AC NEWS


CLASS ACT: Dr. Asanga Ranasinghe sparks students’ interest in research

by Joe Wyatt
Published August 15, 2019

Throughout a stellar academic odyssey that began in Sri Lanka and peaked under the tutelage of three Nobel laureates at the University of California Santa Barbara, Asanga Ranasinghe was attracted by opportunities for research.

 

“I was enthralled as early as middle school by the colorful reactions produced in the chemistry lab,” said Ranasinghe, who in 2017 joined the Amarillo College faculty as an assistant professor of chemistry.

“I’ve pretty much wanted to do research ever since.”

Now Ranasinghe is leading AC students down the research superhighway. Not only has he introduced an optional undergraduate-style research seminar into his chemistry classes, he initiated a STEM Research Club that has swiftly taken root.

“Students’ response has been incredible,” Ranasinghe said. “So many have joined the club. I’ve found they have really good research skills. I am very impressed with the quality of science students we are producing here. They realize you can keep improving your knowledge, and that makes me happy.”

Ranasinghe began expanding his own knowledge base while earning a bachelor’s degree in chemistry at the University of Colombo in his native Sri Lanka. He next obtained a master’s degree at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

For his doctoral work he selected UC Santa Barbara because its faculty at the time featured Nobel laureates Walter Kohn, Alan Heegar and Shuji Nakamura.

“It was the best decision I made in my educational career,” said the chemist, whose sweeping research has ranged from investigating new drug-analysis methodologies, to automated liquid handling systems, construction of photovoltaic devices, electrochemical speciation of uranium, and much more. 

“In the way of equipment, resources and expertise, UCSB was unlimited. It was excellent exposure to interact academically with Nobel laureates. To this day, I tell my students that you should be more than expert in a single area; I tell them to broaden their horizons – whether it’s in chemistry, physics, mathematics, biology, or anything – and see how disciplines interact.”

Upon collecting his Ph.D. in materials/analytical chemistry, Ranasinghe returned to UNLV as a postdoctoral scholar, then taught at Clackamas Community College in Oregon, and later in the Colorado Community College System.

After several years working in the private sector as an independent businessman and technical consultant, he learned of an opening at AC, impressed the search committee, and enthusiastically returned to the classroom.

“I like the class size at Amarillo College, which is ideal instructor-to-student-wise,” he said. “I can customize my methods and see exactly when students struggle and need extra help.

“I’m also able to expose my students to cutting-edge technology here.”

AC’s STEM Research Center is loaded with top-flight equipment to enhance student learning, Ranasinghe says. And when he felt the facility needed a high-end machine for analyzing water hardness and acidity, he sought and obtained a faculty development grant from the AC Foundation in excess of $8,000.

Ranasinghe has tapped into other AC resources, as well. He attends teaching-development forums presented by the Center for Teaching and Learning, and he is especially grateful for the voluntary input of Jackie Llewellyn, instructor of speech communication, with whom he collaborates to ensure that his lectures are not overly technical.

“In chemistry you have to make sure you are an effective communicator, and she is kind enough to help me with my presentations,” he said.

It has not taken Ranasinghe long to become immersed in the Amarillo community. He is a youth soccer coach and regular presenter of engaging science experiments at St. Andrew’s Episcopal School. He also sits on the Board of Directors at the Turn Center, a provider of therapy for kids with special needs.

“I think everyone should want to help these kids with special needs,” he says. “I’m grateful for the opportunity. I get to interact with some prominent physicians in the Panhandle who are truly brilliant, and I hopefully get to use my expertise as a chemist and an educator to help make a better environment and better future for these kids.”


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