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The Power of DNA with the DNA Mavens

India Henry, Cindy Cale and Marisil Wright-Pennant had the brilliant idea of forming a forensic DNA laboratory to provide quality and accurate science together. The DNA Mavens have over 40 years of experience in forensic evidence processing, and interpretation and testimony. They provide consultation, research and laboratory services as well as education and training programs,

Learn more about DNA Mavens here.

Listen to the full episode here.


Passionistas: Hi, we're sisters Amy and Nancy Harrington, the founders of The Passionistas Project Podcast, where we give women a platform to tell their own unfiltered stories. On every episode, we discuss the unique ways in which each woman is following her passions, talk about how she defines success and explore her path to breaking down the barriers that women to often face.

Today we're talking with India Henry, Cindy Cale and Marisil Wright-Pennant about the power of DNA. These three women had the brilliant idea of forming a forensic DNA laboratory to provide quality and accurate science together. The DNA Mavens have over 40 years of experience in forensic evidence processing, and interpretation and testimony.

DNA Mavens provide consultation, research, and laboratory services. Additionally, they have education and training programs, so please welcome India Henry, Cindy Kale and Marisil-Wright Pennant. Thank you for being here, ladies. We're so excited to have you here.

Cindy: Thank you for inviting us.

Marisil: Yes, thank you. Yes, we're very excited to be here.

Passionistas: So we like to start each interview by finding out what our guests are most passionate about. So if you could each tell us what you're most passionate about?

Marisil: I guess I'll go first. I am Marisil Wright-Pennant, and I am really passionate about forensic science. I am passionate about forensic science because it allows me to look at the puzzle of whatever happened in a criminal case and also from that puzzle be able to help a victim to get justice or exonerate somebody who has been convicted of a crime that they didn't commit. So it allows me to be able to help people in a way that I've always been passionate about.

India: I'll go next. Uh, this is India. Um, so I, um, love to just find out things. I'm a very curious person. Um, So I just love to figure out why things are happening, what's going on, and I'm also very passionate about volunteering, so I love to give back, um, in many different ways. Um, I volunteer with the Girls Apartment right now, um, but um, I look forward to getting involved with different organizations.

Cindy: Hi, I'm Cindy. Um, my. Passionistas forensic science as well. But, um, when I started out as a newbie scientist, I was all about doing that casework. But as I started to, um, go to school and earn higher educational degrees, I got more into research. So I'm more passionate about doing research that helps the forensic science community, um, understands the limitations of our testing process and what we can and cannot say about our D n A results in court.

Passionistas: Well that's all amazing and um, we're so excited to have you all here cuz this is a topic that we have not been able to discuss with anyone before. So what drew you all specifically to this line of work?

Cindy: I've been in the field for over 20 years and I had gone to college to become a veterinarian and this was before CSI.

Um, I think the only TV show that was even focused on, um, Forensics was like the new detectives or something like that. So I had no clue about forensics. And I happened to have a professor, um, who had gone over and was working with Scotland Yard, come back and teach a forensic science class, and, uh, that was it. I was caught up in it and, um, I never looked back.

Marisil: For me, what drew me to forensic science is there's a program called Forensic Files that I. Loved and I would watch it almost every day. And I'm originally from Jamaica, so while I was in school, back home and watching forensic files, there was nothing about forensic science that existed.

So I made it, um, uh, my duty to research more about it, and that's what brought me to the United States. I came here to study forensic science and fell in love with it and have never left. And then the aspect of forensic science that I fell in love with even more was dna. So I'm very passionate about DNA analysis in forensic science.

India: Uh, For me, uh, actually started when I was in high school. So I was always obsessed with the X-files and I always wanted to be, um, what Scully was. I think she was either a forensic pathologist or medical examiner, but either way, I, that's what I wanted to be. Um, but I just couldn't get to medical school. I couldn't, I.

I couldn't do it. So I just looked, um, did some research and I figured out that, um, you can be in a lab, you can do forensic science, you can be in a lab, but I really didn't know what forensic science I wanted to do. So I, as I, I got a contract job, um, here in Houston, um, doing forensics and the D section, and I was like, this, this is it. I like it. So, um, that's pretty much my journey to forensics.

Passionistas: That's so fascinating. So for people who don't know, um, describe what a forensic forensic science is and like what specifically you guys do.

India: Forensic science is science as it applies to the law. So it deals with, um, The legal system, um, criminal activity. Um, and for us specifically as DNA analysts, we process evidence for D n A. We interpret d n a results. We issue reports and we testify in court. Um, and so our skillset is very specific.

Passionistas: How did you all meet? You each were having each had your own experiences, but what brought you all together?

Marisil: As you mentioned, we all have our different experiences, but we did end up working at the same place at one point, and that's what kind of brought us together. Um, we realized that we had similar ideas, similar plans, and, uh, dreams of what we wanted to achieve, and that kind of just drew us closer and closer together.

