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Outreach Program at South Eastern University, Oluvil : November 1st – 3rd 2010

Oluvil in Ampara, Sri Lanka was not recommended for travel during the period Sri Lanka had its internal conflict during the last 3 decades. The main campus of the South Eastern University (SEU) is located in Oluvil while its Faculty of Physical Sciences is about 10 miles away in Samnthurai. SEU has a total of 1700 students. (300 Sinhalese students and 150 Tamils) Of the majority Muslim students, 70% are women.

I was pleased when invited by Deputy Consul Officer – US Embassy Colombo, Ms. Claire Breedlove to join her on a visit to SEU where she was planning on presenting several programs including sessions on the F1 Visas. With the approval of Jeff Anderson, Director of Press and Cultural Affairs and Tissa Jayatilaka, the Executive Director of the US-SLFC, I arranged several programs to promote higher education in the US so that I could use my time in Ampara to the maximum. My itinerary included visiting the Faculty of Physical Sciences in Samanthurai as well as the main campus in Oluvil. The program was coordinated by Dr. Safeena of the Faculty of Physical Sciences and Mr. Rifaudeen, of the American Corner, Oluvil.

On Tuesday, November 2nd I went to the Faculty of Physical Sciences in Samanthurai. I presented a session on “Graduate Studies in the US” to the students and faculty. This 2 hour presentation helped the students to understand the background of US higher education, how to select universities, graduate financial aid and the application process. It ended up with a lively Q & A session.

Subsequently I met the senior professors, lecturers and probationary lecturers with whom I discussed the availability of opportunities for them to continue their studies. I made a short presentation on the Fulbright Scholarships which was of much interest to them. I also discussed the all important letters of recommendations, what the US admissions officers look for in such letters and shared further information and handouts with the faculty on the subject.

I donated some reading files and books on standardized test preparation to the faculty library.

I next proceeded to the main campus in Oluvil and met faculty from the ELTU. They were unanimous in stating that their priority was giving the students exposure to native speakers. I advised them to write to the Executive Director, US-SLFC officially, requesting such.

The next meeting was with the student leaders. The President & the Secretary of the SEU Student Union, and others representing students from the Arts & Culture, Management and Commerce, Arabic and Islamic Studies were present. Their request was that they be given the opportunity to learn under teachers from the U.S. universities from whom they can gain much exposure to technology and the practical aspects of the courses. I discussed this matter with the Program manager, US-SLFC who advised the Heads of the Faculties to contact the US-SLFC with their specific requirements.

Deputy Consul, Ms. Claire Breedlove and I met the student body in the SEU auditorium. While she explained the F1 Visa, who qualifies and what they look for in an applicant, I made a presentation on Graduate Studies in the USA. There was much enthusiasm and many questions asked.

On November 3rd I visited the American Corner at the SEU’s Library. One of the things I noted was that the books on higher studies in the USA were outdated. I was very glad that I had taken reading files on important topics and some books on GRE, GMAT and TOEFL preparation.

It was heartening to note that the “small’ group meeting scheduled for 9.15 became a major one with 22 participants. They had all attended the orientation the day before and wanted to discuss individual issues and specific plans.

All in all, the visit to SEU was very productive and I was able to reach a group of potential graduate students who live 350 miles away from Colombo and thus far been deprived of information and guidance on pursuing higher education in the US. I thank Ms. Breedlove for the invitation, Dr. Ms. Safeena and Mr. Rifaudeen of SEU who coordinated my schedule, Mr. Jeff Anderson PAO and Chairman and Mr. Tissa Jayatilaka, Executive Director, US-SLFC for supporting my visit to SEU and ECA/A/S/A for allocating funds for the EducationUSA outreach activities.

Things to note:

· Using the DVC facility for continuation and regular discussions with potential graduate students.

· Books on higher education for the American Corner. Oluvil

· US-SLFC to find out how to help –

a) The English language Teaching Unit (ELTU) with teachers

b) Identifying the requirements for faculty for the management, Arts, and Physical Sciences.