Catherine Hefner ‘16

Forensic and Investigative Science

“I could have dealt with my experience in many different ways, but the path I chose was more rewarding.”

Picture a maturing adolescent striving to uncover her calling in life when she falls victim to a violent crime. For Catherine Hefner, this defining moment gave her two options – give up or fight for justice.

Now a junior at WVU, Hefner, used this unfortunate experience as a calling in driving her goal of becoming a passionate and ethical public servant through forensic science. It spiraled her decision not to sit back, but to study a career.

“I could have dealt with my experience in many different ways, but the path I chose was more rewarding,” said Heffner. “I have always felt comfort with finding justice and I think it is a great part of living in this country.”

Hefner was guided through the event by the American justice system, which she says resulted in a fair trial and justice. Although this experience has left permanent scars on her life, she knew it was her mission to make a change in the nation and world.

While enrolled in Pocahontas County High School, Hefner shadowed a law enforcement officer who suggested forensic science as a major.

Hefner was intrigued when she discovered forensic science can be used to answer many questions that arise in the criminal justice system. Stemming from her admiration of forensic science used as methodology during trials, Hefner realized it was her calling to pursue a professional career in the justice system.

This desire to make a change in forensic science lead Hefner to be selected as a Ronald E. McNair Post-baccalaureate Achievement Program Scholar, which is a TRiO program funded by the U.S. Department of Education.

The WVU McNair Scholars Program is a grant competition that serves first-generation, low-income, and underrepresented participants in preparation for doctoral studies through involvement in research and other scholarly activities.

As a WVU McNair Scholar, Hefner’s research focuses on the field of ballistics mentored by Forensic and Investigative Science Director and Associate Professor, Dr. Keith Morris. This research allows for advanced experiences that other forensic science field programs do not offer to students.

While conducting her study, Using Likelihood Ratios for Source Attributions of Glock Model 21 Fired Cartridge Cases, Hefner used statistical analysis to interpret impressions of cartridge cases.

“The McNair Scholars Program has allowed me to gain experience with research in an area that is not offered to undergraduates,” said Hefner. “Dr. Morris has been a tremendous support and has taken time out of his own career to help me as a mentee in order to complete my research project.”

Hefner has used her WVU McNair Scholar research experience when presenting proposals and posters at symposiums and conferences in various national locations, which allowed her to network with others in the field who have similar interests.

“Being a McNair Scholar is more than what meets the eye,” said Hefner. “Not only have I been exposed to professional development strategies, but I am motivated to succeed because this program is my second family.”

This summer Hefner will be an intern at Prince George’s County Police Department where she will be working with the crime scene unit gaining hands-on experience.

Hefner is aspires to graduate with a doctoral degree and to become a special agent for the Federal Bureau of Investigation. She would like to serve others and her country through forensic practices and research. After her career as an agent, Hefner intends on bringing her experience back to academia as a forensic science professor helping to advance the field.

“My dad always stressed the importance of happiness and finding happiness,” said Hefner. “This career path of learning and strengthening ethical practices in forensics through research fulfills my happiness.”