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For alumna anthropologist service is in her bones

Cassandra Kuba
May 07, 2013

Whether working as a research consultant for the television show “CSI,” teaching sixth-graders how to excavate or helping create a forensics training program, Arizona State University alumna Cassandra Kuba is gaining a reputation as the go-to bioarchaeologist with a spirit of service.

Kuba graduated from ASU with a doctorate in anthropology and specializations in bioarchaeology and osteology. She is currently an assistant professor at California University of Pennsylvania, where she has played a pivotal role in building out the anthropology program. When she arrived in 2007, there were fewer than 10 anthropology majors and now, thanks in large part to Kuba, there are over 60.

In June she will be recognized for her efforts with the university’s Gala Outstanding Service Award. In addition, she will soon be receiving an outstanding alumna award for her contributions to the field of forensics from her undergraduate institution, Mercyhurst University.

Brenda J. Baker, an associate professor of bioarchaeology in the School of Human Evolution and Social Change in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, recently endorsed her former student’s nomination for the service award with an enthusiastic letter.

“I cannot imagine anyone more deserving of this award,” says Baker, who was Kuba’s doctoral committee chair. “Her list of service accomplishments is astonishing for someone so early in her career.”

As an assistant professor Kuba leads courses in forensic anthropology and osteology at an institution that emphasizes service, as well as teaching.

For Kuba, service means more than sitting on committees. She most values bringing her knowledge and skills into the community.

Inspiring the next generation

The outreach endeavor of which Kuba is most proud is her work with local middle school students.

She explains, “Our archaeologist, Dr. John Nass, and I were approached to see if we could help the sixth-grade social science teachers at Elizabeth Forward Middle School realize a vision that they had to use archaeology as a theme to unite different subject areas and give the students an interactive experience.”

Not only did Kuba and Nass assist in a mock dig, but Kuba also suggested that she and Nass give guest teleconference lectures to inform the students about their respective specialty areas. In addition, they traveled to the school for in-person talks in every sixth-grade social science class. They brought along anthropology majors to contribute to the lectures.

Later, Kuba played host to some of the sixth-graders and their teachers for a tour of the university lab facilities and other campus highlights, wrapping up a very successful collaboration.

“This project benefited our anthropology students, the middle school students and their teachers and the university – more than just myself!” she happily states.

Informing entertainment programs

Although some may not initially see it as service, Kuba’s work as an on-call technical consultant for Entertainment Research Consultants allows her to inform fictional work and represent her field in the best light possible.

“Since many students say that the reason they chose a forensic science major is because of a television show they watched when they were younger, I feel it is important to be able to advise these shows,” Kuba expresses. “I know that many experts find it difficult to watch the fictionalized forensic television shows, and, yes, I do not always agree with how things are portrayed, but I use these differences as a talking point in my classes. It is an educational tool to make the students more discerning and have fun in the process. Also, I’m not afraid to admit that while we each feel our forensic specialty is incredibly cool, it does not necessarily make great TV on its own.”

Entertainment Research Consultants’ co-president, Jon Wellner, says, “We're so lucky to have Dr. Kuba on our side. She has been an amazing help with our many scenarios for “Bones,” “CSI” and “Rizzoli & Isles.”

Wellner, who serves as a researcher himself and also portrays the toxicologist Henry Andrews on “CSI,” notes, “As researchers, it's our job to make sure our shows are as realistic and authentic as possible. Dr. Kuba has a great understanding of the medium and consistently helps us come up with unique and interesting ways to merge science and entertainment together. “

Kuba is typically contacted when the writers are trying to develop a storyline or during the script-writing or -tweaking process. She’s also been asked to consult on make-up and special effects to help produce realistic looks.

Fellow researcher Scott Recchia says, “In a list of over 300 expert consultants, Casey definitely rises to the top of that list. If you watch any of the forensic shows we work for where they discover the cause of death analyzing bone evidence, you can be sure that Dr. Kuba was essential in helping us discover that cause. She has been an amazing consultant and a wonderful educator to us as researchers.”

Expanding student knowledge and opportunities

At the present, Kuba is working hard at expanding the forensic consultation area of her university’s anthropology program. She is developing a collaborative venture among faculty at the University of Pittsburgh and a local medical examiner’s office to provide forensic anthropological services and training.

She says, “This is a crucial piece in order to give our students a chance to become involved in forensic casework as undergraduates and to discover if they truly have what it takes to pursue this area of study.”

“Dr. Kuba is an outstanding faculty member. Her contributions to the field of anthropology have greatly prompted enthusiasm in our students,” says Emily Sweitzer, chair of the Department of Justice, Law and Society at California University of Pennsylvania. “Her knowledge, skill, contacts and demeanor have inspired students to view the field as modernized and highly contributory to many other disciplines, from law enforcement to biological pathology investigations. She is an awesome friend and colleague.”

Whether expanding young minds or helping scriptwriters create authentic works, Kuba is busy and content offering her expertise to so many. “I love that I am helping others realize their goals,” she says.