Category: CMS-Chemistry


A number of UCO faculty were recently awarded a $1,187,961, six-year grant from the National Science Foundation as part of its Robert Noyce Teacher Scholarship Program. This project titled “Master Teachers Conducting STEM Practices and Action Research” will create a new partnership among the University of Central Oklahoma, Oklahoma City Public Schools, and the Central Oklahoma STEM Alliance to serve the national need of developing highly effective biology and mathematics teacher leaders in secondary education in Oklahoma.

The Noyce program supports talented STEM undergraduate majors and professionals to become effective K-12 STEM teachers and experienced, K-12 teachers to become STEM master teachers in high-need school districts. Fourteen central Oklahoma high school biology and math teachers will become Master Teaching Fellows. They will conduct STEM research and educational action research, do leadership training, and continue professional development and community building with each other while teaching in high-need schools. The program will orient these teachers to effectively support and mentor other teachers, especially those with emergency and alternative certifications.

Program organizers include UCO’s: Allyson Fenwick, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Biology; Liz Lane-Harvard, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Mathematics & Statistics; Elizabeth Allan, Ph.D., Professor and Chair of the Department of Biology, and Mike Nelson, Ph.D., Professor and Assistant Dean of the College of Education and Professional Studies. The program evaluator is Cynthia Murray, Ph.D., Professor of Mathematics and Statistics. Additional UCO faculty are senior personnel on the project and will mentor Fellows.

Dr. Ben Tayo, Associate Professor of Engineering & Physics was awarded a National Institutes of Health, R-15 grant. The grant, a three-year, $425,928 research grant will bring deeper insights on a new class of materials for DNA detection. The ability to detect and discriminate DNA bases by reading it directly using simple and cost-effective methods is an important problem whose solution can produce value for areas such as cancer and human genetic disorder research. Despite progress in sequencing techniques, there are still several challenges to be overcome. Because of the challenges, the need for cheaper and faster approaches for automated sequencing is crucial. This research will employ high-performance computing and machine learning resources to investigate the potential of several two-dimensional crystalline materials for DNA sequencing. The knowledge gained from this research will provide deeper insights that will help guide the integration of these materials as active components of electronic devices for fast, direct-read, and affordable DNA sequencing. This award will strengthen the research environment at the University of Central Oklahoma and engage students in computational research.

Dr. Emily Hendryx from the Department of Mathematics and Statistics was awarded a three-year, $410,515 grant from the National Institute of Health. Titled “Summarizing Cardiac Data: An Automated Approach for Identifying Representative Heartbeats in the Clinical Setting,” this project involves a collaboration with Baylor College of Medicine and Texas Children’s Hospital to use applied mathematics and data science in removing noise and summarizing pediatric electrocardiogram data recorded at hospital bedsides. This project will provide a way to present a representation of a patient’s recent cardiac health history to clinicians and deliver clinical decision support toward improving patient outcomes. Co-advised by Dr. Tyler Cook from the Department of Mathematics and Statistics, this project will also offer undergraduate students an opportunity to participate in innovative interdisciplinary research.

Dr. John Rhee from the Department of Computer Science received a $87,873 grant from Sandia National Laboratories as part of his effort to build better cybersecurity services for cloud-based software systems. Once completed, the tools developed in his project titled “TelScope: Discovering Blind Spots of Telemetry Diagnosability” will be used to reveal gaps between telemetry requirements and implemented telemetry collection for cloud services.

Dr. Morshed Khandaker from the Department of Engineering and Physics received an Oklahoma Established Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR) grant for his project “Anti Corrosion Behavior of Mg and Zn nanoparticle incorporated nanofiber membrane.” This $5,000 award will be used to evaluate the structural efficacy of magnesium- and zinc-loaded nanofiber membrane coating on steel in reinforced concrete.

STEM Industry Careers Panel

CMS recently hosted 18 industry leaders from around the OKC Metro area for a STEM Industry Careers Panel. Panelists participated in moderator led Q&A sessions followed by industry focused break-out sessions with students. Panelists shared how they entered their careers upon completion of their degree and provided advice to students on how to prepare for career opportunities in various STEM fields.

The event took place in two lecture halls and included panelists from Tinker Air Force Base, Cytovance Biologics, American Fidelity, Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation, Love’s, ASRC Federal, FSB Architects and Engineers, ARL Bio Pharma, Oklahoma City Public Schools, Paycom, ALK OKC Allergy Supplies Inc., Bethany Children’s Health Center, OU Health Center, Oklahoma State Department of Health, Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality and the FBI. Over one hundred students attended the panel discussions throughout the two lecture halls and break-out rooms.

Panelists then broke in to five targeted sessions focusing on computer science, math, engineering, nursing, biological and chemical sciences. Students participated in the break-out sessions asking questions and sharing information pertinent to their future career goals.

The event ended with a networking reception for students and professionals to continue visiting and building connections. Throughout the one-hour event conversations revolved around ways to enter an industry as well as how careers take shape as the discipline evolves.

Student Highlight- Maggie Ward

My name is Maggie Ward, and I’m currently a third-year chemistry major here at UCO. I graduated from Broken Arrow High School and started my undergraduate education as a forensic science and biology major. However, as I started doing research in inorganic chemistry as a freshman, I soon discovered my love for research. Now, I intend to go to graduate school to get my doctorate in organic or inorganic chemistry.