Cindy: Yeah, and we have, you know, similar skillsets, but each of us have. Um, kind of what we focus on differently. So we kind of mesh very well together and we can trust each other to, um, so if somebody's working on a project over here, I don't have to worry about, um, it getting done because I can trust that person. So, you know, and like Marisol is very much about quality assurance and India's very much about education and I'm about the research. So we kind of have our little niches, but we meld well together.

Passionistas: So in addition to the science aspect of it, do you have to study the law and the legal system and the, and the court system?

Marisil: No, we don't have to study the law or the legal system or the court system. But we do play a part in regards to, we provide expert testimony. So once um, evidence is found at a crime scene, it's taken to the lab to be processed and. Once we generate a report in regards to looking at the evidence and seeing, um, if DNA is present and, you know, interpreting that we then present that to the jury and to the court to give them more information about what may have happened in that crime to help them make a decision in regards to the guilt or innocence of that suspect.

India: Yeah. And I think that after being in the field for a certain amount of time, you kind of start to understand the legal system and how it works. And cuz we talk with attorneys a lot. Um, so yeah. So while, while Mary still said we don't study it, but we, we grasp it pretty quickly throughout the whole, throughout your experience,

Passionistas: I'm sure I'm like most people who have seen, you know, a bunch of episodes of CSI and think like, I would be so good at this if it didn't involve blood and crime scenes and science stuff. Um, cuz it's, it is fascinating to me. I, I do, I, there are times where I'm like, oh, if I wasn't so squeamish, this would've been the perfect career for me. Um, so what is unrealistic about what we see on TV and, and, and what is like the reality of what you guys do for a living? Like, A crime happens and you are brought in, like, explain the whole process to us.

India: I can speak for, for our particular, uh, experience, but, um, a crime happens, evidence is brought to the lab. So we don't go out to the scene, we eat the lab. Evidence comes to us and, um, we process it according to what is requested and based, also based on our, um, education, training and experience. Um, what's not realistic on TV is that it takes a commercial break to solve a crime.

Um, some crimes may be easier, faster to solve, but um, it, it takes a while. It takes a long time because it even takes time to even get. To that point where we're looking at the data. Um, so it's not a quick process at all. Um, and also there's different types of evidence. So depending on the type of evidence that you're looking at, will depend on how long it takes to, um, to get the DNA result. And then, um, even though it seems like we're solving the prime, we're providing evidence for the law enforcement, and then they kind of take it from there. So, um, everything that we do is to help in their investigation.

Cindy: Yeah, we don't tend to wear leather and stiletto heels and work in the dark. Um, we're in usually in a well lit lab and in our lab coats and not out on the scene and not interviewing people cuz we're scientists, we're mostly introverts. And so we hi, like hiding in the lab and not being out in the public and talking to people. So, um, at least for me that's, it's a way to help people but not actually have to interact with people.

Marisil: There are so many different aspects of the science. As India said earlier, you know, forensic science is just applying science to law. So DNA is just one part. So there might be multiple other types of evidence that could be like fingerprints or drugs, seizes drugs or toxicology. Like there's, there's forensic science is so multifaceted, but you know, on these TV shows, there's one person that's doing everything and that's not typically the case either.

Passionistas: So do you specifically concentrate in DNA? I mean, your name is DNA Mavens, so is that specific, but you don't do any of those other things, correct?

Marisil: Yes. So we're specifically DNA, that's where we, that's where we're, we specialize in.

Passionistas: Science, we know is still a very male dominated area. Um, is, is this field in particular heavily male dominated and if so, has that been challenging for all of you?

Cindy: Well, I think. Initially the forensic science field was male dominated. Um, but I think from articles I've read, uh, that's tends to be where women gravitated to the forensic sciences. Um, there are does seem to be, um, maybe a more predominant male presence in like management as opposed to on the bench. Um, in my experience, it, it. I don't know if it presented me with any particular challenges. It really just depends on egos, um, how those kind of mesh or don't mesh.

Marisil: And I guess as we mentioned too, we all have differing backgrounds and I, I have worked at, uh, three different labs in my, in my experience and all of them. Have been managed, at least the department I was in, bit by women and predominantly women. So, you know, there, I guess it depends on where, but it seems like women are in my, in my, I guess in my eyes, women have been dominating forensic science at least recently.

Passionistas: Well, that's incredible. That's good to hear. I like that. Now we just have to get them into all the other fields. Um, so what's your favorite thing about what you do?

Cindy: I do a lot of literature review. Um, so I look at the research and see how it can apply to casework. Um, I find that very interesting and also where the gaps are in the research. Um, so one of our plans is when we get our lab up and running, is to try to fill those research gaps and do the research, get, get published and be able to continue and move the community forward.

Um, with that, um, Any kind of forensic DNA related research particularly. Um, for me it's, um, about the DNA transfer. Um, whether it can be directly deposited on a surface or indirectly brought into a, to a, onto a surface. So that's where my research interests lie.

