“If something does not pass the ‘reasonable person’ test, then trust that instinct and continue to ask questions.” This quote is one of many from our conversation with Melanie Bishop-Crouch, Stevenson Alumna and Division Chief of Real Estate Services with the Howard County Government. Throughout our conversation with Melanie, she emphasized the importance of asking questions. This is a trait that has been with her throughout for life, and as she continues ascend the ranks in the professional ladder, Melanie sticks to this method of getting problems solved.
Please tell us about your educational and professional background.
I earned my bachelor’s in Paralegal Studies (currently Legal Studies) and master’s in Forensic Studies from Stevenson University. I begin working as a Staff Auditor at the Office of Legislative Audits (OLA) and left to return to Howard County Government as a Developer. In 2014, I was promoted to Land Acquisition Agent and was recently promoted again to Division Chief. Prior to working in the public sector, I worked with an Attorney in real estate law for about seven years.
How did you get involved in forensics?
I have always been interested in the law and the concept of proving things with evidence and documentation. All through my personal and professional life, I have asked questions to find out why someone did something a certain way. I thought everyone asked questions; to me, it was the only way to learn. The first time I heard about forensics was while attending Stevenson for my Paralegal Studies bachelor’s degree. I then completed my graduate degree in Forensic Studies with a track in Investigations.
In reference to the Forensic Studies program at Stevenson: how did the faculty and staff help you reach your education or career goals?
The staff and faculty at Stevenson are phenomenal! The experience that the faculty brings to the students is top-notch and unmatched. Not only was I able to learn new things, but I also learned how these concepts were used in the real-world by each professor. Many of the professors I had are attorneys that practiced the law for a number of years - they had real life experiences and real life stories.
What is the most challenging aspect of your job?
Having enough time in the day to complete everything I set out to accomplish. I start the day with a mini-list of what I need to do, and often times that list is half-completed. But it works for me, I enjoy staying busy and working under pressure. It is probably also why I was able to complete my graduate degree while working full-time and raising a family.
What do you find to be the most fulfilling aspect of your job?
The opportunity to learn. I thrive most when I am challenged, so I often take on new or unusual projects. I am very curious about anything and everything I am involved in.
What are the key characteristics of a successful forensic specialist?
The ability to ask the harder questions and pay attention to every detail of information. Sometimes the answers can be lost in the bigger picture. Other times, paying attention will allow one to see something that is right in front of them. Learning how to ask some of the more challenging, uncomfortable questions is key. Prior to working as an Auditor, I was often too timid to dig deeper when presented with an answer that was not logical. That’s not the case anymore! If something does not look or sound logical, I do not hesitate to ask why. The Audit Senior I worked with during my time at OLA taught me to rely on my instincts.
Reflecting on all of your experiences so far (educational and professionally), what would you consider the most important thing you have learned?
Never be embarrassed to ask questions. After I graduated high school, and started out in the professional world, I thought I was supposed to know all the answers. I soon learned that asking questions was not a sign of weakness. It shows the exact opposite - it shows an eagerness and willingness to learn.
What is the most important piece of advice you would give to anyone starting out in the forensics field?
Trust your instincts. If something does not pass the “reasonable person” test, then trust that instinct and continue to ask questions.
What are a few hobbies and interests of yours?
I enjoy running three times a week and racing in 5Ks, 10Ks, and half-marathons. During the summer, I enjoying kayaking. I have two kayaks and sometimes I am fortunate enough to have one of my kids, or my husband go with me.
Your favorite place that you have traveled to.
My husband and I took our three kids on a cruise and one of the places we visited was St. Thomas. Even though the weather was in the nineties, the humidity was so low that it did not feel like a typical Maryland summer. The houses and the stores were painted with vibrant, tropical colors. My husband and I went on a kayak excursion and were able to see some of the marine life – nothing too exciting, but very relaxing!
What or who inspires you?
The person that helped me achieve so much in my professional career was my former boss, David Thurston. David was the catalyst for me going back to school and not only finishing my undergraduate degree, but also pursuing my graduate degree. He was the one who recommended Stevenson University because he knew they offered programs that fit my interests.