From UNTHSC classroom to Houston crime lab

Emily Ricco is not a police detective, but she helps solve crimes every day.

As a DNA analyst at the Harris County Institute of Forensic Sciences, Ricco, 27, examines objects involved in crimes for blood evidence or other bodily fluids. If she discovers relevant material, she sends the items for DNA testing that could prove crucial to solving the cases.

"The majority of the cases are property crimes like burglaries or car jackings, but you also do homicides," said Ricco, who handles 30 to 35 cases a month. "It’s interesting and satisfying to know that you might help someone who was the victim of a crime."

Ricco, a 2013 graduate of UNTHSC’s Forensic Genetics Master of Science Professions Program, is a prime example of the program’s success in preparing young scientists to make an immediate and meaningful impact in the forensics field. It emphasizes hands-on training in current and future DNA technologies. Nearly half of its graduates work in Texas, including at laboratories operated by the Texas Department of Public Safety and Fort Worth Police Department.

"One reason our program is among the best in the country is that we regularly graduate smart, exceptionally prepared students like Emily," said Ranajit Chakraborty, PhD, one of Ricco’s professors.

Ricco, a Carrollton native, said she has an interest in one day taking a managerial role in a forensics laboratory.  She credited the Health Science Center with putting her on track to achieve that goal.

"I left school prepared not just to perform my everyday duties but also for the business side of forensics," she said. "It’s a great program that Fort Worth is fortunate to have."

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