India: For me. Um, I like that no case is the same. Um, so every case is different. You have to approach each case differently, which is why, um, the training and education is really important because you have to know, um, the appropriate step to take for that particular case. And, um, I love how just taking it from the beginning to the end and seeing, um, The, the steps you can take and the difference you can make in a case and how it's very different from like the next 10 cases that you're gonna look at. So that's my favorite part of it.

Marisil: And similar to India, um, what I love about it is the, the challenge, the, the ability to solve this puzzle by looking at all the different parts and putting the pieces together to be able to present that evidence to the investigator. And as she said, no. No cases, no two cases are ever the same.

So I love that challenge of being able to present it with all this and being able to pull something out of it. Sometimes we can't, but most times we are able to pull something out. So that's what I love about it. Like you really never know what you're gonna get. Every day is something different.

Passionistas: Do you each have a case or two that you worked on where you really felt your work had an impact in a positive way that you can talk about, or that there was some surprise element to it that really shifted things in an interesting way?

Marisil: Well, um, unfortunately for me, based on how the workflow is, sometimes we don't get to see what happens at the end of a case. So we will provide the information that we have been able to interpret to the investigator. And that might be the end of it. Like we maybe won't know what happens if we get called to court, then we will testify based on the evidence that we were able to, to find. But we sometimes we still don't know even the results of what happened at court. So for me personally, I don't, I, unfortunately, I don't know what has happened in, I don't think any of the cases I have worked on like the, the, the last part. So I just, I guess I'd have to just enjoy the process.

Passionistas: Oh, that. Oh, that would make me crazy. I would be like, I ... every local paper every day. Try to...

Cindy: And working at a private lab is even worse. You're so far removed from what's going on because you're just working public lab cases and then they're dealing with the the end results and you don't get that feedback. So when I was working at a private lab, Um, in Indianapolis for, uh, 10 years. I missed, missed working at a public lab cuz I wasn't able to talk to the investigators. I wasn't able to, you know, um, see the, kind of the, you know, end results. Um, So that was one of the struggles I had is like, cuz at a public lab you're like, these are my cases, this is what I'm working on at a public, at a private lab.

It's like, no, the, these are the client's cases and once you're done, you move on to the next ones. You know, so that you lose that kind of sense of these are mine and I'm working on 'em and I'm doing a good job. And, uh, as opposed to I'm getting this dispatch cases done, it's going to the client. I'm moving on to the next thing.

India: Um, I will share that I did have a case that, um, early in my career, um, I screened it. So I was the one who got the initial evidence that I tested it for, uh, bodily fluids. Um, and like 10 odd years later, um, I ended up doing the d n analysis of that case. Um, so I kind of came. Almost full circle for me. Um, but it was a triple homicide.

It was a lot of evidence, a lot of samples. Um, so I was able to actually see it didn't end up going to court. Um, but I was able to actually see the beginning and the end of that so that even after 10 years. So I thought that was, um, really interesting and I was kind of, even though it was a lot of work, it was, um, it was kind of nice to see like, um, the end part of it.

Passionistas: Is that something that comes up a lot in your, um, in your field is like sort of cold cases that have been dead for a while and then come back?

India: Oh yeah. Read a lot of cold cases and, um, I think, um, but it kind of just depends, um, cuz they're not always looking for DNAs or it just depends on what they're looking for. But I think, um, the cold cases are being revisited pretty frequently.

Passionistas: I know you're not out like on the, the crime scenes and dealing with the drama of that and everything, but it's a really big responsibility. The work that you all do, people's lives can be dramatically affected by the work that you are putting out there. So is that stressful? And if it is, how do you manage that stress and what do you do to take care of yourselves on the other end of this?

Cindy: Well, it's nice that we have the three of us cuz we can talk to each other and kind of help each other, like kinda get rid of the anxiety and the, the stress. Um, I know working in a public laboratory, there's um, There. There it was constantly, we need to get this many cases out every month. And so there was always like this end of the month push of getting cases out the door and it was just always very stressful and you just needed to get up and, and take a walk and take a breather. And that's kind of how we found each other. We would go for walks, we'd go out to lunch together just to be able to kind of decompress.

India:  It can be very stressful. And like Cindy said, um, like I only worked in a public laboratory, so all I knew was you gotta get these cases out no matter what. Um, so it is nice to have the three of us who we can really rely on if for some reason I can't handle something that I know the two of them will be able to take over that load.

Marisil: And just to add, yes, the stress level is really, really high. And having worked both. Private and public. I will say my experience in a private lab was, it was just go, go, go, go, go. There was like, at some point, I think I was even depressed because it was just, it was, it was really heavy. Um, my experience being at a public lab, it was a little different in regards to, I will say at least that lab kind of tried to make steps or efforts to help alleviate the stress a little bit, um, by just even having little get togethers or just little decompressing. And so I guess different labs maybe will have different strategies of helping their analysts cope with stress, but I do believe it's a very important part of the job and I hope that more labs will take the initiative to help their analysts deal with that stress cuz it is a really stressful job. And it's a constant, as you said, people's lives are at stake, so it weighs very heavily. You feel like you have to do your job perfectly all the time, and it, it, it can be very stressful.

