Kennesaw State graduate indulges love of science at GBI

KENNESAW, Ga. | Jul 1, 2021

Emily Bagwell
Emily Bagwell

From a young age, Emily Bagwell knew she wanted to be a scientist — to work in a laboratory, to wear a white lab coat every day, and to be an expert on her topic.

At Kennesaw State University, she picked up the wide range of skills that helped her achieve that goal, earning a recent promotion to firearms technical leader at the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, five years after joining the GBI as a firearms analyst.

“I can honestly say that my experience at Kennesaw State set me up for success,” she said. “When it comes to my education experience at Kennesaw, I can thank them for all of the things that they did that let me learn the teaching skills, resilience, time management, and all the foundational things I use every day.

Bagwell graduated from KSU in 2012 with her Bachelor of Science in Biology but learned much more than laboratory techniques and scientific method during her time on campus. She draws on a different skillset when she is called on as an expert — skills learned in the bioethics class taught by associate professor of biology Scott Reese.

“His bioethics course involved a lot of public speaking,” she said. “I got a taste for actual litigation between a prosecutor and a defense attorney because I played one side of an issue and someone played the other. Dr. Reese taught me that if I have the facts on my side, stick to them.”

Reese said he conceived the class as more of an open forum than a debate but expected his students to have factually sound and well-researched arguments regardless of which side of an issue they took. To this day, Bagwell credits Reese and his teaching for forcing her to think critically constantly, and to approach testimony with confidence.

“Although my classroom participation in Dr. Reese’s bioethics class was adversarial in nature much like the courtroom, my testimony provided on the witness stand represents my expert opinions from my analysis based on my education, skills, and experience,” she said. “I can be subpoenaed by either side; my expert opinions are my opinions because they’re subjective. However, they’re based on objective data and therefore not influenced by any of the same factors I described above.”

As a child growing up in Covington, Georgia, Bagwell gravitated toward science because of its complexity. After graduating from Newton County High School, she started out at Young Harris College, then transferred to Kennesaw State because of KSU’s stellar reputation for science.

Bagwell met her husband, Stephen, at Young Harris and the two transferred together to KSU, where he earned his degree in criminal justice in 2012. Through her husband, now a police officer in Kennesaw, Bagwell developed an interest in criminal justice, which she combined with her love of science to land in forensics. While earning her masters in forensic biology from Stevenson University in Maryland, she interned with the Maryland State Police, and that further sharpened her career focus toward firearms analysis.

As firearms technical leader, she analyzes firearms-related evidence submitted to court in addition to providing expert testimony. She also oversees training programs, analytical policies and the proficiency testing program for examiners in her charge.

Bagwell said the nature of job indulges her love of learning, too, as firearms and related aspects change constantly and she must keep up with those changes. In other words, she said, it’s a perfect job for a scientist.

While she always loved science, Bagwell gives much credit to her professors and peers at Kennesaw State for keeping her on the path to what she now considers a dream job. And she said she’ll do what she can to make sure others know about KSU, too.

“People should consider Kennesaw State among the best universities in Georgia; I know I certainly do,” she said. “I'm really proud to be an alumna of the university.” 

— Dave Shelles

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A leader in innovative teaching and learning, Kennesaw State University offers undergraduate, graduate and doctoral degrees to its more than 45,000 students. Kennesaw State is a member of the University System of Georgia with 11 academic colleges. The university’s vibrant campus culture, diverse population, strong global ties and entrepreneurial spirit draw students from throughout the country and the world. Kennesaw State is a Carnegie-designated doctoral research institution (R2), placing it among an elite group of only 7 percent of U.S. colleges and universities with an R1 or R2 status. For more information, visit