Barry McNamara  |  Published September 03, 2020

Finding the Right Chemistry

When he decided to become a college professor, Maxwell Holle ’15 wanted to teach at a school like Monmouth. He’s done just that, coming home to the school he loves the most.

Maxwell Holle '15: Moving into the new Center for Science and Business was awesome. I got to... Maxwell Holle '15: “Moving into the new Center for Science and Business was awesome. I got to help with the transition and help get it all set up and align everything in place. I was in graduate school for five years, and I didn't work anyplace as nice as the CSB.”

MONMOUTH, Ill. – The newest member of Monmouth College’s chemistry department knew the liberal arts education he received at Monmouth was going to be tough to beat.

Maxwell Holle believed that as a Monmouth student, and the 2015 graduate says it’s still the case today. “When I was applying to grad school, I told the interviewer on day one that my goal was to come back and teach at a school like Monmouth,” said Holle, who recently completed his doctorate in food science at the University of Illinois. “I just really believe that Monmouth offered me some world-class opportunities, along with the ability to conduct my own research and have great relationships with my professors.

“My interviewer challenged me on that. She asked: ‘How do you know that? You haven’t even been at a research university yet.’ But after five years at a university, I still wanted to be at a school like Monmouth. I’m lucky that I got to come back to the one I love the most.”

‘Connections with faculty’

‘Connections with faculty’Holle, who played soccer for the Fighting Scots all four years, first heard about Monmouth through soccer players he knew in Iowa. But it didn’t take long for him to make even more meaningful connections with the school that was two hours from his Oskaloosa home.

“On my visit, the connections with faculty really sold me, even from departments that I wasn’t going to be a part of,” he said. “That’s what really hit home to me.” Holle didn’t come to Monmouth set on being a college professor. “I really had to figure it out while I was here,” said Holle, who graduated magna cum laude with a degree in biochemistry. “I was a biology major to start, but then I began working with chemistry professor (and now department colleague) Audra Goach. I needed to find out what I was good at, which was problem-solving.”

“Monmouth offered me some world-class opportunities, along with the ability to conduct my own research and have great relationships with my professors.”
– Maxwell Holle

Holle recalled a research project supervised by Goach where he “evaluated how capsaicin – the molecule that makes foods spicy – interacts will cell membranes in our tongue.

“I was able to present that work at local, regional and national American Chemistry Society meetings while I was a student,” he said. Holle also participated in the College’s Kieft Summer Research Program and took faculty-led research trips to Puerto Rico and to Isle Royale in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. The capsaicin project led him to “look at food differently by looking at it from the molecular level,” and also set him on the path he pursued in graduate school. At Illinois, Holle received a grant that funded his research on fermented foods for two years, and he taught the subject there, as well.

Back at Monmouth

In his first semester on Monmouth’s faculty, Holle is teaching introductory and advanced courses in analytical chemistry, as well as “Instrumental Analysis.”

“I approach teaching by making it applicable,” he said. “It’s most interesting to students if they can see it through an everyday lens. It’s one thing to study pH (relative acidity) in food, it’s another thing to be able to understand why your yogurt tastes tart.” As is the case with many Monmouth professors this fall, some of Holle’s students have opted to learn remotely, while a few others have been in required isolation. “It’s a challenge,” said Holle of the hybrid form of teaching that has become the norm during the pandemic. “I wish it wasn’t this way, but in the meantime, the most important thing is to be patient and to listen – both to other faculty and to the students. I try to put myself in my students’ shoes as they are adapting to learning new technologies and possibly trying to navigate adverse learning environments.”

“I approach teaching by making it applicable. It’s most interesting to students if they can see it through an everyday lens.”
– Maxwell Holle

Remote learning, unfortunately, keeps some students out of the Center for Science and Business, the $42 million building that opened in 2013, halfway through Holle’s time as a Monmouth student.

“Moving into the new Center for Science and Business was awesome,” he said. “I got to help with the transition and help get it all set up and align everything in place. I was in graduate school for five years, and I didn’t work anyplace as nice as the CSB.” Now Holle reports to the building every day, eager to continue the early stages of his journey as an assistant professor of chemistry. “I’m very happy to be back,” said Holle. “My professors are now my colleagues. To be welcomed into such a trusting environment has been wonderful. Not every professor gets that kind of opportunity.”

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