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CMU hosts distinguished anthropologist

Michael Finnegan, PhD, to lecture as national awareness of Forensic Investigation Research Station grows

CMU Professor of Forensic Anthropology Melissa Connor, PhD, is passionate about the future of the Forensic Investigation Research Station (FIRS) as the facility she manages grows its national reputation. Connor and her students have contributed to numerous law enforcement investigations, participated in human remains identification, hosted international researchers and established FIRS as one of the most unique undergraduate research facilities in the nation. 

These facility milestones have contributed to a CMU visit and lecture from Michael Finnegan, PhD, D-ABFA, who is among the leading forensic anthropology experts in the nation. His campus address will occur on April 15, 4pm in Houston Hall.

“A visit from Dr. Finnegan is not only a tremendous opportunity for our students, but is also an important symbol regarding the reputation our university is garnering within our discipline,” said Connor. 

The American Academy of Forensic Sciences named Finnegan a fellow alongside his postdoctoral fellowship at the Smithsonian Institution where he studied paleopathology. In addition to being a past vice president of the American Academy of Forensic Sciences he is also past president of the American Board of Forensic Anthropology, Inc. 

“When I heard Dr. Finnegan was coming to Grand Junction I was the first to sign up,” said FIRS Lab Manager Alex Smith, who came to western Colorado from Oregon specifically for the opportunities offered by FIRS. “People always tell us it’s rare for undergraduates to get these kinds of opportunities and I feel really fortunate for what Dr. Connor and FIRS have allowed me to learn.” 

In addition to academic credentials, Finnegan also received commendations from the public and private sector as recipient of the Kansas attorney general's Certificate of Merit in recognition of outstanding service rendered to law enforcement in and for the State of Kansas by a private citizen. 

Outside the United States, Finnegan has participated in research in Africa, Australia, the Middle East, Southeast Asia and Europe, as well as various areas of North and South America. He received the William L. Stamey Teaching Award in undergraduate instruction, the John C. Hazelet Award as the outstanding member of the Kansas Division of the International Association for Identification, and the Bartucz Lajos Award from Jozsef Attila University and the T. Dale Stewart Award from the American Academy of Forensic Sciences. 

While he remains an influential figure in the field of anthropology today, Finnegan is also part of the discipline’s history. The American Academy of Forensic Sciences selected him as a fellow in 1978. Since that time, he has served the academy on the board of directors and as vice president. 

"Watching Dr. Connor and FIRS continue to evolve has been exciting and rewarding for CMU,” said CMU President Tim Foster. “What began as just an idea has come to fruition in ways that bring CMU international recognition and our students unprecedented undergraduate research opportunities.” 

The unprecedented research opportunities described by Foster exist at CMU because  FIRS, and its companion facility in Park County, Colorado, are the only high altitude decomposition research facilities in the United States. 

Mesa County Coroner Victor Yahn believes the FIRS facility is highly valuable for local law enforcement and elected officials. 

“We not only appreciate the assistance provided by Dr. Connor and her students to my office, but the fact that they are attracting people within our discipline as highly regarded as Dr. Finnegan just reflects the uniqueness of FIRS as a community asset.” 

The lecture is April 4 at 4pm. Coroners, health officials, researchers, students, faculty and the media are encouraged to RSVP to the lecture by emailing mconnor@coloradomesa.edu.

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Written by David Ludlam