Remembering Russ: A professor, mentor and pioneer

Russ Dean looking over his students work and teaching them the skills needed for CSI work.

On Dec. 31, Weber State University suffered a loss with the passing of Russ Dean. Dean is considered by those who knew him as a pioneer in the field of forensic science, especially as it pertains to Weber county and the state of Utah.

Among his most significant achievements is his founding of the first Crime Scene Investigation unit in Weber County while fulfilling his teaching duties at WSU, inspiring countless students to pursue a career in criminal justice.

Mitch Pilkington, an incoming professor in WSU’s department of criminal justice, formerly worked for Dean as a member of the Weber Metro Crime Scene Investigation unit. Pilkington, who hopes to continue Dean’s legacy through his teaching position at WSU, described Dean as a majorly influential figure in his own career and a great mentor to all those he taught during his time at WSU.

“Looking back at all of my successes, whether it was being able to solve a difficult case or deal with sometimes difficult people, all of them come from Russ and the things he taught me,” Pilkington said.

Pilkington likened Dean to a gardener overseeing a garden box full of seeds, with the seeds being his peers and those he taught, in the way that he derived a great deal of fulfillment and joy from nurturing and tending to the aspirations of those around him.

Brent Horn, assistant dean of WSU’s College of Social & Behavioral Sciences, also attributes much of his success to the way that Dean raised up the people around them, propping them up for success.

Horn described his experience working closely with Dean for a period of time as a consultant to the Weber Metro CSI unit, where he had the chance to learn how to apply his postdoctoral knowledge of chemistry to the field in a criminal justice context.

Horn explained how the CSI team was initially skeptical of him being an outsider, but Dean convinced them to give Horn a chance because he felt that Horn was made of the right stuff.

“It was because of him that I was able to spend 3, 4, 5 years doing ride-alongs on an occasional basis with the crime scene unit,” Horn explained. “That taught me a lot about the practical side of field forensics. I don’t think that would’ve happened if he hadn’t been there to coax the rest of the group into giving me a chance.”

Pilkington attested that one of Dean’s most admirable qualities was how he was constantly working to advance the success of both his colleagues and students.

“He measured his success based on the success of everyone around him,” Pilkington said.

Along with all he accomplished in his professional endeavors in the field of criminal justice and forensics, Dean made time to enjoy family life and several hobbies.

Pilkington, who worked with Dean on the Weber Metro CSI team for 11 years, attested that Dean had a passion for good coffee and that Pilkington came to associate the smell of coffee with treasured memories that he shares with his friend and mentor.

Dean also enjoyed fly fishing and gardening, taking much glee in tending to and cultivating things like tomatoes and peppers. Pilkington said his love of gardening acted as a suitable metaphor for his life in the way that he loved seeing the people around him prosper.

“He was happiest being able to take a step back; he didn’t necessarily need to be in the garden box with all the peppers and tomatoes,” Pilkington said. “His happiest place was sitting back on the deck and looking at all the stuff that he was able to help culture and cultivate.”

It goes without saying that Dean accomplished so much more in his life than just being a local pioneer of forensic science, he inspired many to pursue criminal justice and to be the best they can be in their respective fields of expertise.

To the WSU community and the world of forensic science, Dean’s legacy will be carried for generations to come through all the people he taught. Dean’s mantra, “systematic and thorough,” is echoed by law enforcement professionals who he inspired throughout his life and who have gone on to teach what they’ve learned from Dean to students of their own.

“In forensic science, we talk about major historical figures, people who’ve made these major contributions,” Pilkington said.

Pilkington likened Dean to being the “Sherlock Holmes of Utah” because of how influential he was in the field of forensic science, an influence that will forever be remembered through his prolific work both in the field and in the classroom.