J. Frank Barefield, Jr. Department of Criminal Justice

  • Faculty and students bring home accolades from regional conference

    Three Blazers received honors during the 2022 SCJA conference that was held in Asheville, North Carolina.

  • Barefield makes transformative $10 million gift to UAB to bridge criminal justice, entrepreneurship for a better Birmingham

    A transformative gift to UAB from J. Frank Barefield, Jr. will help shape a more prosperous future for Birmingham and beyond.

  • UAB students selected for prestigious Gilman International Scholarship and Freeman-ASIA award

    Nine students were awarded a Gilman International Scholarship — the largest cohort from UAB.

  • UAB’s Pre-Law Program making an impact outside of the classroom

    Students who participate in the University of Alabama at Birmingham’s Pre-Law Program in the Department of Criminal Justice have access to pre-law advising, an academic minor, and activities designed to build pre-professional competencies, including legal research and critical thinking.

    Students who participate in the University of Alabama at Birmingham’s Pre-Law Program in the Department of Criminal Justice have access to pre-law advising, an academic minor, and activities designed to build pre-professional competencies, including legal research and critical thinking.

    UAB’s Pre-Law Program partnered with Redemption Earned, Inc. for the new Justice Equity Diversity and Inclusion (JEDI) Pre-Law Student Initiative. Clockwise from top left: Brandon Blankenship, Paul Littlejohn, Martha Earwood, Darrius Culpepper, Shae Thomas, Sue Bell Cobb.According to Brandon Blankenship, J.D., assistant professor in the Department of Criminal Justice and director of the Pre-Law Program, these skills—along with many others—consistently prove to be valuable when practicing law or working in careers in law. In addition to the core competencies, Blankenship also emphasizes community engagement and restorative leadership with his pre-law students.

    “[We’re] proactively building community,” said Blankenship.

    Engaging Students

    For Blankenship, community-building often begins with engaging middle and high school students in hands-on learning experiences.

    One of the longest-standing experiences available through the Pre-Law Program is Journey to Attorney, an innovative summer camp for rising high school juniors and seniors that includes mock mediation and mock trials. During the camp, UAB pre-law students support camp participants as they retry a historic case (the last camp focused on the Scottsboro Nine case). Attendees dig into the facts of the case and aim to achieve a just result—an effort that often requires 12-hour days and intensive preparation.

    As the students retry the case, they also examine ways in which they can restore justice in the community. The experience builds knowledge, relationships, and empathy, and, often, inspires participants to become life-long learners. Although the camp will not take place in Summer 2022, it will reemerge in Summer 2023.

    Along with engaging high school students in hands-on summer learning experiences, Blankenship and his team also find opportunities to reach students in classrooms. Megan Edwards, an AmeriCorps VISTA with the program, recently helped coordinate and facilitate a digital learning experience for middle school students in Shelby County for Law Day 2022.

    The American Bar Association (ABA) annually sponsors Law Day on May 1. According to the ABA, the program aims to celebrate the role of law in our society and to cultivate a deeper understanding of the legal profession. To support the mission of Law Day 2022, Edwards recruited judges and district attorneys from across the state of Alabama to record engaging video presentations for Shelby County students based on the following theme: “Toward a More Perfect Union: The Constitution in Times of Change.” Edwards also made the videos available to the Alabama State Bar, so the organization could share the content with schools outside of Shelby County.

    According to Blankenship, Judge Bill Bostick—the presiding judge on the Circuit 18 court in Shelby County—delivered one of the most compelling video presentations. Bostick shared insights with the students and also gave them a virtual tour of his courtroom. For Blankenship, this kind of exposure to the legal profession is a driving force behind the community engagement work of the pre-law program. And, based on the feedback he received from one of the teachers who shared the video presentation with her class, it’s working.

