I interned at the Forensic Anthropology Center at Texas State University (FACTS) from May-December 2012. Interning at FACTS was essentially an exercise in participant-observation for my thesis research examining the motivations of donors to FACTS. In my time at FACTS I have gained a better understanding of the donation process, the utilization of donations for research and teaching, and the importance of advancing forensic anthropological research. My participant observation also included assisting FACTS staff with long-term projects such as fundraising, public relations, and compiling a history of the establishment of FACTS.
In order to understand the motivations of donors to FACTS I conducted semi-structured interviews with living donors-those who have registered to donate themselves to FACTS upon their death. I also interviewed next of kin donors-those who have donated a loved one. Participants were questioned regarding their motivations to donate to FACTS, their understanding of the research at FACTS, their perceptions of FACTS, and their beliefs on why others choose not to donate to FACTS.
FACTS facilitates research through a whole body donation program. Body donation to such organizations is crucial as it offers important opportunities for research on topics, including human decomposition processes, the postmortem interval, human skeletal variation and forensic osteological methods. FACTS encompasses the Grady Early Forensic Anthropology Research Laboratory (GEFARL), the Osteological Research and Processing Laboratory (ORPL), and the Forensic Anthropology Research Facility (FARF).GEFARL houses the skeletal collection, histology and casting equipment, and the offices of the Director, Dr. Wescott and Coordinator, Ms. Sophia Mavroudas. ORPL is located at the entrance of Freeman Ranch and contains the processing suite and research laboratory. The processing suite utilizes stainless steel equipment while the research laboratory contains an x-ray machine and drying tables for the desiccating and labeling of processed remains. FARF is also located at Freeman Ranch and is the outdoor research facility where all decomposition research is conducted.
Interning at FACTS has enriched my understanding of the scientific and cultural dimensions of forensic anthropology. I was given complete access to the donation process by FACTS staff and donors who were both eager and excited to facilitate my questioning. Due to their willingness to work with me, I have gained a substantial amount of knowledge regarding modern cultural perceptions of death as well as the innovative field of forensic anthropology that continues to seek information benefiting scientific knowledge. I am grateful for the opportunity to have had such a multidimensional learning experience.