Dr. Fernandez received a PhD in Pomology from Cornell University and a MS in Horticulture from the University of Minnesota. In between her graduate degrees, she worked at the University of Arkansas as a Research Specialist in the small fruit breeding program. She has been at North Carolina State University since 1996, where she is currently a John D. and Nell R. Leazar Distinguished Professor/Small Fruit Specialist in the Department of Horticultural Science. Dr. Fernandez has responsibilities in Extension and research.
Dr. Fernandez leads the strawberry and caneberry breeding programs. She is responsible for the development of new strawberry, raspberry and blackberry cultivars adapted to North Carolina. The primary focus of the strawberry breeding program is the development of disease resistant cultivars with superior horticultural traits (high yield, excellent flavor and good post harvest qualities). While the caneberry breeding program focuses on the development of raspberry cultivars that are heat tolerance and have a high chilling requirement. The blackberry breeding program focuses development of thornless cultivars with superior fruit traits. Dr. Fernandez collaborates with Dr. Penny Perkins-Veazie to evaluate post harvest attributes and levels of bioactive compounds in strawberry and caneberry fruit. In collaboration with Dr. Hamid Ashrafi, they have identified genes that are differentially expressed in blackberry fruit with white drupelet disorder. She is working with a team of scientists to identify strawberry markers for hemibiotrophc resistance to anthracnose diseases. In 2020, she began a multi-institutional project with Cornell University, the University of Arkansas, USDA-ARS in Corvallis and Pairwise Plants to evaluate a wide range of Rubus species for their genetic diversity. Dr. Fernandez, is a partner on several state, federal and international grants focused on caneberry and strawberry breeding and cultural studies.
Dr. Fernandez’s extension activities focus on helping agents and farmers grow caneberries in North Carolina. She gives numerous talks each year both in and out of the southeastern US. She has organized numerous multiple day trainings for agents both in NC and throughout the southern region of the US. She is the co-author of Southeast Regional Bramble Integrated Management Guide and key contributor to the Blackberry and Raspberry Growers Information Portal. She also manages several social media sites that help disseminate timely research and extension information related to caneberry and other small fruit production. Some of the projects include development of baseline nutrient sufficiency levels in floricane and primocane fruiting blackberries, identification of cold damage to flower buds and canes and use of tunnels for season extension and yield improvement. Dr. Fernandez is an active participant in grower organizations including, the North Carolina Commercial Blackberry and Raspberry Association, the North Carolina Strawberry Association, the North American Bramble Growers Association and the Southern Region Small Fruit Consortium.
On the international front, she worked with fruit scientists and visited farms in Europe, South America, Africa and Asia. In 2010, she took a sabbatical study at the University of KwaZulu Natal for six months. In 2011, she worked with USAID to help Serbian growers develop production practices for fresh fruit production. In 2015 she hosted the XI Rubus and Ribes Symposium and edited the Proceedings of the symposium.
To date, Dr. Fernandez has advised 3 post doctoral scientists, 1 visiting scholar, 7 PhD (4 as primary mentor) students and 15 MS (6 as primary mentor) students. She has published numerous peer reviewed articles and hundreds of extension electronic and hard copy publications. She has released red raspberry variety, ‘Nantahala’ one blackberry, ‘Von’ and two strawberry cultivars ‘Rocco’ and ‘Liz’.