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Interview with Dr. R. U. Halwatura (CVCD Excellence Awards 2016 - Most Outstanding Young Researcher)

Date: 6th October 2016
Time: 4.45p.m.
Venue: Department of Civil Engineering

“How are you all sons? I’m a bit a late….Meeting ended just before a while. I’m quite busy today….Still didn’t have lunch. Never mind, let’s finish your work.

With that friendly start to our interview, he,

Is a talented speaker, a senior university lecturer, a skillful sportsman and an efficient school senior head prefect, a winner of several awards and a first class, a nature loving photographer, a life with a clear aim and balance between studies and extra-curricular activities, a challenging journey with courage and determination………

Above all, he is a lovely mentor sharing life with his students even outside the lecture room……..

He is Rangika Umesh Halwathura by name……..As we all know our very own, “Sir Halwathura”.

This is the unfolding of the interview we, Mora Media Club had with him for nearly an hour. 

“About me in short…….”

I’m Rangika Umesh Halwathura, born in 4th February 1978 at Kalutara. I had my school education from Kalutara Vidyalaya. I was born to a family of four, father mother, me and my younger brother, Shanaka Halwathura. He is an army officer by profession.

Other than that, talking about my small family, my wife is Charitha Poruthota, a doctor by profession. She graduated from University of Kelaniya. We have two daughters of schooling age, Pamoda and Ramoda.

“School education……”

It is special that I continued to remain in the same school since I started schooling in 1983.

“Either to join forces or become an engineer……….”

Thos days to my knowledge, I had two answers for the question “who do you want to be?” One was to join forces and other was to be an engineer. During O/Ls those principles changed and with force came from my parents, I only wanted to get qualified as a Civil Engineer. 

“Sports and leadership……”

I was both a good sportsman and the head prefect of my year at school. I often engaged in athletics, football, basket ball, body building and badminton. I was the champion of my weight category from western province. My sports career didn’t stop even after I entered university and yet.

One thing I have noticed is that best academic performers are also the ones who do sports, participate in unions and societies. It is the best way to release stress. It also helps to move forward in life facing problems and challenges well. I always encourage my students not to stick to books only.

After first year university exam, students come and cry in front of me. Then I get to see how stressed they are. This would not happen if they engage in extra activities as I mentioned.

“Did not seek famous schools……..”

As my school was not a so called popular one by then, everyone questioned me why I did not change my school. 

One concept I worshipped was ‘mine’. This is my school, my mother, my father, my country, my university…….I respect them very much as I feel they are the best things in the world. That is the same reason why I remained in the same school.

Just like me, my children should be able to get rid of the trend of attending popular schools. Today, everyone in the country wants to enter their kids to a popular school. To be benefitted from its fame. But why don’t they think beyond that?

We should learn to bring fame to our school by achieving on our own. I hope, someday my daughters will also do just like that.

“As the last student to Moratuwa………..”

I was 312th from the island in my A/Ls, 1998. But only 300 could attend University of Moratuwa and for my luck, 12 students rejected to attend. Cause of that, I was able to enter the university as the last eligible student.

With the annual system prevailed at that time, I was able to get a rank among top 50 from first year exam. Despite strong rejections from my friends who selected computer science and electronics, I selected Civil Engineering.

“Good decisions followed by a first class…..”

My choice was not wrong at all. I lost my strong desire to become an architect due to my parents needs. But I was able to pick the right option thanks to my respect and love for parents. 

I became the batch top in second year. I am delighted to say that I won all the divisional awards at that time with a first class honors degree in 2004.

“A life changing new beginning………”

2004 was a lucky year for me. I got married in the same year and my first daughter born in 2005. Then I started my PhD at University of Moratuwa with all these new responsibilities. It was easier for me to keep contacts with industry as I remained in Sri Lanka. Even though I obtained my PhD in structural and building services engineering, I chose to stay in university as a lecturer.

“Communication skill is very important….”

If students enter the university just to get a first class, then that is very easy. But university life is something beyond that…..Something that needs to be felt and enjoyed. There is lot more to offer to the university. I view it as unfair that students forget those and only try to get a first class.

I was successful enough to balance my studies and other extra activities while being the batch top. I was also the batch representative of my time. Leadership was not strange to me since school time. I would like to advice all university students to improve their communication and leadership skills. 

To practice as an engineer, communication is very important. One can’t be a good leader without it. We have proven that we are good communicators as well as good leaders. This should be every undergraduate’s aim. I always thought about it and continuously improved my skills. When we start working under someone, from the very first day we have an authority towards subordinates. Therefore, subject knowledge as well as communication is extremely useful.

