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CHS Graduates to Compete at National Level in Forensic Science

Mara Jackson and Meredith Johnson just graduated from Cleburne High School, but they still have one last assignment to complete.

            The two honor graduates will be representing the CHS chapter of Technology Student Association in Forensic Science competition at the National TSA Conference set for June 28-July 2 in National Harbor, Maryland. Their journey began at the TSA Regional competition where they placed among the top three teams, advancing them on to state.

            In state competition, they placed within the top nine, qualifying the pair for the national skills contest. The accomplishment was never something they anticipated, in their first year of membership in TSA, which involves students in leadership, competition and career opportunities relating to STEM—science, technology, engineering and math.

            “I love science—it’s my favorite subject,” Jackson said. “I’ve taken all the health science classes I could during high school. I took forensics because It was another opportunity to be involved in science. But I never expected this. We both signed up for the class to have the experience, and to learn more about forensics. I have also enjoyed being involved in the competitions through TSA and SkillsUSA. We are both very competitive.”

            Johnson, who is interested in forensics as a career, thought membership in TSA and participation in a skills event would look good on her resume, while also addressing her interest in a forensics-related activity.

            “I’ve always been interested in anything involving STEM,” she said. “When I found out we had a forensics class at CHS, I began to research that as a career path. This year I got involved in both TSA and SkillsUSA to learn more.”

            The Jackson-Johnson team are actually two-time state champions in forensics, having placed third in SkillsUSA competition at the state level.  

            “State was the highest we could go in SkillsUSA,” Johnson said. “They don’t have a forensics event at the national level. That would be great if they did.”

            In the Forensics Science division, two-member teams first take a written test of basic forensic science theory to determine those advancing in the contest. Semifinalists examine a mock crime scene and demonstrate their knowledge of both forensic science and crime scene analysis. Students are expected to survey the scene and use proper techniques to collect evidence. They then provide a written analysis, based on the data they have collected.

            “You are given two minutes to analyze the scene and collect notes, then 15 minutes to write a report, providing an analysis, based on evidence,” Jackson said. “You have to be able to focus and think on your feet.”

            The CHS graduates have those abilities and more, according to forensics teacher Dawn Broadway.

            “Mara and Meredith are extremely hardworking and independent learners,” Broadway said. “Both absorb knowledge and then are able to apply that knowledge. I have had both in Pre-AP chemistry and they were dedicated in that class as well as in forensics. I think they will be very competitive at Nationals because they work so well together.”

            “I am so proud of their third place at the SkillsUSA state contest, as well as their first place in the TSA regional contest and eighth place finish at state,” she said. “They are two well deserving students who are excellent people. I’m so proud of what they have achieved.”

            In addition to their compatible teamwork in forensics, Jackson and Johnson have also been fellow bassoonists and band members since their middle school days. Their upcoming contest trip to Maryland is actually their second post-graduation school event. Both competed in the Texas State UIL Solo and Ensemble contest which took place June 2 in Austin.

            They also get together regularly to watch the Netflix series “Forensic Files,” which utilizes a documentary-style format to showcase how forensics is used in solving actual crimes.

            “Each episode is a different case,” Johnson said. “It walks you through what led investigators to the suspect. Before I got involved in forensics, I wondered how detectives determined those responsible for a crime. I admit I thought it was a guessing game. I think one thing that will help me in a career in forensics is I’m less biased and don’t have pre-conceived notions. That’s how the wrong person gets arrested. I like the preciseness of forensics. It’s very tangible, as it relates to justice. Forensics is verifying you have arrested the right person and helps the case stand up in court.”

            Johnson, who will be attending Texas A & M University, has not decided which branch of forensics she will ultimately pursue—but odds are it will involve lots of chemistry.

            “There are so many areas that you can go within forensics,” she said. “I’m thinking for me it will be toxicology, which involves lots of chemistry, which I like.”

            While Jackson is going in a different direction of study at Dallas Baptist University, her planned career as a counselor will include analytical skills as well. Both hope to remain involved in music in some form. Each have been versatile in their musical talents, with Johnson serving as a Golden Pride drum major and Jackson also playing bass guitar in the CHS Jazz Band.

            “I want to still play, in some fashion, in college,” Johnson said. “Maybe in an ensemble or giving lessons to students.”

            “DBU has a jazz ensemble,” Jackson said. “Maybe I can play guitar or perform with the university orchestra.”

            Both are grateful for one more opportunity to represent CHS and match their competitive spirit against forensic crime solvers from across the nation.

            “We will have the opportunity to go to Washington D.C. while we are there,” Jackson said. “We really want to go to the National Geographic Museum and the Smithsonian Conservation Museum. We look at this as senior trip we never dreamed we would take. And we’re really excited.”