Student using mag brush

A student uses a magnetic brush and magnetic powder to develop fingerprints.

The materials that an online crime scene investigation certificate student receives in the mail are a little, shall we say, “different” than your average textbook. Though, yes, they receive a textbook, the Columbia College students also receive a supply kit that could include magnetic powder, spatter blood, Bio-Foam blocks, QuickLIFT tape strips, brushes and disposable gloves among other items.

The custom-built kits allow online students to perform the hands-on practical exercises in their own home. They can work at their desk measuring blood stains with a digital caliper, sit on their couch lifting latent fingerprints or stand at their kitchen counter casting footprint impressions.

student pouring impression in bio foam

A student makes a cast of a footprint impression in a Bio-Foam block.

“The equipment the students are using is the same that officials use at a crime scene,” says Michael Himmel, who has been an adjunct professor of forensic science at the college since 1990 and coordinates the certificate program.

Columbia College offers a Certificate in Crime Scene Investigation (CSI) for students pursuing a degree either online or in-seat at the main campus. The 15-hour certificate includes three required courses — criminal investigation, crime scene investigation and crime scene photography — and two elective courses. Students can choose forensic anthropology, fingerprint evidence, shooting incidents, bloodstain evidence or forensic pathology for their electives. The courses are taught by practitioners who have or had careers in the subject area they teach. And with today’s technology, the college ensures students don’t lose the hands-on experience if they’re taking the courses online.

crime scene investigation supply kit sample

A course supply kit could include magnetic brushes, QuickLIFT fingerprint tape strips and a spin brush.

Along with the supply kits and practical exercises, the online courses utilize detailed, step-by-step videos to walk students through processes and teach them tips, tricks and techniques.

Dale Hargis, instructional designer, and Heather Hart, instructional technologist, both with the Online Campus, worked with forensic science and criminal justice professors to get the courses online. With photographs of actual crime scenes and autopsies and videos of processes like live-scan fingerprinting and stringing a blood stain, as well as close-up scientific videos, such as a time lapse of blood drying, the students are able to learn exactly what they would in-seat.

“These videos are not something that’s readily available on the Internet,” Hart says. “It’s very much like being in the classroom and having a teacher walk you through something.”

Blood spatter measurement

Students show how to analyze blood spatter.

This hands-on training is purposely woven into the curriculum of the courses. Because of the rigorous course of study, the 40 hours spent receiving the CSI certificate are accepted by the International Association for Identification (IAI) when receiving IAI certification.

“What we’re finding across the country is that within a certain amount of time when a person is hired, they are going to be expected to achieve a certification above and beyond the college degree,” Himmel says.

The CSI certificate program at Columbia College uses the same textbooks, terminology and techniques as the IAI, so a student receiving the college’s certificate leaves well on their way to successfully becoming IAI certified.


A developed fingerprint is shown with an Alternate Light Source (ALS).

With the hands-on practical experience, expert instructors who have practiced what they preach, ability to earn the certificate almost anywhere in the country, and the hours toward professional certification, receiving a certificate is beneficial no matter the area of forensic science.

“Any Columbia College student across the U.S. can get this certificate and learn from experts in the field,” Hargis says. “That’s incredibly valuable.”