    "My 7th- and 8th-grade students thoroughly enjoyed the Law Day 2022 experience. The program was well produced and offered such a variety of speakers,” said Julie P. Kennedy, social studies teacher at Oak Mountain Middle School. “It was intriguing to hear from our county and state judges, attorneys, and state representative and the impact they have on the lives of our community. Hopefully, their words inspired my students to give back to their communities when they are older."


    Exposure can take other forms too. In the case of the newly-established Justice Equity Diversity and Inclusion (JEDI) Pre-Law Student Initiative, UAB students get the opportunity to develop competencies that will help them in law school, while also supporting community organizations and attorneys that have limited resources and staff. Blankenship developed the service-learning program in partnership with Brandon Wolfe, former Assistant Vice President for Campus and Community Engagement in UAB’s Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. The program is now managed by an undergraduate student, Parth Sharma, who is majoring in criminal justice and mathematics and serving a Fellowship in Restorative Justice and Leadership. The fellowship was made possible by the LifeCrafter Foundation, a strategic partner of the Pre-Law program that provides substantial support in the form of scholarships and AmeriCorps VISTAs.

    This past academic year, the JEDI program created an opportunity for Eshandae (“Shae”) Thomas—a pre-law student who is majoring in criminal justice and minoring in legal affairs—to work alongside Redemption Earned, Inc., a nonprofit organization that identifies, assists, and represents incarcerated individuals worthy of parole or work release. Sue Bell Cobb, former Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court, serves as the executive director of Redemption Earned, Inc. and sought out meaningful opportunities for Thomas to support the organization’s work.

    “All of us were so excited when Professors Brandon Blankenship and Martha Earwood informed us that Redemption Earned, Inc. would be given the opportunity to work with a UAB pre-law intern,” said Cobb. “Shae Thomas was simply extraordinary and completely dedicated to our efforts to assist worthy ‘aged and infirmed’ incarcerated individuals with gaining parole. Shae helped us synthesize and manage reams of data from the Alabama Department of Corrections. She provided valuable insight as we developed processes to be able to chart a new path to fill this huge gap in the criminal justice system. Her help was invaluable.”

    Thomas conducted research and developed a system to identify potential clients for Redemption Earned, Inc. Along the way, Thomas also received mentorship and guidance from Darrius Culpepper, a law fellow at Redemption Earned, Inc., and Paul Littlejohn, a subject matter expert who experienced incarceration for 35 years.

    “My time with Redemption Earned has shown me how time can change people,” said Thomas. “It's something we hear all the time, but I got to experience it firsthand.”

    That experience led her to present at UAB’s Service Learning and Undergraduate Research Expo. Thomas created a poster highlighting her research and work with Redemption Earned, Inc., and she went on to win first place in the Social and Behavioral Sciences for Online Poster Presentations.

    Moving Forward

    As Blankenship reflects on Thomas’ research and accomplishments, he acknowledges the value of students “building a body of work” and doing work that energizes them. Now, Blankenship’s vision for experiential learning has uncovered a new priority for future community engagement efforts within the program. Moving forward, Blankenship and his team plan to focus their attention on ensuring that students in Alabama are reading on grade-level by the fourth grade. At first, some may wonder how literacy fits into the community work of the Pre-Law Program—for Blankenship, the answer is clear.

    “I see pre-law as cradle to grave. I really think our pre-law journey, as far as UAB’s concerned, really starts with elementary-level reading,” said Blankenship. “If our [pre-law] students can participate in helping students be on grade-level with their reading by fourth grade, then those fourth graders have an opportunity to one day practice law… if that’s what they want to do.”

    And, perhaps, that is the overarching goal of the UAB Pre-Law program. Connecting students of all ages with learning experiences and community partners to ensure anyone who wishes to pursue a career in law can do so. Thankfully, the program is getting closer to achieving that goal each day.

  • Kerley selected to lead Department of Criminal Justice

    Kent R. Kerley, Ph.D., has been named the chair of the Department of Criminal Justice in the University of Alabama at Birmingham’s College of Arts and Sciences.

