September 2022 Researcher Spotlight

Dr. Nicole LaDue

What is the focus of your current geoscience education research?


My first research focus was on spatial thinking in the geosciences. Currently, most of that work has transitioned into understanding students' conceptions of ground and surface water movement and processes, including how student knowledge and diagram features interact. This work is grounded in theories of cognition and visual perception.


A second growing focus of my research is on how peer support influences students' sense of belonging and persistence in STEM. This work comes out of an NSF-funded S-STEM project for which I am studying how weekly peer group meetings build community and social support for scholarship recipients. We use interviews and focus groups to probe how aspects of the scholarship program influences sense of belonging. This ongoing project was a big pivot for me. My graduate training was primarily in quantitative methods. Over the past 3 years, I have been learning more about qualitative methods in order to dive into the "why", or the mechanism driving sense of belonging.


Lastly, I have research projects that are driven by graduate student interest. Recent PhD graduate and now professor Zo Kreager investigated spatial thinking and sequence stratigraphy. This work was really exciting because it was deeply grounded in the practice of geologists and used research techniques from cognitive science. Current PhD student Cheryl Manning is investigating GeoSTEM Learning Ecosystems. This project combines my knowledge as a past K-12 educator, and my current roles at NIU as a pre-service teacher educator and GER. Cheryl is conducting the first GER study of a GeoSTEM learning ecosystem. It is inspiring to mentor graduate students doing cutting edge research.


What has been the best tool/resource you've found for developing as a geoscience education researcher (organization, conferences, webinar, person, online resource)? 


Collaboration, collaboration, collaboration. I have been fortunate to cross paths with several researchers who inspire me and I was bold enough to ask to work with them on a project. Tim Shipley helped me push my research on spatial thinking and academic writing to the next level. Collaborations with GERs colleagues and graduate students have taught me about new frameworks and new methods. Being on collaborative projects also helped me grow confidence. Many of us, myself included, have imposter syndrome. Realizing your ideas have value through collaborative projects can be very meaningful.


What is your advice for an early career geoscience education researcher?

Take classes in social science methods – either from Colleges of Education, Psychology departments, etc. Even if their approaches do not perfectly align with your research questions, you can pull methods from those approaches that will be innovative in GER.


Talk to people and attend GSA. Meeting with GERs from other institutions and having informal conversations can build your community and group of mentors. Graduate school and being on the tenure track is challenging. The more people you can lean on for various needs, the better!


What does GER look like at your institution, in your position?

I am in a newly merged department that includes geology, atmospheric science and geography. We have a small community of DBER folks that include biology education and math education researchers. I also collaborate with an educational psychologist, quantitative education researcher, and psychologists on campus. At NIU, my colleague Megan Brown is studying accessibility in the geosciences in addition to her hydrogeology research and we both work with Ph.D. and M.S. students.

Check out Dr. LaDue's most recent publication here:

LaDue, N. D., McNeal, P. M., Ryker, K., St. John, K., & van der Hoeven Kraft, K. J. (2021). Using an engagement lens to model active learning in the geosciences. Journal of Geoscience Education, 1-33.

You can learn more about Dr. LaDue on her faculty website located  here.