Passionistas: And what's the difference between a private and a public lab? I'm not sure I understand what a public lab is.

Marisil: Public lab is usually a government lab or attached to a city or the government and a private lab. Is, as it says, it's privately owned and they will usually contract with a government lab and assist them with their caseload. So more, more private labs, public labs would maybe be more like their clients, if that makes sense.

Cindy: Yeah. Public or public labs tend to be more on like the non-profit side, so they're not like out to make a profit, whereas a private lab, they're, they're charging money for their services. And the end goal is to have a profit. So that's why there's always this go, go, go, cuz the more cases you work, the more money you make.

Passionistas: So you've talked about the workload. So as a, as a company, how have you set up your systems? Have you changed from the, your past experiences? Do you each take on a certain amount of cases or do you share the cases?

How, how do you, how does it work?

India: I think right now we're kind of just starting out, so, um, we are just kind of sharing cases that we're each taking a case. Cindy's has, uh, a lot of cases that she's working. She's, you know, um, doing this for a while, but, um, I think that we're, as we are developing our laboratory and figuring things out, we are trying to consider the things that we experienced in the past and how we wanna be different for, uh, for ourselves and for the future. So, um, but yeah, it's, we're still have a ways to go.

Passionistas: And how are you getting clients as you're building the business? How do you, how do you bring in the work?

Cindy: Well, I was previously consulting, so I do have repeat customers coming in and, and, um, Working with, with us again. Um, but we've also been putting together packets and sending them out to, you know, public defender's offices, just to let them know that we're available to help with their case files if they need assistance in understanding the DNA results that we're here and we're willing to help.

Passionistas: And is it just in Houston or do you work, can anybody work with you from anywhere?

Cindy: Yeah, it's anywhere. Um, I, I mean, I'm working on a case from Washington State, from California, so I'm all over the place.

Passionistas: So India in 2016, you received the Chief of Police Unit citation and recognition of exceptional Performance of duty. So tell us a little bit about that case and what that honor meant to you.

India: Uh, that was actually a sexual assault that happened, um, here in Houston. Um, and I was part of a team that helped to solve that particular case. So it was. It was a lot of us, I'd say at least 10 of us who were involved in different areas of the process.

So I did, um, a lot of the lab work. So I did some screening and some of the technician work, but I worked with the instruments and process of DNA samples. Um, so it was really interesting, um, to know that we got that citation that, um, accommodation. But, um, we, it was, uh, one of those things that. I think a lot of people in laboratories don't really experience, cuz you don't really get recognized with the work that you do.

Um, cuz we do a lot of work and there is a lot of steps in the process and to know, and that's one of the, um, the things that I think helps with. The morale and the laboratory is knowing that, look, you did all this work, but look what happened in the end, and to be recognized for it. So that was, um, it was a really interesting and important experience to actually be recognized by the city for, um, the work that we did.

Passionistas: That's great. Well, it sounds like it was well deserved. Congratulations. I know it's been a while, but congratulations. Um, you know, so now in addition to this incredibly important. Stressful complex work that you're doing now. You're also entrepreneurs who have started a business together. So India, we know you are getting your MBA in sales and business development, right? So how are you guys approaching this now business side of your lives?

Cindy: I've been reading a lot of books and doing a lot of tutorials and trying to figure out, you know, I've never had the deal with payroll or anything like that, so just trying to figure out, out like the, the ins outs of, um, Just the, like, the day-to-day business things has just been, I mean that's, I find that overwhelming, um, because I'm a scientist, not a business person.

So trying to take on both task is, yeah. It's like, I'm like, what did we get ourselves into kind of experience? But I think in the end, we'll, we'll all be able to understand the whole process and be able to, to. Uh, take care of things. And it also is helpful that it's just the three of us and not trying to have like a big business with multiple employees. So I think just starting out small, like we are, I think is going to help us in the long run.

India: Yes. And I'm always trying to, um, spread the wealth of information that I'm learning and my classes because it's, it is a very different world. Um, constantly having to turn off my science brain and turn off my business brain, but um, it's surprisingly it's coming together really well. I think each of us, um, are willing to learn and we really wanna do this. So I think we're putting in the work and I think it's, uh, it's gonna turn out really well. Yeah, it's

Marisil: definitely something new to all of us and something that we're.

Learning more about each day, and it's gonna take a while, but we're dedicated to putting in the work to ensuring that it pays off in the end. You know, we, we try to maintain a positive mindset at all times, and if somebody's kind of feeling low, we try to boost that person up. So we we're constantly having each other's backs to make sure that we're.

Pushing forward.