“Chairman along with 6%...........”

2010 was a turning point in my lecturing career. Accidently, I happened to participated for AGM of University of Moratuwa Teachers’ Association (UMTA). It was a very interesting incident. One sir of mine asked me, “Rangika, AGM’S forum is not enough. Can you come for a bit?” I said “okay” without any further thinking. But I got selected as the Assistant Secretary that day. Also by then, I was the level one coordinator. Then onwards I started working with UMTA which was the turning point I mentioned.

In 2011 AGM, I get elected as the youngest chairman of all time.

As I do not have a habit to run away from challenges, I accepted the post. It was just after a strike of Univesity Teachers’ Union and many told me not to be afraid, there won’t be another strike for years.

After several months, for the first time in my life, in 2010, a continual strike started with the concept of 6%. I viewed being the chairman as a great luck just then. I was from a poor family with lots of hardships throughout. I always had the desire to contribute to education in some way and this was the best opportunity for me. I welcomed the chairman role with pleasure and started working actively since then. 

Those 99 days of strike in 2012 were unforgettable. It went even more than 99 days. University of Moratuwa had not participated in any strike till then. But finally, whole university lined up with me. As this was not a political agenda, we decided to wear t-shirts printed with 6% and keep striking. This is one of memorable and wonderful times of my life, Thereafter; I worked as the youngest chairman at FUTA and resigned after few weeks.

“Then and now……..”

Today I see a clear difference in university community compared to those days. I use this vision to connect with students. I have reprimanded students many times but they know I do not keep any grudge cause of that. I like to see them act like me. I continue to stay as a brother, a father to them.

I like to see each and every university student enjoy this university life as I did. We had a different culture; we mended broken chairs in the lecture hall by ourselves, we cleaned everything. I desire to see that again.

“Forward with a bag of awards………”

I could say I’m very lucky to have received so many awards at a lower age.

· Sri Lanka Association for the advancement of Science – Postgraduate Research merit award -2009

Hiran Thilakaratne Research Award, UGC for the research carried out during the period of 2007-2009 
Award for outstanding research performance, UoM , 2012 
Award for outstanding research with d distinction, UoM,2013 
JCI TOYP (top outstanding young person of Sri Lanka) award- academic leadership and accomplishment for the year 2014 
Award for outstanding research award with distinction, UoM 2014 
Energy Globe Award - National Award -2016 
CVCD excellence award – 2016 

I gained two awards this year which I am happy for. CVCD award is one I decided and expected the most. Even I received it at age of 38 years; it is awarded under age 40 in younger research category. According to my knowledge, its selection criteria are the hardest and most critical procedure. It completely assesses the Research and Publication category.

There are three criteria to look in a lecturer in becoming a professor. They are Teaching, Researching and National contribution. I was appraised and won highest mark for second criteria and awarded by CVCD.

“Future expectations……”

When I was becoming the chairman of FUTA, I had two avenues to choose from. One is to take up the chairman post and other is to submit the application for the professor rate. I did a sacrifice and picked FUTA. When I resigned from FUTA two months before the last day, I started chasing my earlier goals again. I expect that things will fall right again for me to be a professor in few months.

“Where are we for real……….”

In a meet up, one of my friends told me that he is going to give his son foreign education. When I debated with him backing my concepts, he asked me whether my university is in top 100 of South India or the world. I was extremely ashamed at that moment. Then I started to wonder where we are for real even we pride ourselves as the best technical and engineering university in the country.

We all know, Sri Lanka’s best spirit attends to Moratuwa. But where are we for real? If it’s not in Asian rank or world rank, where is it? This methodology should be changed. Everyone should talk openly and have equal education. We should not speak still in Lankan context. World is a global village and we are not competitive enough for it. Those days, I advised my students not to leave the country but stay and learn. I cannot say that anymore. We have still not gained a place in the world. We stayed, we begged, we learned. As I see our ‘mentality’ is the main reason for this.

Many try to interpret this free education not as freedom to receive education but as education given free of charge. Today, it is not free of charge for obvious reasons. Poor mothers and fathers of my country have spent much for me to come to this position. I owe this country a great deal because of that. Till this enters our peoples’ minds, I do not think we could rise as a country or a university. This should be thought by both undergraduates and lecturers. Our university hasn’t reached there yet. Although I view my university as my second home, we should not burst in pride saying we are the best, we still have a long journey to go and otherwise we are going to lose day by day.

