Six Questions for SPA Alum Joel Gunn, Deputy Coroner and Coroner Investigator at the Jefferson County Coroner’s OfficeEllen Patterson | School of Public Affairs Nov 29, 2023
He also works on-call for the Gilpin County Coroner’s Office and is a Medical Investigator for the National Disaster Mortuary Response Team, which is a deploy-as-needed federal team that responds to areas around the world impacted by natural disasters, mass fatalities, transportation accidents, terrorist attacks, pandemics, etc.
He is a registered Certified Death Investigator with the Colorado Coroner’s Association and a Diplomate for the American Board of Medicolegal Death Investigators. He also is a member of the following boards: American Academy of Forensic Sciences, International Association of Coroners and Medical Examiners, Society of Medicolegal Death Investigators, and International Forensic Medicine Association.
When he's not working, he enjoys travel, boating, and taking care of his four rescue pointers.
What inspired you to pursue a career in public service?
I have always felt a desire to serve my community and its citizens. I am fortunate to be able to mentally and physically perform the duties and functions of death investigation. It is not something that everyone can handle, and I am proud to be able to do so for my community.
What has been most meaningful to you about your career?
I have always had a passion for solving complex puzzles. Combining criminal justice and medicine gives me the opportunity provide answers that grieving families need for their “closure.” Not only is this work important to the justice system and public health, but it is also important for families experiencing sudden, unexpected loss. Also, my internship was so personally and educationally rewarding that I started and now manage the internship program at our office.
What part of your education at the School of Public Affairs has had the greatest impact on your work?
The School of Public Affairs offers students a diverse range of interesting and challenging coursework that not only prepares students for success, but also real-world engagements. I came into SPA with a medical background and was able to succeed in learning the dynamics of the criminal justice system. The internship requirement was the most beneficial to my future in medicolegal death investigation. Some things you can’t learn in a classroom, but SPA gave me the opportunity to gain invaluable, hands-on experience, through the internship.
What is your favorite memory of the School of Public Affairs?
The comradery between the students, teaching staff, and administrative staff was amazing. Everyone at SPA wanted me to succeed and was incredibly helpful at guiding me through the educational programs as well as preparing me for my career. Getting to know my professors and advisors was pertinent to my success as a student and beyond.
Looking ahead, what do you see as the biggest challenges that your field faces?
The biggest challenges that face our field are funding for local offices, funding for pertinent research, and educating the communities of the importance of the work we do. Many citizens do not understand the functions of a coroner or medical examiner’s office, until we are at their house investigating the death of their loved one. The funding for these offices will not be available until the community is aware of the importance of the field to public health and criminal justice agencies.
What advice would you give to current students at the School of Public Affairs?
Choose a field that you have a passion for and build your courses around that field. Do well in your core classes so you have the opportunity to choose classes that further challenge you. Take classes outside of SPA as well. Take classes that set you up for success in our diverse world. I found that I had an interest in sociology that I never knew I had before taking an introductory sociology course. Take the internship opportunity seriously. Take the time to find an internship that personally interests you and meets the SPA goals. Don’t wait until the last minute to start looking for this internship. I promise it will be so much more rewarding to do a quality internship in a field you have a passion for.