CSI internship shows Spruce she’s right where she needs to be

· 5 min read

CSI internship shows Spruce she’s right where she needs to be

Anastasia Spruce looks through a vial for a gas chromatography mass spectrometrer in Filley Hall. Spruce, a senior in forensic science and and biochemistry, interned this summer with the Orange County (Florida) Sheriff Office.
Craig Chandler | University Communication and Marketing
Anastasia Spruce looks through a vial for a gas chromatography mass spectrometrer in Filley Hall. Spruce, a senior in forensic science and and biochemistry, interned this summer with the Orange County (Florida) Sheriff's Department in its crime lab.

Growing up, Anastasia Spruce shared a love for true crime documentaries and TV programs with her mom.

She also loved science, especially biology. She remembers playing with science kits, including a crime scene investigation kit, imagining herself in a crime lab, profiling DNA to find perpetrators.

As a high school student in Orlando, Florida, Spruce realized she could combine her interests in science and crime scene investigation into a career, and enrolled at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln, specifically for its forensic biology track in the Forensic Science Program.

But as she matriculated through the first two years, filling her schedule with everything from a full class load — even during the summer terms — to clubs and sorority commitments, Spruce started to feel the effects of burnout. Exhaustion and frustration were sometimes overwhelming, and doubts about her chosen career path were needling her.

“Basically, since I started, I’ve done nothing but go, go, go,” Spruce said. “I was beating myself up because I was struggling. I had a lot of questions in my head — maybe this isn’t for me — because I was under so much pressure, so much stress. I felt like I needed a reset so that I could jump back in with a fresh headspace.”

Spruce decided to move home to Orlando in the fall of 2022 and take a break. She went back to an old job at Texas Roadhouse.

“It was a tough decision, but I was overworking myself,” she said.

Now, that decision feels like fate intervening.

While serving her very first table, a chatty customer asked about college — where she attended and what she was studying. Coincidentally, the customer worked for the Orange County Sheriff’s Department. He noticed Spruce’s excitement as she talked about everything she’d been learning. He offered to take her resumé and told Spruce about an internship opportunity in the Orange County crime lab.

“He basically told me it was mine if I wanted it because he could see I was driven,” Spruce said. “It wasn’t something I was expecting, but it was something I really wanted to do, especially because it was local, and we have family friends who work there and we’ve heard wonderful things about the department.”

Spruce came back to Nebraska for the spring semester refreshed and ready to ace her classes. She was also looking forward to the summer internship with OC Crime Lab in the Orange County Sheriff’s Department. In June, she got her badge and jumped headlong into the opportunity.

Spruce was able to keep her badge and was gifted a patch.
Craig Chandler | University Communication and Marketing
Spruce was able to keep her badge and was gifted a patch.

From the outset, Spruce said the mentorship she received was outstanding. They treated her as a new trainee, which meant that Spruce was able to see all facets of forensics investigation. She worked both day and night shifts, which sent her to all types of crime scenes, from shootings and drug-related crimes to assaults and death investigations.

While she couldn’t handle evidence, Spruce shadowed the forensics technicians and helped by taking documentation, providing sketches, or gathering the correct equipment and tools for the investigators. She accompanied investigators to the morgue when clothing and items were collected and photographed for evidence. She even got to sit in on a trial, where a forensic biologist gave testimony in a case.

“I really got to see the whole scope of their day. I spent time in the biology lab, but I also got to go out on calls to different crime scenes, and saw how the variety of crimes are worked,” Spruce said. “I got to watch and learn about new technology for rapid DNA processing, and using the M-VAC, which pulls DNA from items like a shell casing or clothing. I think the coolest thing I saw was the extraction of DNA from a bone. I had never seen that before.

“The internship was extremely in-depth, and I was able to take away a lot from it.”

The experiences solidified for Spruce everything she had learned in her program up to that point.

“I felt like they really prepared me for what I experienced in the internship,” Spruce said. “I found myself already familiar with a lot of things, which made me feel really good. I knew about certain equipment, the reagents and chemicals they use, and I knew how to use them. The procedures I learned in my classes with Dr. A (Michael Adamowicz) and Larry Barksdale — I really got to see how all of my classes were applied to real-life cases, which was really cool.”

Following the internship experience, Spruce is starting her senior year full of hope and with a sense of adventure.

“I’m taking a human remains class this fall, and advanced forensic DNA methods, as well,” Spruce said. “I’m really excited for those classes, and the human remains class was one I took just out of interest for me. In the spring I’ll do the capstone and graduate. My goal is to move back to Orlando and work for the Orange County Crime Lab fulltime. I really enjoyed my time there.”

The OC Crime Lab is also a special place for Spruce because it re-established her faith in herself.

“It couldn’t have worked out any other way,” Spruce said. “If I didn’t take the semester off, if the decision wasn’t made, this wouldn’t have happened. Being able to gain the experience that I did over these past few months really just screamed to me, ‘you’re going to do this; this is what you’re meant to do,’ and I know I would have been disappointed in myself if I’d gone another route, because I love forensics so much.”

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