In her DNA: Spruce finds 'family,' career in forensic science

· 5 min read

In her DNA: Spruce finds ‘family,’ career in forensic science

Anastasia Spruce, a senior in forensic science and biochemistry, will work for the Florida Department of Law Enforcement in their crime lab beginning at the end of May.
Craig Chandler | University Communication and Marketing
Anastasia Spruce, of Orlando, Florida, will earn her degree in forensic science and begin her career with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

Anastasia Spruce wants to help people, and that’s what she’ll do by analyzing blood and tissue samples to parse DNA and other evidence from crime scenes as a forensic biologist.

The senior from Orlando, Florida, will earn her bachelor’s degree from the University of Nebraska–Lincoln May 18 in forensic science with a specialization in the field of biology. By the first of June, she’ll be back in her hometown, where she’ll begin her career as a crime laboratory technician for the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. In a year, she plans to begin work on a master’s degree in DNA analysis and serology with the goal of eventually working for the FBI Laboratory in Quantico, Virginia.

The excitement to start her career is palpable as she talks about the capstone course she’s wrapping up, which included hours of lab work analyzing DNA and other biological evidence from a mock crime scene and testifying to her findings in a mock courtroom.

“It’s been a little nerve-wracking, to sit up and testify in front of my class,” Spruce said. “But I feel so well-prepared. Through my classes and internships, I feel ready.”

Spruce has always felt a connection to Nebraska. Though she’d lived in Orlando her whole life, her dad, a Nebraska alumnus, talked about the university often, and brought Anastasia to a football game in 2016.

“We did the athletics tour, and visited a couple of places on campus, and I was just like, ‘I want to come here,’” she said. “I immediately fell in love with the campus and atmosphere. It was different from home — in a good way.”

Anastasia Spruce plays in the snow on campus.
Courtesy
Spruce, who grew up in Florida, said she loves the four seasons of Nebraska's climate.
As high school sped by, Spruce started to look at colleges with forensic science programs. She wanted to use her love of science to solve crimes. But few colleges offer specific tracks of study in forensic biology.

“It’s kind of amazing,” Spruce said. “I wanted to go here because of my dad. It just happened to be that UNL had the exact program that I wanted down to the tee. I searched other schools, and UNL had exactly what I needed.”

Despite an unusual beginning at Nebraska — Zoom classes amid a global pandemic — Spruce found herself at home among her forensic science “family.”

“That is what I’ll miss the most,” she said. “I don’t think I’m ever going to experience a program or place that is so close knit. That’s been really special to me. I’ve always felt like everyone wants to see our success.”

And it was that close-knit community that welcomed her back when she suffered burnout and took a semester off her junior year. The experience taught her valuable lessons about balancing life and work and kept her on a path she knows is right for her.

“I used to measure success by how much you can do,” she said. “And I filled my plate too full. That was probably my biggest obstacle in school — having to take that break — because it felt like defeat, but now I see it as a success, too, because I’m here, and have the outcome I wanted.

“I had support from everyone. And when I came back, it was like I’d never left.”

Anastasia Spruce made it to nearly every home Husker football game.
Courtesy
Spruce joined the Husker fandom, holding football season tickets and attending Volleyball Day. "That was an experience that probably not many people will be able to experience. There is no place like Nebraska."
Spruce feels fully ready to launch her career, thanks to the excellent education she received in the classroom, labs, mentorship in the program, especially from director Michael Adamowicz, and through internships. She worked with the Lincoln Police Department’s investigation unit in 2022 and followed that up with a summer internship in the Orange County Sheriff’s Office crime lab in Orlando in 2023.

“When I was doing my internship in Orange County, it was a feeling of ‘wow, I’m watching them do all of these things, and I know how it’s done and why,’” she said. “I watched testimony, and I understood exactly what they were saying and what they’re talking about, because I had done it in the classroom and the lab. I really appreciate the hands-on aspect of this program.”

On the other hand, her education has ruined some things for her forever. Before college, she spent time with her mom watching fictional crime shows, which spawned her career interests. Her mom still loves them, but for Spruce, they’re a no-go.

“I can’t watch the crime shows that they come out with now, because I get so mad,” Spruce said, laughing. “That’s not how any of this works! You can’t get that information from that. And where are your gloves? Where is your mask? I watch them walk in, and they just contaminated a whole crime scene. I still like watching crime shows, but I like to watch Dateline instead.”

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