With a view to connecting with the academic community within the US, and leveraging their support towards Sri Lanka in academic collaboration, co-mentoring and facilitating access to US learning resources to Sri Lankan university students, the Embassy of Sri Lanka in Washington D.C. has launched the ‘US-Sri Lanka Academic and Research Collaboration Network’ (USLARCN). The Inaugural Meeting of this group was held on 15 August 2021 chaired by Ambassador Ravinatha Aryasinha. This further expands the reach of the Pan US Overseas Sri Lankans (OSL) Network launched by the Embassy on 31 January 2021, with the broader aim of supporting OSL activities and leveraging their support towards Embassy efforts at realizing the interests of Sri Lanka in the US - in political advocacy, economic empowerment, socio-cultural engagement, as well as in bringing unity within the SL community and reaching out to 'Friends of Sri Lanka'.
Following the response received to a notice which was placed on the Embassy website and circulated among the OSL Network nearly 2 months ago, over 130 OSLs who expressed interest have been clustered into 12 groups in the areas of; Cultural Studies and Media, Business& Finance, Early Childhood Education, Team Science and Talent Development, Environmental Studies, Nutrition, and Food Science, Chemistry, Physics, Engineering, Computer Science & IT, Medical Sciences, Social Sciences and Sri Lankan Studies.
During a zoom meeting with the USLARCN, in opening remarks to mark the occasion, Ambassador Ravinatha Aryasinha who commended the significant achievements of Sri Lankan academics in the US and the pride they bring to Sri Lanka, emphasized the importance of also bringing the US based Sri Lanka origin academic community together, to both support the education system and students living in Sri Lanka, while at the same time helping to ensure that those involved at the academic and policy levels in the US had a more nuanced understanding of Sri Lanka, and similarly Sri Lankans of the US. Noting that up to the end of the Cold War institutions such as the East-West Center in Hawaii and a few other US Universities had catered to this need, he said today such a full understanding was imperative so that we respond not only to ‘events’ in each other’s countries, but to the related dynamic ‘processes’ as a whole. Ambassador Aryasinha said during a visit to Hawaii in May 2021, he had the opportunity to discuss this concern with East-West Center President Dr. Richard R. Vuylsteke and senior staff involved with programmes offered to Sri Lankans, and Daniel K. Inouye Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies (APCSS) Director Pete Gumataota and senior staff focusing on Sri Lanka and the region, so that a better appreciation of the multifaceted full spectrum of relations between Sri Lanka and the US can be better reflected in future collaboration. He hoped that the USLARCN will also take up the challenge to revive this tradition through their individual and collective endavours.
The Ambassador appreciated the support the Embassy received from Prof. Lani Gunawardena and Dr. Menake Piyasena of the New Mexico Node of the OSL Network in coordinating the USLARCN, the Group Leaders for graciously volunteering to lead their groups, and all the other members who are in the network for volunteering their time, energy, passion, and expertise towards this endeavor. He hoped that more like minded Sri Lankan academics and students in the US would join this endeavor, and that more focused areas would open up for greater collaboration.
Invited to deliver the keynote address on the occasion, Emeritus Professor Wimal Dissanayake of the University of Hawaii and Leader of the Cultural Studies and Media Group, commending the Ambassador for the new initiative under the Pan OSL Network, recalled the different phases of US-SL Education Collaboration since the 1950s and said in the past there had been a steady stream of students, journalists, academics, policy makers and service personnel, who have attended long term degree programmes as well as seminars, and had benefitted from and contributed to the considerable cross fertilization of views that took place, significantly around the East-West Center. However, he noted that “what you have today is a pale shadow of what it was 20 or 30 years ago, but still thanks to the efforts of the Ambassador, I think we are trying to revive it”. Prof. Dissanayake emphasized the need “to think, re-imagine the problem space which had two components. One is instead of simplifying, we need to have nuances, concepts, multi-facilitative motion. The other is we have to re-identify, re-imagine the problems in the light of newer learning and newer development in the academy because the shelf life of a modal is very short like 10 - 25 years, new models come up. So we have to reshape our programs, problematics in the light of a newer body of learning. So the 2 aspects redefine the activities and nuance presentation of Sri Lankan life on the ground, and secondly see Sri Lankan problems in the light of newer learning. If we can combine these two into complex problems, I think we’ll be in a good shape.” Noting that presently Sri Lankan scholars in this network are approximately 80% from the Natural Sciences, 15% from the Social Sciences and 5% from the Humanities, Professor Dissanayake recommended 3 conceptual criteria that could help future efforts; that it be inter-disciplinary in nature, that it focuses on knowledge exchange & knowledge utilization, and functions as a ‘Network’ with a structure but also flexibility.
In remarks on the occasion, Sri Lanka’s Consul General in Los Angeles Dr. Lalith Chandradasa commended the Ambassador’s initiative of earlier launching the OSL Network and as a sequel the USLARCN. He said “I was very much taken in when this scientific and research thing came up, because even prior to that in California, we have got a tool of a few experts in the field of pre-schools and we have managed to link them with Sri Lankan groups, it’s a NGO actually working with the pre-schools and they have sent me the background of what the early childhood education in Sri Lanka looks like, and I was surprised. Because there 50% of under 5s don’t go to any institution. But I would like to say that we have to have appropriate technology, we have to be appropriate to the local standards”. Dr. Chandradasa added, “again in my field people are talking about Autism, when most of the medical people in Sri Lanka don’t know how to diagnose autism”.
Prof. Lani Gunawardena thanked the Ambassador for facilitating and encouraging the development of this network across all 50 states and with counter parts in Sri Lanka, observing “I have been in US about over 40 years and this is the first time an Ambassador has reached out to all of us in all the states”. She said “ I think it’ll have wonderful promise, the network will run itself because we have excellent group leaders and I would really also want to thank Wijayanthi Edirisinghe, Minister at the Embassy who coordinates the OSL Network, for all the support you have given us”.
Through a series of presentations, each of the 12 Group Leaders elaborated on the goals, objectives, and proposed activities relating to their areas of focus.
Kumara Karunarathne, IT officer and Koshila Peiris, Executive Assistant were associated with the Ambassador and Minister at this meeting.
Embassy of Sri Lanka
17 August 2021