Brenau University alumna Darnisha Coverson, Class of 2012, poses for a July 19, 2017 portait at the Denver Crime Laboratory where she works in the forensic biology and DNA unit. Photo by Andy Colwell/

Darnisha Coverson: Career Chemistry

For Brenau grad, science and service is the perfect formula

Darnisha Coverson, WC ’12, describes the broad outlines of her life almost as if it were all foretold.

“Growing up, I had a chemistry set,” Coverson says with a quick laugh. And like that, she gives all the setup to her story you need – you know that whatever happens, it will have science at its core.

Raised in a family that dedicated itself to service, she knew she didn’t want to just swirl beakers for the sake of swirling beakers. Coverson wanted her science, her passion, to have meaning. It is, in part, how she ended up trading the pecan and magnolia trees of Georgia for the Rocky Mountains and a career as a forensic scientist in the Forensic Biology/DNA unit at the Denver Crime Laboratory in the Major Crimes Division of the Denver Police Department. “I knew that I was looking for a very specific job,” Coverson says. “When I discovered the Denver Crime Lab was hiring, I knew this was the place I wanted to work and start a career, because it wasn’t just a science job in a laboratory – it was an opportunity for me to give back to my community using science.”

Smarts, tenacity and a dash of serendipity – all built on a foundation for which she credits Brenau and her family – helped land her a job that ticks all of those boxes. When she talks about it, the sheer joy in her voice would convince you that it couldn’t have been planned better, going back to when she was a young woman with her chemistry set and a smattering of acceptance letters from colleges up and down the Eastern Seaboard.

She can’t speak about the specifics of her job, given the nature of it involving ongoing criminal cases. The Major Crimes Division provides specialized investigations for homicides, robbery, sex crimes, missing persons, domestic violence, fraud and more. The work builds off what Coverson learned in her three years as a Golden Tiger, from the hard science that she always loved and her professors cultivated to the public speaking courses she took.

The training in science allows her to critically analyze evidence found at crime scenes and catalogue her findings. The public speaking helps when she’s in court and clearly and succinctly presents her findings to a jury that may not be aware of the ins and outs of how science and police investigations work. “When you’re a forensic scientist, you’re not just doing the science and that’s it,” she says. “I’m helping to bring justice to the victims of crime and making Denver a safer place to live.”

Giving back to the community was always in her DNA. An uncle was a pediatrician before becoming a doctor of internal medicine, her father works with Hosea Feed the Hungry in Atlanta to make sure bellies are full on holidays, and her mom spent 30 years as a teacher. Former students running into her mom, beaming and thankful for how Mrs. Coverson molded them into the adults they became, are among her daughter’s brightest childhood memories.

Brenau University alumna Darnisha Coverson, Class of 2012, poses for a July 19, 2017 portait outside her office at the forensic biology and DNA unit at the Denver Crime Laboratory. Photo by Andy Colwell/
Darnisha Coverson, WC ’12, says her job at the Denver Crime Laboratory is not just about the science. “I’m helping to bring justice to the victims of crime and making Denver a safer place to live,” she says.

A yearning to learn

Coverson didn’t set out to be a forensic scientist. It’s not even what brought her out West. She traces those origins to working on an endangered plant program as a student at Brenau.

“She was assigned her very own plant,” recalls chemistry professor Carolyn Giberson. “I remember it had a pretty purple-blue flower. Well, she fell in love with that plant, and she studied how to repropagate it so it could be reintroduced to places where it was endangered.
I’ve never seen a student fall in love with a project like she did in that program.”

Brenau University alumna Darnisha Coverson, Class of 2012, poses for a July 19, 2017 portait at the Denver Crime Laboratory where she works in the forensic biology and DNA unit. Photo by Andy Colwell/andycolwell.comCoverson describes herself as having been “a sponge” when she first set foot on campus. She wanted nothing more than to learn and experience everything, which led to her involvement in numerous organizations and activities, including the Student Government Association, Honor Court, May Court, Servant Leaders, HGH Honor Society and Peer Assistants. In a handful of years, Brenau helped transform her from that young woman with a chemistry set into a renaissance woman. Coverson punctuates that last description with the same infectious, joyous laugh that seems to
say even she’s astonished at herself.

Through it all, Coverson calls Giberson her “rock” and the person who molded her into the scientist she is today.

“She was one of the most enthusiastic and engaged students I’d had in a long time,” Giberson recalls. “She wanted to learn for learning’s sake.”

Coverson parlayed her interest in science into an interdisciplinary research internship at the University of Iowa her junior year, where she focused her efforts on studying respiratory infections to better understand the development of severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS.
By the time she graduated, she had another internship that circled back to her experience with plant life: She would be part of the Conservation and Land Management Program via the Chicago Botanic Garden.

That program sent her to Denver, where she worked with the Bureau of Land Management cataloging plants and their life cycle to help track what native species might be endangered or threatened.

The work resonated with her professional aspirations. It was science, and it was community-focused science at that. It even included a dash of outreach in educating folks in conservation and awareness of the impact we’re having on the environment. But she felt something was
missing. As she describes the feeling now, “My heart was longing to be in the laboratory conducting scientific research. I knew I needed to follow my passion.

“I did enjoy the science aspect of it. But I did really miss the hardcore science and doing the research and being in the lab and conducting tests on my own, versus collecting the data and passing it off.”

Rewarding work

After that internship ended, she found her way to the crime lab and, soon after, a promotion. Most importantly, she found that firm sense of place and self that was just out of reach when traipsing about the Western Slope of Colorado.

Brenau University alumna Darnisha Coverson, Class of 2012, poses for a July 19, 2017 portait at the Denver Crime Laboratory where she works in the forensic biology and DNA unit. Photo by Andy Colwell/

“We’re just a piece of the puzzle in this grand scheme of things,” Coverson says of her job at the crime lab. “It’s a rewarding job not only because I am serving my community, but also because I am doing something that I love. I am putting positivity out into the universe, and I think we need more of it.”

Science and public service aside, there’s a subtler side of her job that makes Coverson glow with joy – being able to proselytize science to young minds she meets when they tour the crime lab. Thanks to shows like CSI, it’s taken on a new veneer that makes it easy to engage youngsters who otherwise might not have seen the practical aspects of science.

It’s an echo of what she experienced at Brenau, where she participated in recruiting events for the science department as a student. She still enjoys letting young women know that they can be scientists, that they “can be pretty and smart.”

“She participated in things like our science olympics, where we’d bring little ones and start to get them interested in science,” Giberson says. “She was great at that – very articulate, especially with parents. Darnisha was a wonderful face of the science department.”

“Being a confident and intelligent woman and being in tune with who I am, I think, definitely has helped strengthen my motivation to succeed,” Coverson says. “And having more women reach out to young scientists, women and men who are interested in pursuing a career in science, is
really important. Because if you don’t have that person to help guide you, I do feel it can be more difficult to catapult yourself to the place where you want to be.

“And that’s what I want to do – I want to be able to show people how to get to the place they want to be in their pursuit for a career in forensic science.”

You must be logged in to post a comment.

back to top