Passionistas: We're Amy and Nancy Harrington and you're listening to the Passionistas Project Podcast and our interview with the DNA Mavens, India Henry, Cindy Kale and Marisol Wright Pennant. To learn more about their forensic DNA consulting services, visit Now here's more of our interview with India, Cindy and Marisol.

Cindy, you wrote a book called Could Secondary DNA Transfer Falsely Place Someone at the Scene of a Crime. So talk about that.

Cindy: It was actually a research project. Um, so when I started on my master's degree, it was um, one of the classes we had to design, uh, an experiment and tested and then potentially be able to presented at a conference and published it. And so I had, um, interest in secondary DNA transfer more as a contamination kind of issue. Like what am I doing in the lab that I could potentially contaminate evidence? What, what do I need to do to s to make sure I don't do that? So, you know, I was thinking like, oh, you know, I go in and I've got my gloves on, but then I'm handling my case file, which was just at my desk.

You know, could I be potentially transferring DNA that was on the case file into the evidence? So it was started out more like that, but. The way the, the research was designed was just more like, can, can we detect secondary transfer? And so the research was designed to kind of maximize transfer. Um, the participants washed their hands, wore gloves for an hour and a half, um, try to get rid of, you know, any foreign d n a that was on their hands, but also at the same time kind of, you know, get the sweat going.

And then I had them. After the end of that, um, hour and a half, they took off the glove shook hands, and then each of 'em touched an item. And then I tested the items and found that I could pick up the d n a from the person that never touched that item. Um, and then in a couple, uh, instances, the person who never touched that item was either the predominant.

DNA profile or the only DNA profile touched, detected, the person that touched it wasn't even present. And so, um, that's kind of how I got into consulting because attorneys liked my research because, uh, you know, there was a possibility that somebody's dna n a could be found on an object and they may not have even come into contact with that object.

Um, so that's where, kind of where my research has kind of led me is into that indirect transfer.

Passionistas: I mean, how accurate is DNA evidence in general?

Cindy: Well, there are limitations to our testing process. The, we can tell you in some instances whose DNA N is present, but how or when that DNA came to be on an object, that's, we can't do that based on a DNA profile. Um, there are, are. Analysis that can be done, but that's where the literature and the research comes into play. And the lack of research makes it very difficult to make those kind of assessments that, oh, is this person's DNA on this object because of this particular activity or because of some, some other reason.

Um, because of that lack of research that that assessment's very difficult. Um, so that's where I'm, uh, my interest lies. So

Passionistas: fascinating. It really is. Um, so India, you are a STEM War ambassador and a girl advocacy league number. So, um, talk about what you're doing to encourage young women in STEM and why that's so important to you.

India: Um, well with STEM Noir, it is an organization that is, um, geared towards black women in stem. And the purpose of the organization is to. Um, encourage more black women to go into stem, um, especially in the higher degrees like Masters and PhD, um, because they're, um, surprisingly there's not that many black women who have those higher degrees in stem.

Um, and with the Girl Empowerment Network, um, we focus on increasing the self-confidence and the self-efficacy in girls to encourage them to. To loved themselves and to do, pursue whatever they wanna pursue. And, you know, knowing that, like I have a 15 year old daughter who's kind of at that age where she's trying to figure out what she wants to do with her life.

And so it was really interesting to see, like during the covid time when we were all in lockdown, like they, there was no, um, she couldn't be with her friends. She couldn't, socialization was totally different. Um, so we had a lot of time to talk and I, um, She was kind of, felt a little bit discouraged, so I had to like encourage her like, you know what, you could just, you could do whatever you want.

Like you can do hair, you can be a singer, you can, whatever you wanna do, you can do it. Um, but just. To, to explore as much as you wanna explore. Um, so that's why, um, dealing with girls, um, has been really important to me, uh, especially with stem, cuz I love science and just to see like us three, like really try to break through a lot of Berriez that we had to break through, especially as, uh, you know, a black woman trying to get into STEM and break through a lot of Berriez that, um, I think that's just really important, especially to me.

Passionistas: This is a question for all of you. Um, what advice would you go back and give your younger selves, whether that's about work or life, whatever, like picture yourself as a, a girl before you find, kind of found this niche in your life. What, what advice would you give yourself?

India: I think I would tell myself to travel more. Um, cause if there's a lot of things that are happening in other sides of the world that we don't see every day, and we don't hear about Indians every day unless it's, you know, like a Nashville disaster or something. But a lot of things we don't hear about. Um, so I would just tell myself to travel more and to see.

What else is out there? Um, even like with science, there's so many things happening on the other side of the world in science. They're doing a lot of different research. Um, there's a lot of different technology being developed on the other side of the world that, um, is really interesting. So I think just to travel more,

Cindy: I would tell myself to stand up for myself and advocate for myself. I'm not good with bullies. Um, I tend to. Shy away from that situation instead of standing up for myself even now. Um, but I've, I think I'm working on that and improving on that and not letting people intimidate me as much as I used to be intimidated. Um, I know that we, um, all kind of feel at times that, that imposter syndrome, um, and to kind of tell ourselves, no, we know what we're doing and.

