Forensic scientist has a passion for justice

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Notre Dame alum is helping to bring justice for Michigan residents as a forensic scientist with the state police.

The Michigan State Police Forensic Science Division includes a network of seven regional laboratories strategically located across the state that serve the communities of Michigan. Technicians and scientists within the department work on everything from determining the identity of unknown substances suspected of being "controlled," to crime-scene analysis, which could include homicides, suspicious deaths, excavations/exhumations, officer-involved shootings and violent or serial assaults. 

A relatively recent involvement by the MSP forensics units into the Detroit Police Department's backlog of 11,000 untested sexual assault kits—some dating back more than 30 years—is leading to the resolution of a number of rape cases.

One member of MSP's forensic science division, NDP grad Amanda (Buszek) Fazi ('06), is making her own mark in the state as a forensic scientist who is charged with, she said, "receiving and processing evidence for the presence of biological fluids and developing DNA profiles from evidence to compare to reference samples." Fazi has been employed by the MSP in its biology unit since graduation from college.

"The majority of my work is reporting to crime scenes to assist with forensic processing and evidence collection, and then to testify to my findings as an expert witness in court," said Fazi. She notes that the driving force for her in doing her job is a passion for helping to bring justice to victims of crimes.

Her path to such a career was not necessarily a straight line, though. After graduating Notre Dame in 2006, she enrolled at Wayne State University without a clear idea of what kind of career she would eventually pursue.

From the bandstand to biology
"I jumped right in as a biology major and also continued playing music as an alto saxophone player in one of the WSU jazz ensembles," Fazi said. "I enjoyed my science courses so much that I sought out opportunities to gain experience in biochemistry and ecology research labs."

She worked part-time throughout undergrad, continued to take courses during the summers, and also volunteered at her church as a catechism teacher. 

"I feel that NDP prepared me to successfully balance my studies, work, and volunteer activities throughout college," Fazi said. Also, performing with the NDP bands helped me gain confidence to teach and speak publicly, which now are very important in my line of work."

Popular Science memories
Fazi recalls that as a young child her first memories of forensic science was reading about crime-scene investigation in the magazine Popular Science. But she didn't consider it as a career choice until her sophomore year of college when she heard a guest speaker present her work as a forensic entomologist. 

"From that point on, I was hooked," she said. "I was determined to enter the field of forensic science and actively looked for graduate programs with biology concentrations."

After finishing up at Wayne State, Fazi went on to receive a master's degree from Michigan State University in forensic science, which was a two-year research-based program that included a thesis project involving the development of a sequencing technique for determining sex through poor-quality and low-quantity DNA. 

"I also had a wide variety of other experiences in grad school that helped prepare me for my career," she said. “Also, I have been published twice in peer-review journals for my research, which included helping to identify the presence of brucellosis in human remains from the 10th to 13th centuries and working with a team that recovered and analyzed DNA profiles from deflagrated pipe bombs. It's work that I'm quite proud of." 

Although her college coursework was demanding and publicly presenting her research to experts in the scientific community was one of the hardest things she's had to do, Fazi nonetheless acquired the experience and confidence needed to successfully perform her job duties. 

"It is not always easy to explain DNA processing to juries, who have a wide array of education and preconceived assumptions about forensic science based on shows like CSI," Fazi said. "My job often exposes the worst and lowest points of people's lives, yet I work diligently in each case to objectively analyze the evidence from these crimes."

Warm welcome to NDP
Looking back again to high school, Fazi said she is forever grateful for the warm welcome she received as a transfer student to Notre Dame Prep from Regina High School. "I felt so blessed to become a part of the Irish family. And some of my favorite memories at NDP were band practices and performances with band director Mr. Martin."

The experience at NDP in Pontiac wasn't her first encounter with the Notre Dame family, however. Not by a long shot. Fazi’s father, Maynard Buszek, graduated from Notre Dame High School in 1972 and her husband, Joe Fazi, graduated from NDHS in 2002. And Joe's dad? He's Frank Fazi, a 1973 Notre Dame alum. Oh, and Amanda's brother, Matthew, graduated from NDHS in 2002.

Amanda Fazi loved her time at NDP and has an obvious longtime family connection with Notre Dame and the Marists. She believes that because the school has truly helped shape her into the person she is today, it's important to remember where she and all her fellow alums came from and acknowledge those important influences in their lives.

"The Marists and NDP have always been close to my heart and have been with me for many milestones in my life—from high school to my wedding," she said. "I hope that I will be able to continue to support my alma mater and to share with others how it was such a big part of my life." 

Follow Notre Dame on Twitter at @NDPMA.

About Notre Dame Preparatory School and Marist Academy

Notre Dame Preparatory School and Marist Academy is a private, Catholic, independent, coeducational day school located in Oakland County. The school's upper division enrolls students in grades nine through twelve and has been named one of the nation's best 50 Catholic high schools (Acton Institute) four times since 2005. Notre Dame's middle and lower divisions enroll students in jr. kindergarten through grade eight. All three divisions are International Baccalaureate "World Schools." NDPMA is conducted by the Marist Fathers and Brothers and is accredited by the Independent Schools Association of the Central States and the North Central Association Commission on Accreditation and School Improvement. For more on Notre Dame Preparatory School and Marist Academy, visit the school's home page at www.ndpma.org.

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