Steven O'Dell, a graduate of the Department of Justice Sciences' Forensic Science graduate program
, is chief of the Forensic Sciences and Evidence Management Division of the Baltimore Police Department.
Degree and graduation year
Master of Science in Forensic Science
Current employer and job
Chief of the Forensic Sciences and Evidence Management Division, Baltimore Police Department
Greatest professional accomplishments?
I’m not sure I’ve had one “greatest” professional accomplishment just yet. I have been fortunate to be able to participate in cases that have freed the innocent from prison, and that is a great feeling. My work has also ensured justice for victims a number of times. The outcomes as they relate to serving the community are hard to rank in this field as they are all so profoundly impactful. I was among the most accomplished advisors in Iraq in my programs and made some real substantive changes in my three years there. That was an incredible experience.
During my time at the Baltimore Police Department (BPD), I was at the helm when we were able to achieve some noteworthy accomplishments, including International Accreditation to ISO/IEC 17025 and 17020 standards (one of very few departments to hold both). The Crime Lab, which reports to me, is also one of the most diverse in the United States. I label that as an accomplishment since I have hired no less than 30 of the 110+ current employees over the last couple years. I was also recently awarded the International Association of Chiefs of Police “40 under 40” award for leadership, which has only a few civilian recipients. Among the highest ranked civilians at BPD, which is one of the top ten largest municipal police departments in the country, I think I can claim that as a major accomplishment too!
What first attracted you to UAB?
At the time (1999) there were very few graduate programs in forensic science. UAB was the one of the oldest, if not the oldest, programs in the country. It was therefore well established, had three dedicated full-time Pprofessors, had practitioners as adjuncts, and had an excellent working relationship with the Alabama Department of Forensic Sciences (ADFS). The relationship was unique among the other programs that were available. UAB also had a great placement record that stood out at the time among its peers, and was well known overall. The program was extremely competitive, which was a draw for me, the class schedule was flexible, and, most importantly, it was fundamentally rooted in the “hard” sciences. This was key for me.
How has your experiences at UAB helped you in your professional/personal life?
My experiences at UAB formed the foundation from which I was able to grow professionally. The cooperative program between UAB and the ADFS, which allowed me to work with scientists in their CODIS unit, was exceptional. This unique opportunity was how I was able to make the necessary contacts to launch my career into forensics. The talent and breadth of knowledge I was exposed to while at the ADFS was outstanding and critical to my future. I received a well-rounded education that exposed me to all the necessary areas of forensic science and graduate level studies.
What is your favorite UAB memory/moment?
My favorite memory was the graduation ceremony and the feeling of accomplishment that came with that day — knowing that I was about to step into the “real” world and being confident that my time at UAB had prepared me for what I would face was without compare.
What advice do you have for current students who want to make the most out of their experience at UAB?
I would advise current students to get involved! So many people think that they can just get a job and focus singularly on work. Start when you are in school and make it a habit that you continue in your working life. Join professional or student organizations, attend conferences, conduct research, give talks/presentations, and tap into the network you are creating when you do these things. You will be surprised how often an old friend, mentor, or co-worker recommends me for something from my time at UAB and beyond. Don’t think you’re too busy to take on these things! I teach dozens of classes, am in school pursuing another degree, have a family, and STILL manage to get it all done. The benefits to your career in the long run are immeasurable. Get out there!SaveSaveSave