Developing a better understanding of teaching and learning in chemistry

Group Members

Cole Group February 2017

The Cole Research Group, Spring 2017

Khaimook, Dr. Cole, Ashlie, Marika, Ian, Jennifer, Gil, and Hao

Current Group Members




Renee Cole


Postdoctoral Fellow in Chemistry Education, 1998-1999, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Madison, WI


PhD Physical Chemistry 1998, University of Oklahoma, Norman, OK


M.S. Physical Chemistry 1995, University of Oklahoma, Norman, OK


B.A. Chemistry 1992, Hendrix College, Conway, AR


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I am interested in issues related to how students learn chemistry and how that guides the design of instructional materials and teaching strategies. Much of my research focuses on the impact of teaching strategies on student learning and attitudes.


Postdoctural Fellows



Ashlie Wrenne


Ph.D., Chemical Education Research, The Catholic University of America, Washington, D.C., 2016


M.S., Chemistry, University of Kentucky, Lexington, KY, 2005


B.S., Chemistry, Georgetown College, Georgetown, KY, 2003








I began my journey to Chemical Education at Georgetown College, a small private college that emphasizes excellent teaching and student support. Those values shaped my work as a TA during my master program at the University of Kentucky (UK). During the Preparing Future Faculty course at UK, I heard about the Chemical Education program. While I taught chemistry at two private high schools in the Baltimore, Maryland area, I realized that I had more questions than answers about teaching. I wanted to know more about the intricacies of my chosen profession. As a result, I joined the Bunce Research Group at Catholic University to design and test a path diagram of physical chemistry learning. This path diagram included three variables: previous knowledge, the analysis of knowledge (metacognition), and the visualization of knowledge (as Pathfinder networks). In the Cole Research Group, I am studying the institutional adoption of learning innovations. In my own career, I plan to teach university-level chemistry and to study chemistry learning as it relates to metacognition, network analysis, non-traditional assessment methods, and/or structural equation modeling (SEM) statistics. 


Graduate Students



Jennifer Schmidt-McCormack


B.A. Biochemistry 2012, University of Minnesota Morris, Morris, MN


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I grew up in Minnesota and attended undergraduate college there at a small liberal arts college, the University of Minnesota Morris, where I received my degree with a major in Biochemistry and a minor in Biology. I had the opportunity during my undergraduate career to be a tutor and a teaching assistant in chemistry laboratories which stimulated my interest in learning about what are the best practices in teaching undergraduate students. I chose to attend graduate school at the University of Iowa in chemistry since the program offered excellent opportunities to work closely with faculty members. The common theme linking all of my research projects together is all of them are interested in what are the best ways to both assess and promote student process skills. Process skills are defined as skills which go beyond knowing the content of a subject and can extend across many disciplines. The process skills that my work focuses on are: problem solving, critical thinking and information processing. My first project focuses on the development and assessment of a problem solving rubric which is used in undergraduate courses to assess student’s process skills. The goal of this project is to come up with an assessment tool that will enable instructors to provide in-depth feedback to students in an efficient and consistent way. My second project evolved from my work on the rubric and involves assessing exam questions to see how the structure of the question prompt elicits evidence of process skills from students. My third project involves the design of pre-laboratory videos and materials for an advanced analytical instrumental analysis course. The aim of this project is to compare student independence in the laboratory before and after the introduction of the re-designed instructional materials. In my free time I enjoy volunteering at the public library, listening to classical music, taking walks around the many trails the Iowa City/Coralville area and relaxing with a good period drama.


Gil Reynders


M.S. Chemistry 2013, University of Rochester, Rochester, NY


B.A. Chemistry 2011, Lake Forest College, Lake Forest, IL


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I grew up in St. Louis, Missouri and attended Lake Forest College for my undergraduate education where I synthesized nickel thiophosphates in ionic liquids under the direction of Dr. Jason Cody. After receiving my B.A. in chemistry from Lake Forest in 2011, I moved from the suburbs of Chicago to upstate New York to attend the University of Rochester and earned my M.S. in chemistry in 2013. My experiences as a teaching assistant for organic chemistry courses at Lake Forest and Rochester led to my desire to pursue a career in educating undergraduates. With that goal in mind, I came to the University of Iowa in 2014. After finishing my cognate project in the Nguyen group where I studied transition metal-catalyzed benzylic fluorination, I moved to the Cole group in January 2016. I'm currently researching how to elicit and assess evidence of students' process skills (such as problem solving and critical thinking) in both their written work and group interactions using two sets of rubrics. Much of my work focuses on making the rubrics useful for giving feedback to students and instructors in all STEM disciplines. In my free time, I enjoy going to the gym, watching NBA and NFL games, playing video games, and sampling the local taco and sushi options in Iowa City.