    Kent R. Kerley, Ph.D.Kent R. Kerley, Ph.D., has been named the chair of the Department of Criminal Justice in the University of Alabama at Birmingham’s College of Arts and Sciences.

    Dr. Kerley received a Bachelor of Arts in Criminal Justice from East Tennessee State University and a Ph.D. in Sociology/Criminology from the University of Tennessee.

    Since 2015, Dr. Kerley served as professor and chair in the Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice at the University of Texas at Arlington. He also served as a faculty member at UAB for ten years (2005-2015) and at Mississippi State University (2001-2005).

    “I am honored to return to UAB in this new role as chair of the Department of Criminal Justice. UAB was my home for ten great years early in my academic career, and I am thrilled to come back,” said Dr. Kerley. “I want to thank my department colleagues, search committee members, and Dean Kecia M. Thomas for this amazing opportunity to serve. I support fully the dean’s vision for increasing Inclusive Excellence in CAS and look forward to working with my new colleagues in support of that vision.”

    Dr. Kerley’s primary research interests include corrections, religiosity, and drug careers. His research has appeared in top journals such as Aggression and Violent Behavior, Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, Justice Quarterly, Social Forces, and Social Problems. He is author of Religious Faith in Correctional Contexts (2014), Current Studies in the Sociology of Religion (2015), Finding Freedom in Confinement: The Role of Religion in Prison Life (2018), and Religion and Crime: Theory, Research, and Practice (2018).

    “The College of Arts and Sciences is excited to welcome Dr. Kent Kerley back to Birmingham,” said Dean Thomas. “Dr. Kerley is an outstanding and engaged scholar and funded researcher who will help to elevate the continuing success of the Department of Criminal Justice. I am happy to have him as a new leader and a partner in the College’s mission related to Inclusive Excellence.”

    Dr. Kerley was Principal Investigator for two National Science Foundation grants used to create a Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) program at UAB called Using the Social Sciences, Natural Sciences, and Mathematics to Study Crime. He has also received research funding from Google and the Religious Research Association.

    Dr. Kerley currently serves as the vice president for the Southern Criminal Justice Association and will become SCJA President in September 2022. He and his wife, Lori Hill Kerley, met at the University of Tennessee and have two kids, eight grandkids, and one dog.

    “Our Department of Criminal Justice is interdisciplinary and unique in that our faculty excel in three areas: forensic science, digital forensics, and criminal justice. Dr. Kerley is committed to the success of all three areas, and I’m looking forward to all the ways in which the department will continue to flourish under his leadership,” said Dean Thomas.

    “I’m also very grateful for the leadership of Dr. Jeff Walker, outgoing chair of the Department of Criminal Justice and our College’s newest University Professor. I look forward to the continued impact he will have on our campus and in the community,” said Dean Thomas.

  • More faculty share the stories behind their development grants

    Plant-based diets, biased language in the courts and the trouble with night lights: Recipients of 2022 Faculty Development Grant Program awards explain how they will use their funds.

  • Welcoming Dr. Ellen Mwenesongole to UAB

    Ellen Mwenesongole, Ph.D., associate professor in the University of Alabama at Birmingham’s Department of Criminal Justice, moved to Birmingham in January 2022.

    Ellen Mwenesongole, Ph.D.,Ellen Mwenesongole, Ph.D. associate professor in the University of Alabama at Birmingham’s Department of Criminal Justice, moved to Birmingham in January 2022. Prior to coming to UAB, Mwenesongole studied and worked at universities in the United Kingdom, South Africa, and Botswana.

    Burel Goodin, Ph.D., associate professor in UAB’s Department of Psychology, wanted to learn more about Mwenesongole’s journey to UAB and her scholarly work, so he recently conducted a digital interview with her. Below is an edited summary of their conversation.

    Goodin: What brings you to UAB and how has the transition been? 

