Becoming a nurse is challenge enough for most any college student, but Teresa Fowler doesn’t mind pushing her limits. The junior from Camden, Tenn., has added “University of Tennessee student trustee” to her growing resume as she serves a two-year term on the UT Board of Trustees while completing her UT Martin nursing degree.
Teresa grew up an only child on a 200-acre farm in Benton County that’s been in her family for more than 150 years. She balanced work responsibilities on the farm with outside activities, finding time for cheerleading and serving as Camden Central High School’s delegate to Volunteer Girls State.
She credits her parents and teachers for inspiring her to pursue her educational goals. Phyllis Taylor, her high school health science teacher, encouraged Teresa and others to pursue health science. “She really drove us to all want to get into the health science field,” Teresa remembered. “She was an RN, so that really made me start thinking about being a nurse.”
Teresa entered UT Martin as a University Scholar, a program for selected academic achievers that requires a senior research project. In her major, she’s especially interested in the “psychology of nursing” as the profession considers the total person and not just the individual’s medical condition. As she has progressed through the nursing program, her clinical rotations have revealed various specialty options. “I’ve thought about going into geriatric research – research in dementia, Alzheimer’s, things of that nature and how nursing care can help that,” she said, adding, “And then I’ve thought about just opening a clinic in a rural area.”
Her college experience took an unexpected turn last spring when Steve Vantrease, Student Government Association adviser, encouraged Teresa to run for student trustee, a position elected by students and chosen by Tennessee’s governor. “I didn’t think I would get elected, but I did, so that really encouraged my interest in the position,” she said of the post that rotates to a UT Martin student every four years. The top three names from the spring election were sent to Gov. Bill Haslam, who chose her for the opening. A non-voting member her first year, Teresa becomes a voting member in 2012-13.
The board position appeals to Teresa’s commitment to being involved. “I don’t want to look back on my college experience and say, ‘Man, I wish I would have done that.’ The fact that the UT Martin students chose me really meant a lot to me,” she said. “It made me feel worthy representing them, so it really appealed to me in that sense.”
Her role as student trustee is no small task. “My main responsibility is to represent the students. I need to go out, get student opinion and present it to the board.” She represents all students in the UT System, not just UT Martin students, she said. The experience could result in her one day running for public office, so the networking is a valuable side benefit. “I’m meeting people that I would never have met just on a normal day-to-day basis.”
Although new to the UT board, Teresa is already juggling a busy and varied schedule. “It’s mostly time management,” she said. “I have to set aside time for nursing and set aside time for the board. It’s difficult because I can’t miss (an) extreme number of classes for board meetings.” She credits the nursing department for working with her schedule so that she can attend full board meetings in October and February.
Teresa plans further study to earn a nurse practitioner’s degree and fulfill her dream to make a mark in the medical profession. She might even pursue another dream to run for public office. So whether she’s helping people to get well, or representing them as an elected official, expect Teresa Fowler to use her UT Martin experience to make a positive difference for others.
Teresa was appointed for a two-year term to the UT Board of Trustees by Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam (second from right). She was introduced to the board at the June meeting in Knoxville. Also pictured (far right) is Dr. Janet Wilbert, faculty trustee from UT Martin, and Dr. Joe DiPietro, UT president.