ian leo

Ian Brown


M.S. Chemistry, 2015, Southern Illinois University Edwardsville, Edwardsville IL


B.S. Chemistry, 2011, Southern Illinois University Carbondale, Carbondale IL


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I grew up in a small town in southern Illinois, and bounced around for my undergraduate degree, finally settling at SIUC in Carbondale IL.  I began studying Organic Chemistry in more detail, finding out that it wasn't for me, and I changed focus, instead looking at the teaching aspect of Chemistry and got my Masters degree just a few hours away from my undergraduate in Edwardsville IL.  Convinced both that I wanted to teach as a career, and that I had already come this far, I came to Iowa to finish off my education with a Ph.D. in Chemical Education. Away from school, I'm an avid gamer, both board and video, and when time allows, a bibliophile.


Marika Takemura


B.A. Chemistry, 2014, Knox College, Galesburg, IL


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I am an international student from the Philippines. I am half-Japanese and half-Filipino. As of Sept. 2016, I have been in the U.S. for 6 years. My first 4 years was spent at Knox College in Galesburg, IL where I majored in Chemistry and minored in Biology. As an undergrad, I spent about 2 years doing an independent research under the guidance of Dr. Helen Hoyt. Our research focused on the synthesis of new active iron catalyst for applications in green chemistry. At Knox, I also had the opportunity to be a teaching assistant for various chemistry courses (both lab and lecture) and a tutor (group or individual). I realized I had an interest in pursuing a career in academia as I grew invested in my student’s success in their chemistry courses. It was not until my final ACS chemistry at Dallas, Texas that I was aware of Chemical Education Research. Their focus on understanding and improving learning of chemistry aligns with my interest. So here I am.

Prior to Iowa, I decided to stay at Galesburg for 2 years while I prepared for graduate school. I had several jobs and worked as a Chemistry Lab Coordinator for Knox College, ER medical scribe at OSF. St. Mary’s, Galesburg IL, seed lab technician at Monsanto, and QC Lab Analyst at FMC Corporation. To be honest, these jobs kept me staying in this country until I made it here.   These jobs also informed me that I miss being intellectually challenged and was ready for a different phase. In addition to studying ChemED here at U Iowa, I also plan to do a cognate research in Inorganic Chemistry. After Iowa, I would like to have a career in teaching Inorganic Chemistry. With regards to what type of institution – liberal arts, research-focused, or community college? I’ll have an answer to that in my final years as a grad student.

Former Group Members

Postdoctural Fellows

Marc N. Muniz (2014-2015)

Marc is now an Assistant Professor in the Chemistry and S.M.A.T.E. departments at Western Washington University.


Wendy Schatzberg (2011-2012)

Wendy is currently working as an assistant professor at Dixie State University in Utah.


Graduate Students

Courtney Stanford, PhD Chemistry, 2016

Courtney is now a Postdoctoral Scholar in the Chemistry Department at Virginia Commonwealth University.


Jaime Emberger

Jaime is now training to become a counselor.


Chamathca Priyanwada Kuda Malwathumullage, M.S. Education, 2015

Chamathca is now an Assistant Professor in the Chemistry Department at Virginia Commonwealth University.


Undergraduate Students

Jacob Byers (2012-2016)

Jacob is now enrolled in the Master of Arts in Teaching in Science Education program at the University of Iowa.


Hain (Kate) Moon (2012-2015)

Kate is now enrolled in the Master of Arts in Teaching in Science Education program at the University of Iowa.


Ellie Keuter (2014)

Ellie is currently working in the Chemistry Center at the University of Iowa.