    Mwenesongole: I chose to come to UAB due to its reputation as a research-intensive university and because it has one of the few accredited master’s in forensic science degree programs in the U.S. The opportunities offered to faculty for career development, research, and teaching also attracted me to UAB, as did its genuine approach and effort towards diversity, equity, and inclusion. After being appointed by UAB, I initially started teaching online while based in Botswana, which was not easy with the time difference. Now, it is so much better being in the same country while teaching. It’s been a few months since I arrived in Birmingham, so I’m still in the transition period, but I realize that there are more similarities than differences from previous universities I’ve worked at. 

    Goodin: You seem to have a varied education and work experience, tell us more about that. 

    Mwenesongole: My venture into further education actually started at Procter & Gamble in South Africa where I worked as a senior scientist after obtaining my bachelor’s degree in chemistry. I wanted to be part of the research and  development team, but, at that time, most of my workmates in that section had master’s or Ph.D. degrees. Therefore, I took time out to get a master’s degree with the intention of returning to the corporate world as a research and development scientist. I guess the study-bug bit, and I ended up with chemistry and forensic science master’s degrees from University of Pretoria and University of Strathclyde, respectively, and a Ph.D. in Forensic Science from Anglia Ruskin University. I interspaced my studies with working at a pharmaceutical company in Scotland and a doping control laboratory in South Africa before venturing into academia to lead the development of forensic science programs at universities in South Africa and Botswana. 

    Goodin: How did you end up in forensic science? 

    Mwenesongole: My interest in science was ignited when I was in junior high school—from that point forward, I knew I’d end up as some sort of scientist. Also, my interest in mystery crime novels and movies fuelled my passion to contribute to using science to aid in investigating criminal incidents.

    Goodin: What are your current research interests? 

    Mwenesongole: My key focus area of research is in analyzing drugs of abuse (illicit and pharmaceutical) from different matrices such as blood, urine, and wastewater. Analysis of wastewater provides a quick snapshot of what drugs a particular community is using and can help with developing appropriate intervention measures from a law enforcement, health, or education perspective. It’s research that I have conducted in the U.K. and Botswana and plan to continue in the U.S. In recent years, I’ve also been involved in the chemical profiling of illicit drugs for intelligence purposes. 

    Goodin: What is your thought on collaborations—are you open to collaborations? 

    Mwenesongole: Once you realize that no one person, department, university, organization, or other entity holds the key to solving any problem, you start appreciating that answers to problems can come about much quicker when you collaborate with others. I’ve collaborated with universities in the U.K., Botswana, and South Africa and hope to extend that into U.S. universities as well as other departments at UAB. The most effective collaborations are those in which every team member’s voice is heard and their competence and experience in a particular area is harnessed for the good of the overall research project. Collaborations that fizzle out within a short time are those where a few team members think they know best and impose ideas onto others rather than incorporating various ideas and ways of doing things to arrive at the best outcome.

    Goodin: What would you like to see changed or improved in your area of teaching or research? 

    Mwenesongole: Forensic science still has many unchartered areas of research both on a local and global scale. I’d like to see more collaboration with various departments—such as engineering and the legal department—to develop relevant and unique products that can be used in teaching and research. More work also needs to be done to collaborate with relevant stakeholders, including various law enforcement agencies and forensic labs nationally and internationally. Also, we must find opportunities to collaborate with other forensic programs. There is so much one can learn from interacting with a diverse portfolio of collaborators.

    Goodin: What are your expectations from UAB and what do you hope to achieve? 

    Mwenesongole: My expectations of UAB are tied to what attracted me to the university in the first place. I expect to be given the space to use the opportunities at hand to grow my teaching and research portfolio. We must avoid saying, “We have always done things this way,” because that mindset can become a hindrance to teaching and research. I look forward to freely contributing to the growth of the department, college, and university.

