MARQUETTE–Jane Wankmiller has been selected as the new director of Northern Michigan University’s Forensic Research Outdoor Station (FROST), one of only eight such facilities worldwide and the first to study human decomposition in a cold climate. FROST will be complemented by a forensic anthropology laboratory and a human osteological collection. Wankmiller will oversee both components while developing courses for a bachelor’s degree concentration in forensic anthropology.
Wankmiller previously worked in three capacities for the Michigan State Police (MSP), most recently as the unidentified remains coordinator in the Missing Persons Coordination Unit. She previously conducted facial recognition searches to aid investigations through the Statewide Network of Agency Photos (SNAP) Unit and served as a forensic artist, drawing composites of suspects based on witness/victim interviews and reconstructing faces of unidentified decedents to help identify them. Wankmiller also is a certified death investigator. She has worked on nearly 200 cases involving all manners of death.
“I was proud of the work I was doing for the MSP, but I was fascinated by FROST and viewed it as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” she said. “I also liked the challenge of building a forensic anthropology program around that. The university seems very forward-thinking. When you couple that with how supportive the faculty and administration are of undergraduate student research, everything came together and convinced me this is where I should be.”
The research coming out of FROST will add to what is already known about cold-climate decomposition. NMU students will assist Wankmiller in conducting these pioneering studies in varying conditions and scenarios, giving them unique opportunities they could not access at other institutions. FROST will operate as a willed body program, in which individuals express their advance wishes to donate their bodies to the facility.
FROST will offer specialized training and research opportunities for law enforcement, government agencies, military personnel and visiting scientists. Wankmiller said she is eager to establish those collaborative relationships. Her previous experience will be helpful in doing that.
Wankmiller holds a doctorate in physical anthropology and a master’s in forensic science from Michigan State University.