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December 7, 2021

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TV show adviser’s class at UNLV is part script, part police training

Urban Adventure Class At UNLV

Steve Marcus

Daniel Holstein, right, a former Metro Police senior crime scene analyst, instructs students Omar Serrano, left, and Jenna Casale at a crime scene simulation during an Urban Adventure class Thursday, Oct. 21, 2021, at UNLV. The class gives students a scenario-based experience to learn about crime scenes in a true-to-life way and how a crime can affect a community.

Urban Adventure Class At UNLV

Daniel Holstein, right, a former Metro Police senior crime scene analyst, instructs students Omar Serrano, left, and Jenna Casale at a crime scene simulation during an Urban Adventure class Thursday, Oct. 21, 2021, at UNLV. The class gives students a scenario-based experience to learn about crime scenes in a true-to-life way and how a crime can affect a community. Launch slideshow »

Daniel Holstein never thought his law enforcement career as a crime scene analyst for Metro Police would lead to a lengthy run working in television.

But when “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation” creator Anthony Zuiker came to Las Vegas in 1999 in preparation for the crime drama’s pilot episode, he coordinated with Holstein to help advise the show’s actors on some of the ins and outs of the profession. Holstein became a consultant for all 16 seasons, making sure the science used on the show reflected real techniques investigators utilized in the field.

Now, Holstein is back working as an adviser on the sequel to the long-running series — “CSI: Vegas,” which airs Thursdays on CBS.

He worked with the cast and crew on-set nearly every day from May through August, just in time to return to UNLV for the start of fall classes. He’s a professor in the criminal justice department at his alma mater.

Since the reboot of the newest “CSI” installment, Holstein believes the show is creating a ripple effect that’s inspiring a new wave to enter the profession.

“We’re getting a whole new generation,” Holstein said. “I’ll ask kids, ‘Hey have you seen CSI?’ Never even heard of it. But now that the show has a reboot, it’s bringing it to the forefront again. There’s excitement again, and we can educate them and say, ‘Look, here’s an opportunity here for you.’ ”

Part of the curriculum Holstein crafted at UNLV is Urban Adventure — a scenario-based class that gives students the opportunity to work through a simulated crime scene several times each semester. It was developed with help from several faculty members in the Greenspun College of Urban Affairs.

Flanked between the student union and Greenspun Hall, 24 students were divided into three groups: detectives, leaders and investigators. Students may role play as crime-scene analysts, detectives, reporters, public information officers, social workers or victim advocates. The mock scene had local actors play victims and volunteers.

“We make it as realistic as possible under an educational environment,” Holstein said.

But aside from learning to work in conditions similar to a crime scene, the class focuses on five core skills: collaboration, communication, critical thinking, leadership and empathy, said Joel Lieberman, a professor and chair of the school’s Department of Criminal Justice.

“Ultimately, it’s based on trying to get adaptable skills for a nonlinear career path,” Lieberman said. “The idea being that in having these adaptable skills, you’re going to be able to handle the promotions, which are always scary … or if you get laid off, if you decide it’s not the job you in particular want.

“But in all those cases, the idea is that you started out with the skills that allow you to go into different positions throughout life.”

And the class is a huge hit.

“Just being able to put yourself in their position and try to understand how they feel,” said Mallory Morast, a junior social work major, “that’s going to go a long way in my career.”

Robert Ulmer, dean of the College of Urban Affairs, says the class is one-of-a-kind in that it brings students from several disciplines to learn from their experiences.

“I don’t think there’s anybody in the country that’s doing anything like this, bringing so many schools and departments together,” Ulmer said. “So much of college is writing and reading, and it’s detached from reality. Understanding and reading case studies just doesn’t do it.”

Ciara Klick, a criminal justice major who is graduating in December, didn’t take the class but was helping assist students at Holstein’s request. Klick is hoping to pursue a career in the industry, so learning from Holstein has been invaluable, she said.

While helping students navigate the course, Klick has noticed certain students sparking a passion for investigative work, or in other fields.

“I can see when I’m working with students and you can see the light go off and they’re like, ‘This is so cool,’ ” she said. “Having this is Urban Adventure really shows them what you’re getting yourself into.”

Klick credited Holstein for creating a learning environment that’s accessible to any learning style. She felt so compelled to learn under Holstein’s watch that she approached him about an independent study course about bloodstain pattern analysis — a chance she said she wouldn’t be able to get anywhere else.

“He’s the best professor, the best teacher, the best instructor I’ve ever had in my educational career,” Klick said. “He tailors to each different kind of learning.

“I’ve never had a professor honestly care that much about my education. He really wants us to learn. He’s amazing.”