By STEVE EIGHINGER
Herald-Whig Staff Writer
CANTON, Mo. -- Judy Abbott said Culver-Stockton College was looking for a creative way to present itself to more than 170 area high school students who would be visiting the campus Thursday.
The end result was the Merber Mystery Day, an event most departments at the school had been working on since April.
"We wanted to do something different, and everyone was involved," Abbott said.
Merber Mystery Day was an interactive murder/suicide whodunit, a daylong exercise in experiential education that involved the communications, criminal justice, psychology, science, business and other departments at Culver-Stockton.
Working in small groups, the visiting high school students had to assess a crime scene, interview the witnesses and get the evidence to the pathologist. Abbott, the college's senior lecturer in criminal justice who used to work in the Adams County state's attorney's office in Quincy, Ill., said many members of the faculty and staff had roles in the program, including C-SC President Richard Valentine.
"(The students) saw the case from beginning to end," Abbott said. "They worked in small groups and came to their own conclusions."
The evidence the students uncovered depended to a great extent on the questions they asked. The students had to ultimately decide whether the case their group had was a murder or suicide. If murder was the choice, a suspect had to be named, and if a suicide, a motive would be needed.
At the end of the day, the groups presented their theories to a grand jury, which then announced verdicts.
Students from Missouri high schools in Canton, Clark County, Palmyra, Scotland County and Knox County were on hand. Illinois schools involved were Quincy, Central High School in Camp Point, Beardstown and Rock Island. Keokuk was the lone Iowa high school represented.
Abbott said more schools and students were interested in attending, "but we couldn't handle any more this year."
Alicia Lackey of Palmyra High School was impressed by the process.
"It was more hands-on than I expected -- and that's good," Lackey said. "It (made us) interact."
Desiree Chatfield of Canton High School said the experience was much more realistic than she had envisioned.
"(Those involved) were very serious about the roles they were playing," Chatfield sad. "It was more intense than I expected."
Kim Gaither, a professor of business at the college, said the months invested in the project were well worth the end product.
"This was a hands-on activity for visiting students that allowed them to explore the campus while becoming immersed in a part of our experiential curriculum," Gaither said. "The students were challenged with sifting through evidence, managing the press, interviewing witnesses and working within a team.
"If we pique the interest of one student, it will have been worthwhile. This is not something we modeled after anything else, and I think we'll do another hands-on event next year, but I don't think we know what direction it will take yet."
The teachers who brought students to the activity also had an opportunity to learn more about experiential education. Dell Ann Janney, the associate dean of experiential education and professor of accounting at Culver-Stockton, helped coordinate a seminar on the subject.