Helping the community through forensics

Senior Lauren Asbury traveled to Spain to help excavate remains from the Spanish Civil War

By Kyle Hobstetter on November 28, 2023

Lauren Asbury inside the William Michael Hogan Memorial Laboratory
Lauren Asbury is a dual anthropology and spanish major, who is the student manager for the William Michael Hogan Memorial Laboratory in the CLA Building. (Lauren Castellana / Towson University) 

One day during her middle school English class, Lauren Asbury found a textbook about forensic anthropology.

Ever since, Asbury has been enamored by the subject, feeling it was an important field that helps bring knowledge and understanding to families of victims of violence.

As she was getting ready to graduate from North Hagerstown High, Asbury started to look for colleges that offered classes in forensic anthropology. Towson University was the only school she was interested in that offered undergraduate classes in the subject.

TU was an easy choice for her, and it’s more than lived up to the book she found in middle school.

“It’s been really amazing, and I actually took the forensic anthropology class the first semester of my sophomore year,” Asbury says. “After that, I joined the William Michael Hogan Memorial Laboratory and loved being able to do research that really helped me hone in on my specific interests within the field.

“After taking the class and getting involved in the lab, I asked myself if this is what I really wanted to do. The answer was an easy yes.”

It’s helped that she found a mentor in Dana Kollmann, a clinical associate professor in TU’s College of Liberal Arts and the Department of Sociology, Anthropology & Criminal Justice.

Asbury credits Kollmann’s insight and mentorship in helping her get opportunities to research her interest in sharp force trauma. She’s also explored different parts of the forensic anthropology field to learn more about what her interests might be.

“Dr. Kollmann has given me so many opportunities and chances for learning and understanding more about my field and being able to not only receive guidance but to receive it in a way that was honed to my interests in the lab,” Asbury says.

Kollmann has a high opinion of Asbury, as the senior received the William Michael Hogan and Dr. Dana Kollmann Student Professional Development Award for Compassionate Forensic Science. She is also one of the student managers for the William Michael Hogan Memorial Laboratory.

“Lauren has the academic prowess, maturity, integrity, work ethic, organization, foresight and leadership skills that will contribute to her success as a forensic anthropologist,” Kollmann says. “The compassion and respect that Lauren exhibits when working with human remains underscores her mission to name the nameless and bring the missing home.”

One of the highlights of her college career, and one that showcases her compassion, happened over the summer when she traveled to Granada, Spain, to participate in a research project helping excavate civilian remains from the Spanish Civil War, fought from 1936 to 1939.

Working with Francisco Carrión Méndez from the Universidad de Granada, Asbury witnessed the true collaborative process that goes into an excavation. This includes working with archeologists, historians, sociologists and, most importantly, the community.

“I remember people would walk by and they would ask questions about the site, and that was really interesting because that’s not something I’ve ever witnessed before,” Asbury says. “I'd never done anything excavation wise; I'd just done the lab side.  But it was interesting to see the community interested in the history of their country.

Seeing remains in the field for the first time, it was a humbling experience, but it also made me see how important this work is. Being able to excavate and identify these people and to be able to have their stories known is incredible. I loved that this community came together in a way to do that.”

Lauren Asbury and members of the excavation team at the Universidad de Granada
This past summer, Asbury traveled to Granada, Spain, to participate in a research project helping excavate civilian remains from the Spanish Civil War. Here she is with members of the team from the Universidad de Granad. (Submitted Photo)

Asbury is also finding ways to give back while at Towson University.

The Spanish major has served as president of the Spanish Honor Society and teaches English for Speakers of Other Languages classes (ESOL), including ones that teach members of Towson University’s maintenance team.

As she gets ready to graduate this spring as a member of the Honors College, she can’t help but remember her time in middle school when she told herself she was going to be a forensic anthropologist. And while she admits she still has a lot to learn, Towson University has given her a strong foundation to succeed.

“Whether it’s in anthropology or Spanish, I’ve received tailored and specific guidance,” Asbury says. “Towson University as a whole has provided me with faculty mentors and professors that want to see me succeed, and that will help me to succeed.”