University High Students Celebrate Black History Month with Speaker Series

University High Students Celebrate Black History Month with Speaker Series

Fifty students at University High School for Science and Engineering (UHSSE) filled seats at the Media Center on Friday, Feb. 7, to listen to a special guest speaker. The event was the kick-off to a series of Black History Month speakers organized by the UHSSE’s Black Student Union.

The series’ first speaker was Richard Pinder, a retired forensic toxicologist for the state of Connecticut. He came to share his work with students, some of whom were taking a forensics unit as part of their science coursework.

The speaker series is a new offering by the two-year-old Black Student Union (BSU). “We have a high population of people of color in this school,” said Donesha Noble, a senior and co-leader of the BSU. “We thought it would be nice to hear from people in the community talking about their careers and how they got there.”

Pinder introduced himself as a native of Philadelphia who pursued microbiology as a student. After he graduated from Penn State, he had the opportunity to work in a sanitarium as an inspector or in the medical examiner’s office. He chose the latter.

“Forensics involve the law,” he explained. The field applies to any science, so there are forensic nurses, pathologists, and other specialists. He described the different areas forensic experts might apply their skills to, including employment drug testing, investigating workplace accidents, and the sampling of specimens in criminal investigations.

The students listened intently and several had questions for Pinder, including whether he had ever been called to testify in a case. “Yes, many times,” he said, describing one case in which he was asked to weigh in on whether a deceased woman had been intentionally or accidentally poisoned. In that case, the evidence of a poison by strychnine was in the air, causing the medical examiner’s eyes to sting during the autopsy.

Pinder explained that almost any substance – a solid, liquid, plant, odor or irritant — can serve as chemical evidence. Toxicologists are often called on in drug possession cases, in which drugs can be found in a variety of forms.

At the end of his talk, Pinder emphasized to the student audience that to become a toxicologist, students need to focus on math and science in college, specifically chemistry, biology, and physics. At least one student expressed interest in that career option.

If the number of students and their attentiveness was any indication, the first speaker event was a success. For the next speaker, Noble and her BSU co-leader Jahmal Warren plan to also Steve Goodison, an aerospace engineer with the Triumph Group on Friday, Feb. 14.