Under the Microscope with Student Ambassador Cassandra Skrant

Cassandra Skrant is in the Forensic Science Program at Towson University and will be representing ISHI as a Student Ambassador this year. Multiple events in her life led her to forensic science. As a high school student Cassie cultivated a passion for biology, which she decided to develop at The Ohio State University as a biology major. During her undergraduate years, she discovered that she had a particular interest in biochemistry, genetics, and microbiology. Cassie felt comfortable in the lab and knew she wanted to stay there for the rest of her  life. Although she was certain of her place in a laboratory, Cassie was still questioning her place in the research world until she enrolled in a few forensic courses. During these courses she realized she loved forensic science and decided to continue her education at Towson University. All of these events led Cassie to forensic science, but the main aspect that has kept her in forensic science, despite the realization that it is an exacting career with little recognition, is the idea that the work she is performing is helping provide relief to victims and loved ones. Since providing relief to victims and their loved ones is very important to her, Cassie’s dream is to be a forensic DNA analyst who helps solve cases that do not receive as much attention as they should. This includes cold cases and backlogged sexual assault cases where the victims and families have not received the attention and justice they deserve.


We caught up with Cassie and asked her to tell us a little more about herself, including how she became interested in forensic science, what she plans to do after graduation, and what she’s most looking forward to at ISHI this year.



Cassie, thank you for talking with us today. Can you tell us a little bit about how you become interested in forensic science?

I am a very indecisive person, so I weighed out so many career options before landing on forensic science. I started out just knowing I loved biology and decided to major in it at The Ohio State University. Throughout my time at Ohio State I loved biochemistry, genetics, and microbiology, and decided to explore this passion by helping out Dr. Alber in her lab. I loved helping out in the lab and knew I wanted to stay there but I was still unsure on what kind of lab work I wanted to do. Eventually I found the forensic specialization offered at Ohio State and knew I needed to look into it more. The more research I did on the career, the more I knew I needed to pursue forensic science because it allows me to continue working in a lab, while having the added layer of helping individuals receive justice and answers.


What do you like most about working in the forensics field?

One thing I really liked about the forensic science field is being surrounded by a bunch of intelligent and powerful women. It is very rare, especially in STEM fields, for it to be woman-dominated, and I have noticed this makes a unique and comforting environment at Towson University and forensic science conferences. I started at Towson University knowing no one, and now I have met some great people (some pictured below) who constantly push me to be a better scientist and person. In the lab at Towson, everyone is always offering help to one another and it’s a great thing to be apart of. I also have learned so much from the professors here at Towson who are always willing to answer my questions (which I normally have a lot of). This cooperative environment is so cool to be apart of and so many others in the forensics field I have met at conferences and meetings are also always willing to help each other.




How do you describe what you do/your job to family and friends?

Normally I just say we “take” the DNA out of the evidence and perform a quant to tell if the DNA is human. Then the DNA is multiplied a bunch with PCR so that there is enough of it to analyze. Then I say we analyze the DNA and create a STR or DNA profile. STRs are specific spots in our DNA where every person has a different number of repeats. I can have five while another person has seven. A bunch of these spots in the DNA are analyzed and the number of repeats at every spot in the DNA is unique to a person. The number of repeats at every region are then compared to the suspect or victim. After that explanation, my parents normally say they understand, but it sometimes gets hard to tell if they just want me to stop talking about science.


What are you most looking forward to at ISHI this Fall?

I am looking forward to meeting new people and learning new things! I am relatively new to forensic science, and I feel I have so much to learn from everyone going. It is always fun to see what new developments there are and how forensic science is advancing. The topic I am most interested in learning more about is forensic genetic genealogy. I attended the MAAFS conference in Pikesville, MD and had the pleasure of hearing Wendy McLean’s presentation on forensic genetic genealogy. I find it so interesting how you can use a person’s DNA profile and public records to build a family tree and then using that family tree to solve forensic casework.


What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?

The best piece of advice I have ever received was from my mom who told me that I need to find something to do or look forward to every day. Even though I do enjoy all of the research I am doing at Towson, some days you make a mistake or find out your data is not usable and that can leave me in a sort of defeated funk. In situations like these, I always think about this advice. Whenever I end on an off note at the lab, I always either spend time with friends, go hiking, or cook a new meal while listening to a podcast. These activities always put me in a better mood so that I can start with a fresh positive attitude the next day. This advice will also be useful to me later as a forensic scientist because the job can be stressful and disturbing at times, so it is important to maintain hobbies to help relieve this stress.


What are you hoping to do after college?

After college I really hope to become a DNA analyst. The more I learn about forensic DNA analysis, the more I know I want to do it for my career. I love DNA interpretation because it feels like I am solving a puzzle (and I love puzzles). As a DNA analyst, I would like to also be involved in lessening the sexual assault kit backlog. So many victims have not had the proper testing performed on their sexual assault kits because of this backlog, so I really want to help analyze these kits because every person deserves justice as soon as possible.


What is one song that would be on the soundtrack of your life and why?

I knew right after reading this question that the song had to be a song from the movie musical Mamma Mia. It is my absolute favorite movie and I watch it almost every time I am feeling down because it instantly boosts my mood. It reminds me that I need to just enjoy life and not get so focused on sticking to an exact plan, just like the main character Donna. I love every single song in that movie (except SOS because Pierce Brosnan should probably not be a singer) and it is really hard to pick a favorite, but… if I absolutely have to pick one song to be the soundtrack to my life it would be Dancing Queen. It is so fun to dance and single along with friends.


Anything else you’d like to share?

I have never been to Denver and am so excited to come to the conference and maybe do some hiking on the side with other ISHI ambassador Beighley Ayers! Hoping I will be able to keep up with her because I am not nearly as in shape as she is.



Cassie, thank you for letting us get to know you a little better! Follow Cassie on INSTAGRAM and FACEBOOK or connect with her on LINKEDIN.