“Only failure in life…….”

Except for once, I do not see any failure in my life. That was the break-up of my love affair in last year of my university education, few months before the final exam. It affected my mentality much adversely. But these are very common things for young life.

I took that also as a challenge and I’m not worrying about it.

“She is my strength……”

My life is very busy, especially during strikes there were many sleepless nights. Apart from my parents, my wife was the one who helped me to achieve what I have today. She sacrificed a lot in her life, even higher education and opportunity to private practice. She was the strength for me in everything. She looks up children’s’ work as well as house chores. Inside this, I become freer to focus on other things to be achieved in my life.

This year was very busy for me with research, teaching and also as a member of National Human Resource Development Council. Also I am occupied as a member of academic affairs committee of National Institute of Education. Through these positions I have been able to payback my debt by even at a least amount to country’s education. And she was behind me in all of these.

Just like my parents, brother and my friends, I could not afford to forget my supporters inside the university premises. With all of their help, I was able to carry on successfully.

“A message for students as a teacher……”

I already gave the first message, that is not to view this as an education given free of charge. That is a kind request from me.

We all should have in mind that further we make use of this education, we owe more and more back to the society. 

Secondarily, we say that we are ready to even die for each other in love affairs. But it cannot be done at it’s said. When you start loving yourself, you would think that this is my country, my parents, my school, my university and so on. You will start loving entire world through it.

Students, who come from traditional tuition methodology, do not possess critical thinking. It is very hard to train such a brain. 

Also when I come from A/L, to university, I didn’t even use 10% of what I did for A/Ls. Not even 10% of university education needs to be used as a chartered engineer. But all these include education as a brain train. Each academic stream develops brain to succeed along that stream. My wife and I face problems in two different ways. That is the difference education brings. We should understand that.

If we learn targeting exams only, then that brain train gets disturbed. That is the biggest unjust happen to Moratuwa undergraduates. They gain only exam thinking but no brain training. Gain only knowledge but not intellect.

“Towards the target through alternatives……”

I always worked with aims. Something I always say is “Don’t pray for the best, but try for the best”. I had so many benchmarks in my life. Except for that previously said instance, I was successful at all times. Even at that instance, I thought of marrying in 2004. And just like planned, I got married in 2004.

Always keep thinking I’ll do a job at this time, with this much of salary, and I’ll move there. Having benchmarks as such is important.

But have alternatives while keeping targets.

I will give a good example. Think that I have to go to Colombo now. If I only know Galle road and I go targeting that road only, I will fail there. If the journey can be finished without any obstacles using only that road, then it is highly successful to go on that road. But life is not like that. It is difficult to possess such a character.

What I tell is, if you all want to go to Colombo using Galle road, yes, Galle road… Always keep the target that I will to go Colombo. But pay attention to alternative roads available along the route. Look for those frequently and see whether you can reach there easily with those roads, because if Galle road gets blocked, you could easily reach your target using those alternative roads. Don’t look at just one way to reach the target, look for many. Then only the success of life becomes visible.

“We should market ourselves”

Especially Moratuwa students don’t know how to market themselves. Paper qualifications can no longer take them forward. We will fall in to big trouble if we continue this process. Moratuwa is a place of skilled students with a high capability. When looked at the things they do with this much of less resources, accidently, if those increased by 1-2%, we could not even imagine how far they will go.

We have to take what we do to the open market and market well. Our talents, our achievements as well as weaknesses must be taken to the world. Then only we can correct our weaknesses. Always need to be open-minded. We cannot say everything we do is right. I have done mistakes in my life. But I need to have the ability to see the mistake as a mistake. It will be helpful for our followers, if we could say, “This is how I did things and that is why I got stuck”. Then they can avoid those mistakes and move on.

“Wishing Mora Media Club…”

What you all are doing is really great. This helps us to market our resources. I believe this is successful. It will be more successful, if this can be linked with our university website. We could gain more and more attention of people to university. I wish you all would be able to take the name, University of Moratuwa beyond Sri Lanka.

Even with a busy schedule, spending his valuable time for Mora Media Club and sincerely sharing his life experience very closely, we along with University of Moratuwa, wish senior lecturer “Rangika Halwathura” to have all necessary courage and strength to serve the country even more.

Article Written By : Indeewari Chandrasekara

1 comment:

  1. නිදහස් දිනයක උපන් විශිෂ්ට ශ්‍රී ලංකා පුත්‍රයකු වන ඔබට ප්‍රණාමය.