Nicolette first heard that medical examiners are a voice for the dead when she was in high school.
“No one might have been there when they died. But you're able to fight for justice and speak on behalf of them by looking at the signs on their body. I just find that super cool.”
Her search for a forensic science degree in the Midwest brought her to UND.
“They had the program I wanted to study,” Ras said, “and I like the size of UND. It's not a huge campus, but it's not just one or two buildings.”
“And I actually love winter. I love snow. So, I like Grand Forks.”
Nicolette isn’t one to simply sit back and observe. She loves experience. The further into the forensic work of a medical examiner she gets, the more she feels this is her work worth doing. Her excitement grows as she describes one of her most defining experiences, working with decomposing pigs for her capstone course.
It's not just a professor/student relationship. They actually want you to succeed in life.
“We got to take photos of the decomposition process. It bloats and then pops and then deflates again. And then there's maggots.”
Working closely with her UND professors and advisor has opened opportunities Nicolette wouldn’t have even thought to consider. “When I applied for my autopsy assistant job, I only knew of it because Kayla, my advisor, and Lavinia, my professor at the time, sent me an application. I wasn’t looking for an autopsy job, and it just fell into my lap.”
“It's not just a professor/student relationship. They actually want you to succeed in life.”
Nicolette works at the UND Pathology Center, which provides autopsy services for eastern North Dakota and some of South Dakota and Minnesota. She also works as a teacher’s aide and phlebotomist.
A UND Honors Program student, Nicolette branched out and got involved with UND Special Olympics, UMA (Undergraduate Medical Association), the Forensic Science Club and Chi Alpha campus ministry.
Recently, the Forensic Science Club took a trip to the North Dakota Crime Lab in Bismarck, where they saw the forensic chemistry unit, toxicology unit, the DNA unit and state-of-the-art equipment.
Nicolette credits her professors with going above and beyond to connect students with opportunities and prepare them for success. For one class, she found herself seated in a courtroom answering questions from a prosecution lawyer trying to find holes in her methodology.
The trial was fake, but the nerves were real. “Very intense, we were all dressed up fancy.
They had the program I wanted to study. And I like the size of UND. It’s not a huge campus, but it’s not just one or two buildings.
We were giving testimonies about our work in the field. As a medical examiner, you are asked to testify in court all the time. It was very stressful, but super cool.”
Now, with the skillset to be a voice for the dead, Nicolette is leading toward a more just future.