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Samantha Gray '10 Has Found Family in Military Community

By Kenneth Stratton '19 FRIDAY, JUNE 14, 2019 - 12:00 PM WNE100

By the time she left high school, Samantha Bashaw Gray ’10 knew she wanted to study forensic chemistry. She was interested in the application of chemistry to the law and criminal justice. When it came to choosing the right college that would facilitate her career interests, there was really only one choice: Western New England.

“It was one of the few universities in the Northeast that offered a major in forensic chemistry,” Gray explained. “As a Forensic Chemistry major, I not only learned about the fundamentals of chemistry but how it plays a vital role as evidence in criminal justice cases,” she added.

Thinking more about her time as a student, she thanked Dr. Anne Poirot and Dr. William Macanka who provided her with a deep foundation of chemistry, and proved time and again their dedication to students.

“Both cared deeply about the success of their students, which was evident by their willingness to explain complex concepts multiple ways and to stay late to help their students,” Gray said.

Gray developed leadership skills as a student which have proved just as invaluable as her knowledge of chemistry and thanked Maureen Keizer for her mentorship while she served as Student Senate President in her senior year. In addition, she interned with the Chief Toxicologist at the Connecticut State Controlled Substances/Toxicology lab thanks to the connections of Professor John Drawec.

“During this internship, I assisted toxicologists and drug chemists with casework, maintained instrumentation, and learned standard operating procedures of a forensic laboratory,” Gray explained. “This opportunity helped me determine my career path as a Forensic Toxicologist and is one of the reasons I continued on to Graduate School,” she added.

Her schooling would continue at The George Washington University, where she worked as a Graduate Assistant with the Director of the Office of Veteran Services, thanks largely to the support of Dr. Jean Hart-Steffes at Western New England. In this role she was able to serve student veterans by certifying them for educational benefits through the Post 9/11 GI Bill.

“Moving to Washington DC was scary because I didn’t have family or friends in the area. However, the Graduate Assistantship in the Veteran Services office gave me that family with the military community,” Gray said. “The staff and students looked out for me and accepted me into their tight knit community. I would not have had that support system if it wasn’t for Dean Hart-Steffes,” the Golden Bear graduate explained.

While in Graduate School, Gray accepted a Forensic Toxicologist position with the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner (OCME) in Washington D.C., and stayed with them after completing her Master of Forensic Science degree.

“As a Forensic Toxicologist, I analyzed biological samples such as blood, urine, and tissues, for the presence of drugs and toxins. I handled Driving Under the Influence (DUI), Drug Facilitated Sexual Assault (DFSA), and Post-Mortem cases,” Gray explained. Among her many responsibilities included handling evidence and analyzing the evidence on instrumentation. Over the years, she’d receive several promotions.

“My final role at OCME was as the Breath Alcohol Program Manager,” said Gray. “In this role, I was responsible for maintaining all of the breathalyzer instruments in Washington D.C., training the Metropolitan Police Officers, managing Breath Alcohol Technicians, and testifying as an expert witness in court. I utilized the technical and leadership skills I learned at Western New England in this position as it required a significant amount of coordination, effective communication, and subject matter expertise,” she added.

In 2017, Gray moved on from OCME for an opportunity to serve at the Naval Surface Warfare Center Indian Head EOD Technology Division. Today she’s Technical Project Manager with the Explosive Detection Equipment Program.

“I jumped at this unique opportunity to broaden my forensic expertise to include explosive chemistry and also serve the military community again,” Gray explained. “Our mission is to support the Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) Warfighter with tools and technology to keep them safe,” the Technical Project Manager said. She went onto explain her work further, saying, “The Explosive Detection Equipment Program conducts sample analysis, assists in the development of new technology, and test and evaluates explosive detection equipment to ensure it works properly before an EOD technician utilizes it down range.”

From the foundation in chemistry to the leadership positions that helped her develop strong teamwork and communication skills, Gray has carried much of what she learned at Western New England into her career. Married to a Judge Advocate General in the United States Coast Guard Gray’s unsure of what’s to come next in their life together.

“No matter where this takes us, we are excited for the adventure and I will continue to use the valuable lessons I learned at Western New England,” Gray concluded.