We're here and we're here to help and just to advocate for ourselves and stand up for ourselves. I guess I would tell my

Marisil: younger self that it is, it's okay not to, not to know what you want to do right away. And then, and as you grow, you'll find yourself and it's okay to not, well, not necessarily it's okay, but you should, you should be more confident. You should have more self-esteem. You should believe in yourself more and because you can achieve anything that you want. As I remember when I was younger, especially trying to go into forensic science, and as I said in Jamaica, it didn't even exist and I was discouraged, but I'm happy I pursued it. So I would call myself, you know, you can do, the sky is a little bit. Like, there is nothing that you cannot achieve if you put your mind to it and put the hard work into it. You can't achieve all your dreams.

Passionistas: What did your family in Jamaica think when you said this is what you wanted to do and what do they think now?

Marisil: Huh. That's funny. They, they thought for, I mean they thought that's crazy, first of all, but they were very excited.

None of us knew what it was cuz I really didn't even know exactly what it was. Apart from forensic files. Um, And at some point I had kind of given up on it when I realized it didn't exist in Jamaica. I, I studied science for my undergrad and then I went to work in an investment company and I was like, oh, I kind of like business.

Maybe I should just do this. But my mom reminded me, um, no, you said you love forensic science, so you need to go and pursue it. And she encouraged me and I'm happy she did. And that's why I say, you know, it's important that we need to fight for our dreams. Um, she encouraged me, as a matter of fact, she kind of threatened me.

She's like, if you don't go to college now, then I will, I won't even help you, but if you go now, I will, I will help you with, you know, the tuition. And so I was like, oh, let's do this. And um, that's when I started looking into programs and got into my master's program. In the, in the United States.

Passionistas: Love that. Props to mom. That's great. Yes. Props to mom. Um, what is your, in each individual, um, dream for women?

Marisil: I want women to feel empowered. I want them to feel like they're not less than, and I want 'em to feel, as I said before, that they can achieve anything they want to achieve that. There is no limit, there is no bound on what you can achieve as a woman.

That there, there is, there is, we all have this innate power that we can just strive and go for whatever it is that we want. And I would love if every woman would be able to be able to feel that power within them to go for what it is that they wanna achieve.

India: Yeah, it's, uh, I agree. And along those lines, um, I think that women should know that they're more than just a wife, a mom, you know, a sister or aunt.

They're, you know, more than just staying at home and doing housework, that they are capable of doing everything, taking over the world. They're capable of being in a C-suite with, you know, other women and men. So I think that, um, just to know that they can do it,

Cindy: I don't think I could say it any better. Um, yeah, I mean, just to know that there are other women out there that have, you know, pushed through the Berriez and to look to them for inspiration and just to continue to move forward with whatever, um, dream you have.

Passionistas: What's your secret to a rewarding life?

Cindy: I mean, it's definitely a work life balance. Um, my husband and I ride motorcycles, so I do a lot of wind therapy. When I get stressed out, I jump on my bike and we go for a ride. Or we're actually part of a, you know, a chapter down here. So we ride pretty much every weekend and go on trips and stuff.

So, I mean, it's, you know, I work during the week. I'm. Try to make sure I'm not working more than, you know, normal hours. Um, and then when my family gets home in the evenings, I'm there for 'em, and then the weekends are mine. And I, that's, I just try to keep that balance and then, you know, working for myself, it's a lot easier because I'm not having to commute.

Um, You know, when I first moved here, my commute was an hour one way. Um, and that was stressful enough. So just being able to get up in the morning, kind of do my own thing and get going with the day has just been, you know, uh, I, I would, I don't think at this point I'd be able to give it up.

India: Yes, I, uh, for me, I, it is definitely the work life balance, but also the school balance as well. Uh, so trying to figure all that out. But yeah, I try to, um, leave a lot of time to myself and my family, but specifically myself, since I'm always there. For everyone else, I need to also just be there for myself. So, um, that's really hard to do, but I just, I put a lot of effort

Marisil: into making sure I do that.

And echoing what, um, both Cindy and India said, work-life balance is important. And I also believe that this, um, us being able to put together and come together and form this business has also allowed me to look into other aspects of my life that I even didn't know that I like or love. And I've also delved into other sides learning more about the creative side of me, and it has allowed me to, you know, explore that aspect. As well. So it has allowed me to look into other facets of my life, not outside of just science. So that has been very rewarding for me too.

Passionistas: And what is that, what does that mean creatively, creatively in the work you're doing? Or are you expressing yourself creatively outside of work?

