Noelle Umback ’92, a supervisor for the New York’s DNA database, returned to South Dakota State University for the first time in more than 10 years. She recently spoke to a joint meeting of the Chemistry and Criminal Justice Clubs in the Avera Health and Science Center.
A third-generation SDSU graduate, she works as a forensic scientist with New York’s Office of the Chief Medical Examiner. She has worked in New York since completing her doctorate.
“I moved to New York City because my doctorate adviser was moving his group to Columbia University. I started with him at Colorado State after my bachelor’s from SDSU, and in order to finish under his direction, I had to pick up and move along with the rest of his group,” Umback said. “When I defended my dissertation and was looking for a job, I applied all over the U.S. but ended up getting a job right in New York.”
She started as a criminalist II in the DNA lab, examining crime scene evidence for biological stains and developing DNA profiles from them. In August 2001, Umback was promoted to criminalist III and was assigned to the DNA identifications team after 9-11. She was promoted to criminalist IV supervisor and returned to criminal casework. In 2006, Umback was named supervisor of NYC's DNA database, which links cases to other cases, and cases to known people, solving them.
“Forensic science is the application of natural sciences to legal matters,” Umback said. “In practice, it is the science done in crime labs, for use in trials. I work in a DNA lab, but there are many other science fields that are applied in a forensic setting, commonly chemistry, medicine, and even mathematics and engineering.
“I was last on campus over a decade ago. I know it has changed immensely since then. For instance, my research job in the chemistry department was in Old Shepard—that doesn't even exist anymore,” she continued.