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Meet the Faculty & Staff

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.

Andrew Seidler is director of Undergraduate Research & Fellowships. Under his leadership, UT has emerged as one of the nation’s top-producing Fulbright institutions and has had back-to-back Rhodes Scholars, its first-ever Gates Cambridge, Mitchell, and Knight-Hennessy Scholars, its first Marshall Scholar in 35 years and first Truman in 25, and a Goldwater national record five scholars in 2020. He received the Chancellor’s Ready for the World Citation and has nearly a decade of experience facilitating diverse undergraduate research experiences. Andrew has a bachelor’s degree in history from Colby College and a master’s degree in education and social policy from Northwestern. Prior to UT, Andrew worked as an editor and newspaper reporter; his newswriting was recognized by the Illinois AP Editors Association and the Illinois Press Association.

Dr. Erin Darby is the inaugural faculty director for Undergraduate Research & Fellowships and an associate professor in the Department of Religious Studies. Erin is also co-director of the ‘Ayn Gharandal Archaeological Project in southern Jordan, where she has mentored numerous UT undergraduate researchers over the past decade. In 2020, she received the Chancellor’s Award for Undergraduate Research Mentor of the Year. Erin has been the recipient of several fellowships supporting her research at the American Center of Oriental Research in Amman, Jordan; the Cyprus American Archaeological Research Institute, in Nicosia, Cyprus; and at the Damascus and Aleppo Museums in Syria. She has also received a State Department Educational and Cultural Affairs Research Fellowship and an NEH Fellowship for her work at the W.F. Albright Institute of Archaeological Research in Jerusalem.

Dr. Janna Caspersen 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.

Dr. Laura De Furio is URF’s assistant director for fellowships and is on the advisory committee for UT’s Marco Institute. Her research and teaching interests include early modern British women’s writing, 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.

Sandra Wairimu is URF’s graduate assistant for undergraduate research and a first-year MPH student. As an undergraduate at UT (food science), Sandra was a research assistant on the USDA-funded GetFruved! project, volunteered with a nutrition education outreach program (N.E.A.T.), and served as a ME4UT student ambassador. Sandra moved to the United States from Kenya as a high school sophomore and received her associate’s degree from Pellissippi State, where she worked as an orientation leader and admissions ambassador.