  • 8 faculty elevated to Distinguished, University professorships

    The UA System Board of Trustees awarded the rank of Distinguished Professor to Khurram Bashir, Aurelio Galli, Eugenia Kharlampieva, Bruce R. Korf and Jan Novak and the rank of University Professor to W. Timothy Garvey, Linda D. Moneyham and Jeffery T. Walker during its April 8 meeting.

  • College student defies all odds to graduate at UAB’s spring commencement

    Matthew Leong will graduate in the spring undergraduate commencement ceremony April 30 in Bartow Arena.

  • 22 faculty receive grants to fund developmental projects at UAB

    The grant program funds early-career faculty to advance their skills and careers across campus and beyond.

  • 22 faculty receive grants to fund developmental projects

    The UAB Faculty Development Grant Program supports junior faculty with funding to pursue research, creative works and scholarly activity.

  • Celebrate 15 books authored by CAS faculty in 2021

    Writing a book isn’t easy, but faculty in the College of Arts and Sciences produced more than a dozen in 2021. Thirteen faculty from eight departments wrote books on rhetoric and the Dead Sea Scrolls, pandemic bioethics, medical epigenetics, world politics and more.

  • Employees recognized at 2021 UAB Service Awards

    Twenty-seven College of Arts and Sciences employees who have worked at UAB for 20 years or more were recognized at the UAB Service Awards reception on April 11, 2022.

    Dean Kecia M. Thomas with Kim Hazelwood at the UAB Service Awards reception.Twenty-seven College of Arts and Sciences employees who have worked at UAB for 20 years or more were recognized at the UAB Service Awards reception on April 11, 2022. These dedicated colleagues were honored for their number of years of employment at UAB as of December 31, 2021.


    The UAB Service Awards are given to active employees beginning at five years of employment and at each five-year milestone. Employees who reach 20, 25, 30, 35, 40, and 45 years of service are invited to a reception on behalf of UAB President Ray L. Watts and presented with a service award pin, certificate, and a gift of gratitude.


    This year, Dr. Vithal K. Ghanta, professor in the Department of Biology and co-director of the Undergraduate Immunology Program, was honored for 50 years of service to UAB. Dr. Gregory Pence, professor in the Department of Philosophy and director of the Early Medical School Acceptance Program, was honored for 45 years of service. Congratulations to all our colleagues for their dedication and commitment to the University’s mission and vision.

    50-Year Recipient: Dr. Vithal K. Ghanta, professor in the Department of Biology

    20-Year Recipients

    • Kimberly H. Hazelwood, College of Arts and Sciences Dean’s Office
    • Erin Wright, Art and Art History
    • Tanja Matthews, Chemistry
    • Dr. Jacqueline Nikles, Chemistry
    • Daniel L. Butcher, English
    • Dr. Gale M. Temple, English
    • Dr. Lourdes M. Sanchez-Lopez, Foreign Languages and Literatures
    • Dr. Stephen J. Miller, History
    • Dr. John Heith Copes, Criminal Justice
    • Dr. Reinhard E. Fambrough, Music
    • Dr. Gitendra Uswatte, Psychology
    45-Year Recipient: Dr. Gregory E. Pence, professor in the Department of Philosophy

    25-Year Recipients

    • James R. Grimes, Advising
    • Margaret Amsler, Biology
    • Leslie C. Hendon, Biology
    • Adriana S. Addison, Psychology
    • Dr. Karlene K. Ball, Psychology
    • Wanda R. Fisher, Psychology
    • Pamela Y. Robinson, Psychology

    30-Year Recipients

    • Dr. Tracy P. Hamilton, Chemistry
    • Dr. Kathryn D. Morgan, Criminal Justice and African American Studies
    • Kimberly A. Schnormeier, Theatre

    35-Year Recipients

    • Dr. Edwin W. Cook III, Psychology
    • Dr. Edward Taub, Psychology

    40-Year Recipients

    • Dr. Howard L. Irving, Music
    • Dr. Franklin R. Amthor, Psychology

    45-Year Recipient

    • Dr. Gregory E. Pence, Philosophy

    50-Year Recipient

    • Dr. Vithal K. Ghanta, Biology

  • Online programs at UAB ranked among the country’s best, according to U.S. News rankings

    Online programs across numerous UAB schools and departments continue to excel year after year, according to U.S. News rankings.

