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Big Orange. Big Ideas. They’re fueling UT Knoxville on its journey to become a Top 25 public research university. Here are two faculty members who are bringing big ideas to life in the classroom, through their research and through community service.

Peter Fernandez

Peter FernandezTo Peter Fernandez, access to agricultural information can be feast or famine.

College students often struggle with having too much information, he said, while farmers in developing nations around the world suffer from not having enough.

Fernandez is the subject librarian for the College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources (CASNR). As part of his work on the agriculture campus, Fernandez provides instruction and research assistance to undergraduate and graduate students, and serves the research needs of faculty and administrators.

“There is so much information out there,” Fernandez said. “The hard part used to be finding it. Now the hard part is figuring out what to do with all that information, how to determine what is reliable and useful.”

For the last two years, Fernandez has helped coordinate the UT Libraries’ activities during Open Access Week, an annual effort to make academic research more accessible to people worldwide.

“Normally, when a piece of research is published, scholars in that field can read it, but it’s less likely that scholars in other fields will have that chance,” Fernandez said. “Open access publishing makes the research more accessible and more likely to be read across disciplines.”

Getting the information into the hands of those outside the academic realm—such as a farmer or rancher in the developing world, who could really benefit from the agriculture research—is even tougher.

With open access, Fernandez said, the research becomes available to anyone with an Internet connection. Because open access often means fewer copyright restrictions, it also enables even wider distribution. Someone could download journal articles on crop yields, save it to a flash drive, and take it to remote areas of Africa to teach farmers how to improve their crops.

Fernandez earned a bachelor’s degree in religious studies from the New College of Florida and a master’s of library and information science from the University of South Florida.

“Agriculture has turned out to be a wonderful fit for me,” he said. “Agriculture offers a wide range of specialties, such as economics, chemistry, biology, and food science. I get to learn a little bit about the subject areas while assisting faculty and staff with their research needs.”

Steve Smith, UT Libraries dean, said Fernandez is a great help to the CASNR team as well as the wider UT community. “Peter is always willing and able to help, whether library users need a quick citation, help with a database, course instruction tips, or help on any number of other fronts. He exceeds expectations on a daily basis.”

Fernandez has been at UT for three years. He is a big fan of The Grateful Dead, and has taught a First-Year Studies 129 course on the band’s music. In his spare time, Fernandez and his wife enjoy reading and walking.

Teresa Walker

Teresa WalkerWhen Teresa Walker first came to the UT Libraries twenty years ago as an undergraduate student, the environment was quieter and more subdued. The Internet was not widely available, books and journals were the primary sources of information, and students generally worked alone.

Now the head of integrated user services, Walker says if you take a walk through Hodges Library, you will see groups of students working together, talking, and using wireless Internet access for their research projects and creative activities.

“We wanted to take libraries in a different direction,” Walker said.

Walker’s research focuses on informal learning spaces, the use of technology in teaching and learning, and increasing student engagement. Using that research, she helped transform the Commons area of Hodges Library into an innovative technology-rich collaborative work space.

“We wanted to create a space that students want to be in,” Walker said, “a space that is about learning, being creative, and socializing.”

Smith said that Walker “consistently demonstrates ‘Big Orange, Big Ideas.’

“Teresa has pushed for excellent user-centered service such as our UT Libraries mobile applications, digital media streaming, and the use of emergent technologies in the classroom.”

Walker says her motivation comes from working with students.

“They give me energy,” she said. “I get a great deal of satisfaction out of seeing them learn how to succeed—whether it’s learning how to express their own ideas using media or when they realize how they can make their own arguments stronger by seeing both sides of a topic.”

In her interactions with students, Walker says she has had to learn to work quickly.

“We do mainly one-shot instruction for the undergraduates,” she said. “Our librarians generally have one chance—one hour—to teach students how to navigate the library, conduct bibliographic research, evaluate information, use technology, and hopefully understand that they have friends in the library who stand ready to help them, twenty-four hours a day. We are powerful allies for our students.”

Her work also focuses on endearing the next generation of students to higher education and to UT.

“We have children visiting the library from all over East Tennessee, and I feel it’s my job to show them how cool it will be when they someday come to school here.”

When not reading about new technologies, she enjoys spending time with her dogs.


Charles Primm (865-974-5180, charles.primm@tennessee.edu)