Skip to content

Spotlight on First-Year Composition: Charissa Powell

Charissa Powell, one of our Student Success Librarians, speaks about the FYC resources available at the University of Tennessee Libraries.Charissa Powell

Charissa Powell is a Student Success Librarian and Assistant Professor at UT Libraries. She works with new undergraduate students to support their acclimation and success in college by liaising with the First-Year English Composition Program and The Writing Center. Her research interests include impostor phenomenon, perceptions of undergraduate students, and inclusive teaching practices. Charissa holds a Bachelor of Arts in Women’s Studies and a Master of Library Science both from the University of Maryland, College Park.

The Composition Office recently interviewed her to find out more about what the UT Libraries offer to FYC teachers and their students.


Our interview follows:

Can you start by telling us a little about the UT Libraries and what resources are available to FYC instructors?

The University of Tennessee Libraries strives to serve our campus community with excellence and compassion, as well as ensuring equitable access to information. There are several ways to use the Libraries here at UT! We have the physical resources of 3 libraries on our campus, John C. Hodges Library, Pendergrass Agriculture & Veterinary Medicine Library, and the George F. DeVine Music Library. We also have library guides (or LibGuides) for the FYC courses available here that can be plugged into Canvas sites for students. Each of the guides provides research help for the FYC assignments. There are also several tutorials (and more on the way!) available on topics such as finding books and articles, that your students can do on their own time. There are also many librarians (myself included!) that love working with you and your students.


The instructional sessions are especially helpful in teaching students research skills–could you tell us more about the different types of instruction sessions available and how teachers can go about scheduling one of these?

Instructors can request instruction sessions for traditional research, The Studio, or in Special Collections through our form here to bring their class over to the library. My best advice for instruction is to request well in advance (minimum two weeks notice) so that you can work with a librarian to plan and tailor your session to fit the class’s needs and interests.

During research instruction sessions, library instructors can teach on a variety of topics including topic brainstorming, keyword searching, OneSearch, secondary and primary source databases, PowerNotes, and source evaluation. Two events are happening this month that I wanted to highlight. We’ll be hosting another Writing Blitz on Monday, March 25th from 5 p.m.-12 midnight, and a Research/Writing Workshop on Tuesday, March 26th from 2-4 p.m. Both events are on the second floor of the Hodges Library, sponsored by UT Libraries and The Writing Center. The Writing Blitz is designed to provide students with a supportive environment including: spaces, tools, expertise, and motivation to write their papers for class. The Workshop is more hands-on help with both research and writing.

The Studio, a multimedia production lab in Hodges Library, provides instruction and consultation services. We are happy to come to a class to do a workshop to teach a process or software – and we’ll do a wide range of things like podcasting, creating a PSA, making a documentary, creating a brochure, designing a poster, etc. You can also request a consultation through The Studio. Most of our consultations are exactly what people think: scheduling time to work one-on-one or one with a group to provide assistance with a specific project or to help learn a piece of software or equipment. We also do consultations for instructors who maybe want to include a media project but aren’t sure how it should be structured or what tools to recommend their students to use or how to evaluate a project. Some other resources available through The Studio include: Design and editing workstations, Audio recording rooms, Video/photo production room, Poster printing, VR room, and staffed help desk during Studio hours.

For archival research, The Betsey B. Creekmore Special Collections and University Archives houses rare books, manuscripts, University Archives, and the Modern Political Archives.  In order to support the curriculum of English 102, Special Collections has developed several teaching collections for those instructors who wish to have their students view and use physical materials:

All but the Modern Political Archives, which is located at the Howard Baker Center on Cumberland Avenue, are held in Hodges Library, so students do not need to request them a day ahead. In addition, several of our collections have been digitized and are available online. Instructors may also request instruction sessions for an introduction to Special Collections and viewing of relevant teaching collection materials.


What are some challenges you notice that students typically face when starting research? How can teachers work to help students overcome these challenges and write successful research papers?

One common challenge I frequently see, both from teaching and at the reference desk, is that sometimes students can get frustrated and deflated when they spend a lot of time researching a topic and are not finding results. I have found that searching 1-1 with a librarian can make a big difference for students. We’re able to ask big picture and reflective questions that can help guide a student in the right direction of their research.


Are there any last tips you have for teachers introducing research methods to their students? Any recommendations that you might share?

I like to emphasize with students that research is an iterative process. There’s no one “perfect search” – sometimes research can take a long time, and you’ll feel like you’re going in circles, but that is normal! I try to be transparent with students about my own struggles with research to show them that they are not alone.




The flagship campus of the University of Tennessee System and partner in the Tennessee Transfer Pathway.