Within the first three weeks of arriving at her new Arkansas apartment, Madison Kniskern '07 stood before a SWAT team as they raided her home and searched for drugs. Their 6 a.m. knock on her door had pulled her out of an early morning shower, a towel wrapped around her head and dripping water. She nervously scrambled through numbers on her phone, worried that she’d have to call her new boss to say she’d been hauled off by police although she had done nothing wrong.
The irony of the situation was not lost on Madison, who had come to Arkansas from Wisconsin to take her first job out of Carroll: working for the Arkansas State Crime Lab.
Police had come to her apartment because it was the last known address of the person they were seeking. It wasn’t Madison. Eleven years later, she has a story to tell, new skills in drug analysis and crime lab investigations, a home back in Wisconsin and a willingness to share her experience with Carroll students.
One of those students, Cullen Eberhardy ’15, appreciated Madison’s visit a few years ago when he, too, had aspirations for crime lab work. Today, both are using chemistry skills honed at Carroll as controlled substance analysts for the Wisconsin State Crime Lab. They assist law enforcement with drug analysis tied to crime investigations and use their expertise to testify in court, too. And Cullen, like Madison before him, now also shares his experiences with Carroll students in the classroom.
“We get asked, ‘Is it like CSI’,” Madison said. “We have to explain, ‘No, it’s not.’ The idea behind it is true: You do try to use science to catch bad guys. We don’t solve crimes in 45 minutes.”
Carroll’s forensic science emphasis has been part of the chemistry program since 1998. It started with a single student enrolled and has since graduated 345, according to the registrar’s office.
“The information you get from Carroll is still valid,” said Madison, who has worked since 2010 out of Wausau, aiding investigations for 40 northern counties in Wisconsin. “I now have experience with drug analysis. But every time a new drug comes out, you are starting over from the beginning and going back to beginning chemistry and how to analyze something and what the best route of analysis is. You never really leave college behind.”
During her days at Peshtigo High School, Madison fell in love with chemistry. She also enjoyed watching crime shows such as CSI and Forensic Files. Her mother was the first to suggest that maybe she pursue a career which combined both.
There were few schools that offered a forensic science emphasis when she considered college enrollment in 2002. Carroll seemed to be the right fit. Once enrolled, she declared the major and also picked up a minor in criminal justice.
“I’m doing my dream job,” she said. “It is awesome. I absolutely love it. I get to do chemistry every single day and it’s exciting.”
Like Madison, Cullen, too, became attracted and curious about the field by watching crime TV. He grew up in Hales Corners, Wis. and came to Carroll from Whitnall High School. He has been with the Wisconsin State Crime Lab in Milwaukee since 2015, hired shortly after his graduation from Carroll. Milwaukee covers investigations for eight counties in southeastern Wisconsin.
“Chemistry is just inherently fascinating to me, all the different things that happen on a molecular level,” he said. “As I kind of thought about it, the more I realized I like chemistry and I like watching true crime shows, why not combine the two?”
He credits Carroll with establishing a strong foundation in chemical instrumentation, “something that is a big part of this job,” he said. “Chemical extractions, things like that, are real-world applications to the things I learned.”
For now, he foresees a job to last a lifetime.
“This is what I plan to do until I retire and I’m just fine with that,” he said.