Dr. Patrick Akos serves as the associate vice provost for Student Success and executive director of Honors and Scholar. In addition, he provides executive oversight of the Office of Undergraduate Research & Fellowships. His professional experience spans 30+ years as a K-12 teacher, school and clinical mental health counselor, professor and academic leader. For the last 20 years, he was a professor in the School of Education at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. His research, teaching, supervision, clinical practice and leadership are grounded in a strengths- based framework (Galassi & Akos, 2007), which is informed by humanistic traditions and empirically supported by contemporary scholarship (e.g., positive psychology). Broadly, he studies how best to support and cultivate thriving, especially during educational and career transitions. He has applied this work in curriculum development, math pathways, data analytics, policy governance, strategic planning, and legislative advocacy in a variety of settings. Akos has a B.S. from Vanderbilt University in Human and Organizational Development and Secondary Education, a M.A. from Morehead State University in Higher Education, and a Ph.D. in Counselor Education from the University of Virginia.
He believes education is a primary pathway to equity and his passion is for empowering others toward agency and well-being.
Meredith Malburne-Wade (she/her) is the director for Undergraduate Research & Fellowships. She earned her PhD in American Literature from UNC-Chapel Hill, her MA in English from Georgetown University, and her BA in English and French from Wellesley College. Prior to relocating to Tennessee, she directed the fellowships and research office at James Madison University (JMU) in Virginia. She has taught research skills, composition, business writing, American literature, and women’s literature at universities in Virginia, North Carolina, and Pennsylvania. In In her free time, she loves reading, spending time with her family (including 2 cats and a dog), gardening, puzzles, and pretending she is good at crafts.
Dr. Laura De Furio is the associate director for Undergraduate Research & Fellowships. She serves on the advisory committee for UT’s Marco Institute. She earned her PhD in English Literature from the Strode Program for Renaissance Studies at the University of Alabama and a MA in English from Villanova University. Her research and teaching interests include early modern British women’s writing, John Milton, archival theory, manuscript culture, and politics. Laura’s book project, Femme Covert: Ciphered Politics in Early Modern Women’s Writing, 1640-1680, offers a literary history of women’s secret politicking recovered from neglected archival materials. Her work has been supported by grants from the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, DC. Laura formerly taught in the English Department at the University of Alabama and started her career as a high school teacher in the School District of Philadelphia as a Philadelphia Teaching Fellow.
Dr. Sharon Jean-Philippe is the faculty director for Undergraduate Research and Fellowships and Professor of Urban Forestry in the School of Natural Resources. Sharon is the faculty advisor for all urban forestry students and is the primary director of several summer internship opportunities for students across multiple disciplines. She co-instructs courses in forestry that address vegetation establishment, management, and removal across an urban – rural gradient, legal issues, vegetation utility management, and the effects of societal influences on green infrastructure. She currently holds appointments with the Tennessee Forestry Commission as the Representative of the Public-at-Large and USDA Forestry Research and Advisory Council and is the faculty director for Tennessee Champion Tree Program, Community Riparian Restoration Program and National Champion Tree Program.
Dr. Janna Caspersen (she/her) is URF’s assistant director for undergraduate research and an experienced mixed-methods researcher with a history of working in academic and government research and development. Janna earned her Ph.D. from the Department of Geography at UT, where she was also recognized for her teaching with the Chancellor’s Outstanding Graduate Student Teaching Award. While pursuing her doctorate degree, Janna worked at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) performing population research and subsequently took a post-doc position with the Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education (ORISE) with the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency. Janna’s research and teaching interests include cultural and digital geographies, focusing on narrative dissemination, public memory, social justice, and critical theory.
Mari LaCure is URF’s program coordinator for undergraduate research. Mari received a BA from Mount Holyoke College and an MFA in Printmaking from the University of Kansas. Prior to relocating to Knoxville in 2020, she taught printmaking, bookbinding, and drawing at Montserrat College of Art in Beverly, MA, where she also managed the continuing education program. She specializes in etching and woodblock printmaking, and has been an artist in residence at the Women’s Studio Workshop, New York, and Emmanuel College, Boston.
Ryan Lee is our undergraduate research and fellowships coach. A first-generation college graduate and native of west Tennessee, Ryan holds a B.A. in English literature from The University of Memphis and a M.A. in English from The University of Tennessee. He has several years of experience as a writing tutor, English composition instructor, and academic advisor. In his spare time, Ryan enjoys cooking and reading as well as collecting/fixing old things such as motorcycles and jukeboxes.
Ahdya Attea (they/them) is the senior writing consultant in Undergraduate Research & Fellowships. A second-year graduate student in UT’s College of Social Work, Ahdya holds a bachelor’s degree in Plant Sciences from UT and an MA in English from Middlebury College’s Bread Loaf School of English. Their aspiration to support critical literacy and community resilience began through an AmeriCorps VISTA position with UT’s University-Assisted Community Schools program. More recently, Ahdya has worked in community and academic writing centers in Knoxville; Buffalo, New York; and Ripton, Vermont.
Emmanuel Blackson is our graduate assistant for Undergraduate Research and Fellowships. He earned his bachelor’s degree in Marketing with a concentration in Business Analytics at UT, where he is now a Master of Science in Marketing candidate. In his spare time, Emmanuel enjoys playing basketball, soccer, and watching movies.