Developing a better understanding of teaching and learning in chemistry

Group Members

Cole Group March 2018

The Cole Research Group, March 2018

Ian, Rayford, Renée, Arjun, Gil

Hao, Ashlie, Marika, Katie

Current Group Members




Renée 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.


Postdoctoral 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



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 went Lake Forest College for my undergraduate education where I synthesized nickel thiophosphates in ionic liquids Dr. Jason Cody's lab. After finishing at 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 study how students learn and the challenges that organic chemistry students face. With that goal in mind, I came to the University of Iowa in 2014. After finishing my cognate project in Hien Nguyen's 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 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.


Rayford Harrison (co-advised by Dr. Scott Daly)


B.S.  Chemistry, Psychology, and Mathematics, 2015, Tuskegee University, Tuskegee, AL


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I went into Tuskegee University with the intent to go to medical school and become a psychiatrist. I fell in love with chemistry my freshman year and then decided to TA for general chemistry for the next four years. During my time as a TA, I absolutely loved the feeling of helping other students learn chemistry and became interested in wanting to know why students have these difficulties. I always knew that I wanted to pursue an advanced degree but I didn’t know if any programs that would allow me to explore my interests. It wasn’t until October 2014 that I become aware of Chem Ed as a discipline.

My long term dream is to be a professor at a small liberal arts college, where I will be able to focus mostly on teaching and provide students with the same type of close-knit educational experience that I received as an undergraduate. I was also able to combine my love of inorganic chemistry with my passion for Chem Ed and I also joined an inorganic chemistry group where I will be working with synthesizing transition metal phosphinodiboronate complexes for separation of post nuclear fuels. My hobbies include tennis, board games, extremely pointless long drives, and immersing myself in pop culture podcasts.


Katie Mauger-Sonnek


M.S. Chemistry, 2013, University of Northern Iowa, Cedar Falls, IA


B.A. Biochemistry, 2012, University of Northern Iowa, Cedar Falls, IA


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I grew up in a small town in Northeast Iowa and obtained both my undergraduate and master’s degrees from the University of Northern Iowa. My initial work in chemistry focused on synthesizing cobalt metal-organic frameworks. While I was finishing my masters, I started teaching general chemistry labs at Wartburg College. Eventually I also tried teaching as an adjunct at Hawkeye Community College. After 2 enjoyable years of teaching, I decided I wanted to go back to graduate school and focus on chemistry education. My hobbies include: singing and playing jazz piano, collecting and selling vintage books, drawing, exploring coffee shops, shopping, and hanging out with my two little sisters.


Marika Montgomery


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.


Arjun Paudel


M.S. Organic Chemistry, 2013, Tribhuwan University, Nepal


B.S. Chemistry, 2009, Tribhuwan University, Nepal


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I had been teaching for a while and always intrigued why students find chemistry so difficult. I am interested in developing new tools and techniques on making the learning experience of students in chemistry classes better which hopefully will help in retaining them in STEM education.

Undergraduate Students


hao fu

Hao Fu

B.A. Chemistry (Pre-Med and Pre-Pharmacy), 2018 (anticipated), University of Iowa

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Former Group Members

Postdoctoral Fellows

Marc Muniz (2014-2015)

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


Wendy Schatzberg (2011-2012)

Wendy is an Assistant Professor at Dixie State University in Utah.


Graduate Students

Jennifer Schmidt-McCormack, PhD Chemistry, 2017

Jennifer is a Postdoctoral Scholar in Ginger Shultz' group at the University of Michigan.


Courtney Stanford, PhD Chemistry, 2016

Courtney is a Postdoctoral Scholar working with Suzanne Ruder at Virginia Commonwealth University.


Jaime Emberger, M.S. Chemistry, 2016

Jaime is training to become a counselor.


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

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


Undergraduate Students

Khaimook Grosshuesch (2016-2017)

Jacob Byers (2012-2016)

Hain (Kate) Moon (2012-2015)

Ellie Keuter (2014)