Marisil: Well, it's outside of work, so there are few little things that I've always liked to do or thought about. Uh, I liked photography and I bought myself a camera, maybe like. Maybe almost 10 years ago, and it's been kind of sitting, gathering dust and now that I have more freedom and it's, um, you know, more flexibility, I've been able to take that camera back up and do a little bit more, figuring it out how photography works and actually found a mentor to help me learn more about photography. So just little, little things like that. Which, you know, is not just all science and DNA and stress, but finding ways to relieve stress. That's also exciting for me.

Passionistas: That's fabulous. Um, do you each have a mantra that you live by?

India: Well, I have one, um, thing I found. Um, it's actually from the Bible and it's, um, it's a quote that says A mustard seed can move mountains, uh, or something to that effect.

Um, so like every little small thing that you do has the, um, potential to make big movements in the end. So I try to, even though it may seem tiny now, um, it has the potential to be huge later on. So I try to live by that.

Marisil: Yes, for me, which is also a Bible verse. I don't remember exactly where it's coming, where it comes from, but it just kind of says that God will never give you more than you can bear.

And that encourages me that whatever situation I'm in, no matter how good or how bad it may be, that it's something we I can get through and I can surpass and can look to the positive side of it.

Cindy: Yeah, mine is this too will pass.

Passionistas: That is a good one. And those are all great. Um, what's your favorite thing about this sisterhood that the three of you have created with each other? What's the, what's the most important thing that you get out of it?

India: I think it's the fact that we're all so very different. We have very different backgrounds, um, very different cultural backgrounds, work backgrounds, life experiences. We're all very different, but. When we need each other, we're there for each other.

I think that's really important for us, especially starting this business. But even, um, outside of the business, like if we need to talk about personal things going on in life or we're struggling on one end, then we may need to, you know, hash it out or something. That, the fact that I know that they are there is, uh, it's really, really special.

Cindy: No, I know when I get into like a negative space, I can talk to them and they help me get out of that. At that negativity, um, and try to focus on the good and try to like set aside the, um, the bad, I guess, um, the negativity that I'm kind of focusing on. So I always have, I'm appreciative that they're there and willing to kind of deal with my, you know, whatever's going on with me and, and.

Just kind of bring me up and make me feel better.

Marisil: Yeah. I was gonna say that sisterhood is, is, is is a really good word for what we have because it's not just work, it's not just the business that we formed together, it's just our, our lives. We try to support each other as much as we can in all aspects, and I think that's what makes us different and kind of brings us together.

As India said, we're all so different, but what we do have in common is that we want. All each of us, we want to support the other and ensure that they're living their best life. So there is no like selfishness going on. There is no, oh, wondering what's happening around there. But we all just trust each other and support each other to the best that we can.

Passionistas: Love that. I love that. Um, what's your definition of success?

Cindy: Uh, for me it used to be that paycheck. Um, You know, as I got, you know, worked up the chain and getting the higher paycheck, but now it's more about happiness. You know, being able to have, you know, be able to be home, do my thing, you know, have that flexibility, be able to jump on my motorcycle when I need to, um, be there for my family, be able to travel.

Um, so it's not. It's not about the paycheck anymore, it's more about just being able to do the things that I wanna do without somebody telling me I need to be here from nine to five every day and, and commuting, you know, an hour there and now we're back and, and being kind of like a, a slave to the grind, more or less.

Um, so it's nice to have. Be able to go into business with, for myself and with these ladies and be able to have that flexibility. And if I need to take some time off, I know that they will be there to pick up the slack and I can come back in and, and do things. So it's, it's that freedom I think is the more the success for me now than anything else.

India: Yeah, it's the same for me as well. And I think also the freedom to. Um, to pursue whatever you want to pursue. Cuz a lot of times when you're working for a company, you can only do certain things. You're not, you don't really have the freedom to pursue things outside of work because, like Cindy said, you're nine to five, you're, you know, in the office, you're doing something.

So being able to have the freedom to. Um, explore different things, find different projects. I can volunteer more cause I really couldn't do that, you know, working a nine to five, um, and also not really having to set an alarm every day. I kind of just wake up whenever I, uh, I feel like it. So that's, that's really nice.

Marisil: And I echo exactly what Sydney and India say. Um, the freedom is so awesome and. The quality of life that you get from that freedom is, I feel like that is what success is for me. Yes, the, the paycheck does play a part because, you know, we do need money to survive, but I feel like the quality of life that I have been able to achieve by, as you said, not having to.

Get up with the alarm clock, not having to go on the grind all day, but freedom to do photography, the freedom to do whatever it is that we want to do. We can travel cuz we were working remotely, so if we wanted to travel and work somewhere else, or like, I, it's, it's so relieving, I guess. Um, it's almost, I'm almost in awe of how different I feel.

In doing business, um, with DNA Mavens, then I felt like working at the lab, it's a, i, it's a joy to get up in the morning and I, to me that feels like a success. You know, the quality of life and the freedom. It's amazing.

Passionistas: We totally agree. It's, it, it just changes your perspective on everything really. Um, what are your proudest career achievements so far?

