Madelyn Smigla, a senior who graduated from IUPUI over the weekend, has always been driven by a passion to help others.
Smigla channeled that desire, as well as her interest in criminal justice and forensics, into becoming a sworn police officer through the Indiana University Police Academy during her sophomore year.
“When I got to IUPUI and found out about the cadet program, I saw it as a great route to get my academy certification and get some experience being a police officer,” she said.
IU is home to the only Cadet Officer Program in the nation that allows full-time students to earn a college degree while becoming a state-certified police officer. Smigla graduated from the program in 2021 and has worked as a part-time officer while studying in the School of Science at IUPUI.
Yet being a police officer and a college student wasn’t the only one-of-kind experience Smigla would have during her time on IU’s Indianapolis campus. She also become the first IU student to hold an internship in the Digital Forensics Unit, a partnership between the IU Police Department and the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department.
Led by IUPD Detective Sarah McKalips, a forensic examiner, the Digital Forensic Unit’s internship program started in the fall of 2022. The new internship opportunity allowed Smigla to work on real felony-level cases and process digital evidence like cell phones, computers, smart watches and other devices to help solve crimes in an established lab environment with multiple forensic examiners.
“The interns are gaining a whole new skill set that makes them an attractive candidate on the job market,” McKalips said. “It teaches them how to utilize forensic tools, photograph and maintain a chain-of-custody log, and take contemporaneous notes, which is work they would be doing in a lab setting.”
Digital forensics is a rapidly expanding area of law enforcement as digital devices are increasingly used in daily life. In the past year, the Digital Forensic Unit processed more than 350 cases and is involved in any major felony that occurs within Indianapolis.
“Our lives are inescapably connected to digital devices,” McKalips said. “These devices can contain invaluable evidence that is crucial for a wide variety of cases, including violent crimes, crimes against children, narcotics cases and financial crimes. Digital forensics ensures investigators and victims alike have the best opportunity for a successful prosecution.”
For Smigla, being a police officer and working as an intern in the Digital Forensics Unit offered a rare educational opportunity.
“Both the internship and cadet program have been a very unique experience,” she said. “There aren’t many college internships where you can get hands-on experience in the criminal justice field that you’ll be working in.”
IUPD hopes to make this opportunity and others available to even more students in the future.
“As the program matures and grows, there is the potential for adding additional academic courses and possibly expanding to include a digital forensics minor or major,” McKalips said.
For now, the student who helped get the program started is ready for the next step. A double major in forensics science and chemistry, Smigla plans to seek out more lab experience after graduation to build on the unique education she’s earned at IUPUI and continue helping everyone she can.