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Forensic Science Student excels in her education and receives award at the Northeastern Association of Forensic Scientists.

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Jessica Hovingh, a State College native, was not always drawn to science like so many others.  In high school she gravitated toward and enjoyed the arts more than science.  It wasn’t until tenth grade when she took a Crime Scene Investigation course at State College High School that her love for Forensic Science began.  Only a quarter of the Forensic Science textbook was required reading, but that didn’t stop Hovingh from reading the book from cover to cover. Wanting to know more, she searched for additional opportunities to learn about forensic science, joining a program run through the local police station, a program that eventually connected her to Forensic Science at Penn State. Fast forward a few years, Hovingh found her love for forensic science growing with each college course she took.  “I find it fascinating how science can explain what may have taken place at a crime scene”, said Hovingh. “I also love the creative thinking process that’s required in forensic science when collecting and analyzing evidence.  What items am I going to collect as evidence?  What sort of tests can I perform on those items?  What do those test results indicate?”
Jessica Hovingh-2018-NEAFS Award Article # 2

Again wanting to learn more, Hovingh joined the Ristenbatt Lab in October of 2016 and exceled under the direction of Ralph Ristenbatt III.  Since January of 2016, she has worked as a Course Assistant for Ristenbatt’s Laboratory and Crime Scene Investigation class. “She is exceptionally motivated and exhibits a passion for criminalistics that is second-to-none,” said Ristenbatt. “I have little doubt that she will further her education as her thirst for knowledge appears to be unquenchable. She has, since I have known her, displayed the hallmarks of a budding scientist: insatiable desire to learn, persistent curiosity, and a healthy dose of skepticism.”

As Hovingh’s research experience grew, so did her eagerness to present her findings at scientific conferences, as communicating results within the science community is an important aspect of conducting credible research.  Hovingh attended the Northeastern Association of Forensic Scientists (NEAFS) Conference in 2016, but not as a presenter. Working with Ristenbatt, she developed an abstract, submitted it to the NEAFS Conference Chairs, after which it was later approved. Hovingh was on her way to present her findings at a major scientific conference.

At the Conference, not only did Hovingh present her findings, but she was awarded the Dr. Peter De Forest Student Research Presentation Best Oral Presentation – Undergraduate Award.  Hovingh’s research uses impact testing to examine the factors that affect the formation of three-dimensional textile impressions in vehicular surfaces. In pedestrian-automotive collisions, especially when the collisions are hit-and-runs, it's very important to establish connections between the vehicle and the victim to prove that the vehicle struck the person. There are many types of evidence that are currently being utilized in crime labs, paint or glass chips transferred to the victim, fibers from the victim's clothing transferred to the vehicle, and so on, but three-dimensional fabric impressions have not been studied until now.

Jessica Hovingh-2018-NEAFS Award Article # 3Currently, Hovingh uses pendulum and falling weight impact devices to examine how changing the force affects the textile impression appearance. The two devices work on the same principle: a denim-covered weight impacts a cut piece of car. The force with which the weight strikes the car piece is changed by altering the drop height. Then, the impressions are studied under a stereoscope. So far, her research has only varied impact force.  In the future, she hopes to test how different fabrics and automotive finishes interact, and if the impressions that are formed can be distinguished from one another.

Hovingh credits several opportunities at Penn State for her undergraduate student achievements. “One of the most influential opportunities I've had is working as a Course Assistant for two forensic science classes. I attend lab classes, demonstrate scientific techniques to students, and grade reports and exams.” Through those experiences, Hovingh has expanded her academic network by getting to know professors better and interacting with other students and coworkers. By teaching forensic techniques and helping students understand class concepts, she has become more comfortable both with presenting scientific material, and, when needed, asking for help from someone more knowledgeable in the field. Mr. Ristenbatt and Dr. Roy, Hovingh’s mentors, have supported her research and academic career in more ways than she can name.

Hovingh plans to graduate in December of 2018.  Over the summer, she will be continuing her work with a forensics graduate student on the vehicle impact study.  She will also be co-directing and instructing a Crime Scene Investigation camp for middle schoolers through the Science Outreach Office.  “I'm very excited for that. Not only do I enjoy the responsibility of writing and delivering a curriculum, I love the excitement many of the kids have for science”, said Hovingh.  Eventually she hopes to work in crime scene investigation, but recently she has realized how much she loves learning in a classroom setting, so she hopes to go to graduate school to further her education as a criminalist.