India: For me, it's actually just, just making it to where I am now. Um, cuz as a black woman, like I said, it's a little bit harder, um, to just make it, to be in business school right now, having, starting a business. So it's, um, just getting to this point and I'm still alive and, you know, still pushing. So, uh, I think that's great achievement for me.

Cindy: Um, yeah, I mean, I. I think 20 years ago, I never would've thought I'd be going into business for myself and like thinking about opening my own laboratory. You know, I was always like, oh, I'll just work for the public lab for the rest of my life. But like I was saying, you know, like 20 years ago, I never thought that I would ever be starting my own business and, and starting my own lab, um, and doing it with these two ladies.

I, I, I don't. See that being any better than how it's been?

Marisil: Well, like on unlike Cindy, it was always my dream to start a lab. Like my plan was to come to the us, get some experience, and go and open up a lab back in Jamaica or in the Caribbean. So I feel like this is the beginning of one of my biggest dreams.

Cindy: We can still do that, we can still go back to Jamaica.

Marisil: Right? I, I, we've, we've had discussions of maybe, you know, once we continue to grow that we could maybe expand into the Caribbean. So that's something that ignites me. So I'm, I'm very excited about that.

Passionistas:  Why is that important for you? Why is it important to bring it back home?

Marisil: I just, like the other ladies do. I also believe in giving back and knowing that. Well back home in Jamaica, there's only one main forensic lab, and they have no, I mean, since I've, since I've left, and I know, I guess it's been a while, they, they now do have two forensic programs. School-wise. There's a master's program and a, uh, bachelor's program there.

And so all the graduates, when they, when they leave, there's, there's just one lab. So most people, I'm sure don't end up getting to work in the field that they're interested in. So I believe it would be awesome if we could go over there to be able to help not just the woman but the students, but predominantly the woman to be able to realize their dream.

So if they aren't able to get a spot at that one forensic lab, there are other options for them to be able to pursue that dream of going into forensic science.

Passionistas: Well then along those lines of encouraging women, what advice would you give to a young woman who wants to follow her passions, whatever that is for her?

Marisil: To go for it. To go for it. Like don't, don't, don't doubt yourself, don't hesitate. Just go for it. Like find out however it is, whatever you need to do, and seek out people that will support you because you do. It does help to have a good support system as well. So seek out people that support your dream and your passion and stick to those people so that you can be able to achieve that for yourself.

Because I know if it wasn't for these other two ladies, And I'm sure they kind of feel the same way. Maybe this dream would've never happened, but the fact that we have each other is one of the big things that allowed us to be able to push towards achieving this.

Cindy: Yeah, definitely advocate for yourself. Um, don't, don't necessarily listen to, no, you can't do that. Um, just. Find a way.

India: Yes. I echo what they've all said. Just, just do it.

Passionistas: Perfect. And then one last question that we'd like to ask for fun. Um, if you could each pick one woman in history or female pop culture icon and walk in her shoes for one day, who would you choose and why?

India: Okay, well, I would have to pick, uh, Michelle Obama. Um, because being the First lady is, it's hard enough as it is, but being, uh, a Black First Lady, um, has its own challenges. So, and I think the way that she handled it, she handled it with grace. She was always encouraging. You never saw her physically. Um, Struggling.

Like, I'm sure she was struggling in the background. I'm sure she had nights when she was crying and angry, but you never saw it when she was in front of the camera. And so I think that she represents a lot of what I achieved to be, uh, when I, when I get older, is it not, not the same person I had in mind.

Passionistas: Totally fine and understandable, but why does she, why is she so impactful to you?

Marisil: Because to me, she, she seems like a good role model in regards to. Just being a strong woman and not being afraid to pursue what you want and to sup, you know, to play that supportive role, but still stand out playing that supportive role.

So I, I fe I see her as a strong character and a, uh, a good role model to woman out there knowing that. There's nothing you really can achi. There's nothing that you can't achieve. So she's a person that came to mind for me as well.

Cindy: Um, for me, uh, it's pretty much, I, I'm passionate about animals, so like I would. Jane Goodall, Diane Fosse, you know, their fight for saving the chimpanzees and the gorillas. That always like appealed to me. Being over, you know, fighting, uh, against that animal cruelty. Um, those, those kind of female scientists who I, I felt like were actually making a difference, uh, in the world. Um, that's who I, I kind of look up to.

Passionistas: Thanks for listening to the Passionistas Project Podcast and our interview with the DNA Mavens India Henry, Cindy Kale, and Marisa Wright pennant. To learn more about their forensic DNA consulting services, visit And be sure to visit the to sign up for our mailing list.

Find all the ways you can follow us on social media, and join our sisterhood of women coming together to explore their Passionistas and find their purpose. We'll be back next week with another Passionista who is defining success on her own terms and breaking down the Berriez for herself and women everywhere.

Until then, stay well and stay passionate.


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