‘Never the same case’: How a career in forensics inspires one Harrisburg University graduate

It can feel like a scene out of CSI. The Integrated Sciences program at Harrisburg University of Science and Technology provides forensic students with new opportunities to gain hands-on experience in this evolving field.

For Karen Shaputis Jones, who grew up near Carlisle, a career in forensics meant the chance to always learn something new. Her professional career started in the operating room at Hershey Medical Center, where she worked as a surgical techmologist for the orthopedic team. But it was when she had the opportunity to help in general trauma – practicing bullet removal, collecting evidence and documenting sex cases – that she felt a calling to something else.

Harrisburg University of Science and Technology’s forensics program offered an enticing bachelor’s degree program that was close enough to home, she said. The chance to learn outside of the classroom and to work alongside professionals in the field also ensured she’d never get bored. By the time she started the program in 2005, she was hooked.

“It was eye-opening to get to go to the crime scenes and see things from the beginning versus being on the medical side and seeing it at the end,” Jones said. “It helped me decide that this was a career I wanted for the rest of my life.”

Jones took an academic break in 2006 when she had the opportunity to start her own business – Shaputis Forensic Services – and work as an assistant with the Dauphin County Forensic Pathologist. Between 2006 and 2009, she assisted with autopsies, took calls from the coroner’s office and gathered information to help determine if the office would take on a new case.

In 2009, she said, it was time to head back to Harrisburg University to finish the work she began and earn her degree. She graduated in 2011 and kept her education rolling by heading to George Mason University in Virginia to earn her master’s degree. During that time, she worked for the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, where she worked on cold cases involving unidentified children. She often worked with a team of local law enforcement and medical examiners to determine if they could discover DNA, reconstruct a crime scene or help with age progression on a child’s remains.

“Each day in this field offers something new,” Jones said. “I’ve never worked on the same case twice. Even if there are similarities, each one is different in its own way.”

Jones hopes to eventually get her Ph.D. in epidemiology, but she is happy to gain experience in her field. Now in North Carolina, Jones works as an instructor at Miller-Motte College, teaching everything from anatomy and physiology to criminal justice and crime scene investigations. Whether she’s in the classroom or collecting evidence in the field, Jones credits her early hands-on experiences provided by Harrisburg University as the light that sparked her desire to learn.

“I can’t imagine myself doing anything else,” Jones said. “I’ve found my calling. I know I’m helping people and fulfilling personal goals in my own life at the same time.”