The current project in my research group centers around using the Evans Method to calculate the number of unpaired electrons in a particular sample. We insert a sealed capillary tube containing a solvent and its deuterated counterpart into an NMR tube containing our complex of interest. The extra solvent tube inside creates a large solvent peak in the 1H-NMR spectrum, and we can calculate the number of unpaired electrons from the distance between the solvent peak and the peak from our sample.

Chemistry Faculty Spotlight: Stephanie (Skiles) Jones

Stephanie Skiles Jones

Stephanie (Skiles) Jones is in her third year of a tenure-track appointment in the UCO Department of Chemistry. Prior to the tenure-track position, she served in a series of one-year positions at UCO, so she is at the start of her sixth year as a full-time faculty member at UCO. Stephanie came to UCO from Texas A&M, where she earned her Ph.D. in Analytical Chemistry and then taught a large-enrollment lecture for a year. Prior to that, she earned Bachelor’s degrees in Biology and Chemistry from Wayland Baptist University in Texas. Stephanie likens chemistry to a logic puzzle, although she also likes that while it can answer some questions, it always leads to more questions.

Over her 11 semesters at UCO, Stephanie has taught lecture and lab courses in Introductory Chemistry (for Allied Health majors), General Chemistry (for science majors), as well as courses for chemistry majors. Stephanie enjoys teaching at UCO for a number of reasons. The smaller class sizes allow for more interactions with her students, and UCO encourages faculty to work at developing and refining their teaching. She enjoys the opportunity to mentor students in their capstone projects as they get closer to graduation, as this gives her a chance to see the development of students throughout their undergraduate years. Her research projects have included collaborations using TLC as a tool to identify lichens, and using various chemical and instrumental techniques to identify types of wild grasses.

Outside of work, Stephanie enjoys baking, which she claims is just chemistry with sugar. Having just gotten married, Stephanie is also in the process of merging two households into one.


Dr. David von Minden to Retire in May

David von MindenDr. David von Minden has announced his intention to retire at the end of this semester. He has served the Department of Chemistry for 24 years. Dr. von Minden grew up in La Grange, Texas, which is about halfway between Austin and Houston. After earning his BS degree in Chemistry from Texas Tech University, he began his graduate work at the University of Nebraska. He worked in organic chemistry with a focus on mass spectrometry. After completing his PhD, he served in post-doctoral positions for four years. He then began a 19-year career in the Navy focusing on toxicology. After retiring from the Navy he worked a few years as a toxicologist for a medical laboratory. He Joined the UCO Chemistry Department in 1996, filling a need for more support for the Department’s forensic science program. Early in his career at UCO, Dr. von Minden served as faculty advisor for the Chemistry Club, and students were enthusiastic about his devotion to the club. Dr. von Minden also helped students create the Forensic Science Club, which includes both undergraduate and graduate students. He enjoyed cookouts with the clubs. Dr. von Minden also contributed his time to the UCO chapter of the American Association of University Professors, including serving a term as President. Dr. von Minden is well-known for his chili, which he would bring to cookouts and department and college potlucks. For a long time, he enjoyed gardening in his back yard, and often shared his plentiful chile peppers and heirloom tomatoes with his colleagues. In his classes, Dr. von Minden enjoyed including the history of chemistry in his General Chemistry lectures, so students understood the human side of the discipline. He would also try to convince promising students to switch their majors to chemistry, and a few students did switch because of this encouragement. Dr. von Minden reports that he spent more time at UCO than any other job, and he has lived in Edmond longer than he has anywhere else. He plans to remain in Edmond upon retiring, so if you are in the area he would be happy for you to contact him.

CHEM Updates

Like many departments across campus, the Chemistry Department has a long history of faculty who take pride in and devote a great amount of time to their work with students in the classroom. Over the past year, a number of faculty in the Department spent time learning how to improve their teaching through book groups, workshops, and other learning opportunities. Eric Eitrheim was named a VIPEr Fellow in an innovative National Science Foundation-funded study to develop, test, and refine a flexible, foundation-level inorganic chemistry course. As one of the first twenty faculty selected for this ground-breaking project, Eric Eitrheim joins other inorganic chemists from across the country in a community of practice dedicated to improving student learning. A number of faculty from the Department participated in events sponsored by UCO’s Center for Excellence in Transformative Teaching & Learning 21st Century Pedagogy Institute (CETTL 21CPI). 21CPI exposes faculty to ideas related to course design, active learning strategies, learning assessment, learning environment, and academic professionalism. In addition, faculty can learn about and begin projects in the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL). Through participation in activities, evidence of adopting practices, and reflections on the impact of these new practices, faculty can earn various levels of recognition. Four Chemistry faculty members (Dallas New, Sanjeewa Gamagedara, Shawna Ellis, and Stephanie Skiles) were recognized as SoTL Research Participants. Two Chemistry faculty members (Luis Montes and Shawna Ellis) were recognized as 2019 Teacher-Scholars, and four Chemistry faculty members (Amanda Waters, Eric Eitrheim, Sanjeewa Gamagedara, and Stephanie Skiles) were recognized as 2019 Distinguished Teacher-Scholars. In addition to these recognitions, two Chemistry faculty members (Cheryl Frech and Luis Montes) who have previously been recognized with UCO’s Neely Excellence in Teaching awards, were invited to contribute to a book with reflections by Neely award winners. Cheryl’s reflection “A Long and Winding Road: A Teaching Journey”, and Luis’ reflection “Take the Next Step: Opportunities for Growth”, are now included in the book Inspired Learning: 50 Insights from Personal Transformative Learning Journeys.