans to work with FBI Richmond to identify another date for a future class.

“The program opened my eyes to the possibilities of working in a tight-knit organization of people with a passion for protecting us and the expertise and technology to go along with it. It also made me aware of growing threats, namely to intellectual property, that affect all of us here at VCU, a research-driven institution,” Howard said.    

Meekins sums up the academy as a great experience.

“Not only was it really cool to hear and learn about topics and instruments and tools we learn about in class put into practice, but it also gave us the opportunity to see how they put the concepts and instrumentation into practice in casework,” Meekins said. “It was so gratifying to know that my classes were really applying to real-world situations.”

The academy was an overwhelming success, Dawson Green said.

“I feel optimistic this would be the first of several events that FBI Richmond partners with VCU for,” she said. “I hope this is a good start to a long-term relationship. We feel it’s very beneficial for the students and the entire department.”