  • Lim named president of Korean criminology society

    Hyeyoung Lim, Ph.D., associate professor in the University of Alabama at Birmingham’s Department of Criminal Justice, has been named president of the Korean Society of Criminology in America.

  • UAB cross-disciplinary efforts to shape cybercrime-fighting workforce earn NSF grant renewal

    The CyberCorps Scholarship for Service program at UAB, a collaborative effort between the Department of Computer Science and Department of Criminal Justice, has trained 23 graduate students since it began in 2017. A $300,000-plus renewal will continue the work to enhance America’s cyber-defenses.

  • Departments host Constitution Day experience

    The overarching theme for this year was “Public Health and the Constitution.” 13 student teams participated in the event representing 38 students.

    On Friday, September 17, 2021, in honor of Constitution Day and to fulfill the requirement of Public Law 108-447 (enacted in late 2004, which requires an educational institution receiving federal funds to hold an education program on the United States Constitution on this day for its students) the Department of Political Science and Public Administration and the Department of Criminal Justice sponsored a scavenger hunt across campus. The overarching theme for this year was “Public Health and the Constitution.” Thirteen student teams participated in the event representing 38 students.

    Students were provided questions and a resource bank ahead of time to prepare for the event. Students competed in teams of three. Stations were posted throughout campus. Participating units included:

    At each station, students were asked a specific question for which they were required to provide the correct answer to advance. Station masters initialed the team’s score card before the team could leave for the next station. To avoid guessing, students received reduced points for each attempt at the question. Students also received points for their finishing time.

    One team was a clear winner with both the number of correct answers and the fastest time. That team was Maya Crocker, Roshan Dahale, and Anthony Venesia. Two teams tied for second place and three teams tied for third place. The 17 students representing the winning teams are invited to an educational encounter with Judge Elisabeth French. Judge French will make a presentation on her path to the judiciary and will be available to answer questions from the students. All students who participated, as well as station masters, received a pocket Constitution, which contains the entire Constitution and the Bill of Rights. Each member of the first-place team will also receive a Black’s Law Dictionary. All student participants enjoyed Steele City Pops on the Campus Green after the event.

    Students commented that this event was fun, made constitutional law relevant to current events, and provided an opportunity for them to see parts of campus that they had not seen before. We also noted the significant exercise that students received in accumulating approximately 7,600 steps in completing the scavenger hunt. Professor Brandon Blankenship, director of UAB’s Pre-Law Program, stated, “I can't imagine an area of American life that is not impacted by the Constitution. It was encouraging to see students engage it in an energetic and physical way, some for the first time.”

    Stacy Moak, Ph.D., professor in the Department of Political Science and Public Administration, commented, “I wanted students to see the Constitution in a practical way with a significant contemporary issue. Each of the 10 questions dealt with some issue of the COVID-19 pandemic as well as with federalism, separation of powers, and individual rights.”

    The departments intend to make this an annual event. The theme will change from year to year depending upon current events.

  • See “Marking Time: Art in the Age of Mass Incarceration” exhibition

    UAB’s Abroms-Engel Institute for the Visual Arts will host “Marking Time: Art in the Age of Mass Incarceration,” exploring the work of imprisoned artists and the centrality of incarceration to contemporary art and culture, on view from Sept. 17-Dec. 11.

  • I am Arts and Sciences: Angelo Della Manna

    When building something from the ground up, it’s valuable for the builder to be detail-oriented and driven. For Angelo Della Manna, Director of the Alabama Department of Forensic Sciences, both skills came into focus during his time studying in the University of Alabama at Birmingham’s Department of Criminal Justice.

