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Through teaching, research, and service, our faculty are making an impact on student lives, on our community, and on the world. Here’s a look at two College of Architecture and Design faculty members who are making an impact on students—and the community—by using design to improve the lives of others.

Jennifer Akerman

Jennifer AkermanOne day soon, the exteriors and rooftops of Knoxville buildings may be used to grow food.

The idea that architecture could be used to increase access to fresh foods in parts of the city—and buildings operating more efficiently as a result—is something close to Jennifer Akerman’s heart. It’s also a project for students in her research studio class, which focuses on urban agriculture and architecture.

“The goal is to challenge assumptions of what architecture is and what it can do,” said Akerman, an assistant professor of architecture. “Are there ways we can be innovative and strategic about where food should come from? It’s pushing those limits.”

Akerman became interested in vertical farming while in graduate school at Princeton University. She joined the College of Architecture and Design in 2010.

Akerman loves helping students see the impact architecture can make.

“There are lots of different ways to approach architecture, including the idea that it can address social issues,” she said. “The reward of being an architect is not in the money but rather the satisfaction of bringing something into the world that makes people’s lives and everyday interactions better.”

Before coming to UT, Akerman worked at several professional firms. She and her husband run a Knoxville-based industrial design firm called Akerworks Inc., which develops modern design products including musical instruments.

Scott Poole, dean of the college, called Akerman “a passionate educator and an exceptional university citizen.”

“Her deep commitment to design education is reflected in the extraordinary work produced by the students in her design studios,” he said. “Her recent work with beginning graduate students is some of the best I have encountered in architectural education.

“Jennifer consistently undertakes important roles in service to the college,” Poole said. “She is an exemplary faculty member who is moving our college forward.”

Ryann Aoukar

Ryann AoukarRyann Aoukar spent his teenage years in Lebanon when a lack of electricity was the everyday norm.

Using materials he found around his father’s workshop, he created his own little light. That hobby turned into a passion and Aoukar grew up to design the Terea Task Lamp, one of the most energy-efficient lamps in the world.

Using design to improve others’ quality of life is a message that Aoukar, an associate professor in the Interior Design program, constantly emphasizes to his students.

“Interior design is creating a better life for people or showing them how to have a better life, not just nicer or prettier spaces,” he said.

Students in his undergraduate interior design studio or graduate furniture design course will often hear him talk about passion.

“If you want to master something, it needs to be your passion,” he said. “I always tell my students, ‘You’re here to create a lifestyle, not just get a job.'”

He wants his students to understand how technology influences the profession and how sustainability is important to the design process.

“If we can simplify the use of materials and create timeless spaces, we can help save the environment,” said Aoukar, the Canadian-born son of French and Lebanese parents.

Before coming to UT in 2009, he worked fourteen years as an interior and product designer for several prestigious firms and then established his own company. His work has taken him to New York, France, China, and the Middle East, where he was a member of the team that designed the home of a Saudi Arabian princess.

Aoukar’s most recent venture was the creation of a sustainable bowl that doubles as a funnel and strainer. To learn more about the bowl, visit the project’s Kickstarter page.

Scott Poole, dean of the College of Architecture and Design, called Aoukar “a gifted product and interior designer.”

“Using state-of-the-art technologies such as 3D printing, he is creating furniture and home wares that are not only beautiful, but also functional and sustainable,” he said. “Through his international experience as a design professional, he is able to impart to his students a vital perspective into both enduring principles and contemporary trends, helping them to shape a better, more sustainable, future.”


Lola Alapo (865-974-3993,