    When building something from the ground up, it’s valuable for the builder to be detail-oriented and driven. For Angelo Della Manna, Director of the Alabama Department of Forensic Sciences, both skills came into focus during his time studying in the University of Alabama at Birmingham’s Department of Criminal Justice.

    “Having attention to detail is an extremely important skill in Forensic Science,” said Della Manna. “That is one of the best things I learned at UAB.”

    Della Manna’s journey to UAB set the tone for his future professional endeavors. In 1991, during his senior year studying chemistry at the University of Toronto, he purchased a plane ticket and traveled from Canada to the United States to attend the American Academy of Forensic Sciences conference. At that conference, he scheduled a meeting with faculty members from UAB’s Department of Criminal Justice.

    “I wanted to see, as an international student, if it was possible for me to come [to UAB],” said Della Manna.

    Della Manna met with Fred Smith, Ph.D., and Ray Liu, Ph.D. Both former faculty members were impressed with the young, analytical chemist’s drive and willingness to travel to the conference on his own dime. During the conversation, they encouraged Della Manna to take the GRE and asked him to share his transcripts.

    Soon after his journey to the conference, Della Manna was accepted into the forensic science graduate program at UAB. At the time, it was one of the few programs of its kind in the country. Della Manna took advantage of the burgeoning field of study and sought out an internship to obtain practical experience and work alongside forensic scientists.

    “You’ve got to be deliberate and intentional,” said Della Manna. “Having that internship was very valuable to me and helped teach me that skill.”

    At the time, Della Manna was also nurturing a long-distance relationship with his future wife, Debbie, who he met in Canada. Little did he know, she would later move to Birmingham to pursue her master’s in basic medical sciences, and, eventually, become a cancer researcher in the School of Medicine’s Department of Radiation Oncology.

    “Just having her in the same zip code was a win,” said Della Manna.

    After earning his M.S. in Forensic Science, Della Manna started his career as an hourly laborer position with the Alabama Department of Forensic Sciences (ADFS), the second oldest crime lab system in the country. With a deep interest in forensic biology and a background in DNA techniques from UAB, he found an opportunity to build something within the ADFS.

    “I was fortunate that I had that background,” said Della Manna. “It was a technology that was just starting here in Alabama… We saw early on that DNA could be revolutionary in forensic science.”

    And it was. Through his tireless efforts, Della Manna and others built a DNA program within the ADFS, and, in turn, put Alabama on the map. In May 1994, the Alabama legislature took notice of the importance of forensic DNA testing and passed the Alabama DNA Database Law, which allowed Della Manna to move faster and help ADFS develop a national reputation.

    “The application of new technology has always been fascinating to me,” said Della Manna. “It allowed Alabama to be at the forefront, on the cutting-edge, of DNA technology.”

    Nearly 30 years later, Della Manna now serves as the Director of the ADFS and has helped build the only internationally accredited provider of forensic laboratory services in the state. Along the way, other agencies and organizations have taken notice of his knowledge and talents — including the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).

    “I was appointed by the FBI to the Executive Board on DNA Analysis Methods,” said Della Manna. “We helped set the national standard for forensic science.”

    The FBI also encouraged CBS’s 60 Minutes to film a segment about the ADFS’ work, an experience that Della Manna cherishes.

    Given some of ADFS’ recent statistics and outcomes, it’s no surprise why the agency values Della Manna’s expertise. Last year, his lab helped solve 806 cold cases, leading the country in the number of cases solved per capita.

    Now, Della Manna is ready to support and train the next generation of forensic scientists. He strongly advocates for work-based learning experiences and internships, and he is quick to offer advice to students who work in his office.

    “Always look for opportunities to give back,” Della Manna often tells students and interns. “As you look for your own career path, be patient. Let the body of your work develop your reputation.”

  • Experts say childhood trauma leads to an increase in dropout rates, arrests

    Research reveals the ripple effects of childhood trauma and school suspensions.