Augustana College adds colour to Madushi’s life

Tuesday, 5 March 2013 00:47 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

Many years ago my family was faced with the daunting task of identifying appropriate institutions for higher education. We spent hours pouring over college guides and university ratings, meeting education counsellors and exploring options closer to my home town.

Right from the start, it was apparent that the biggest, top-rated universities were well beyond our means, and chances of obtaining their highly competitive scholarships were slim-to-none. Eventually, we stumbled upon the American liberal-arts colleges, smaller institutions of 2,000 to 5,000 students providing well-rounded education and less-competitive scholarship opportunities for international students.

The liberal-arts college appealed to my parents for many reasons: First, the smaller student population meant smaller class sizes and that we wouldn’t disappear amidst a larger university the size of a small town. Second, the liberal-arts concept of studying a little bit of every subject prior to finalising the major, gave my parents hope that I may change my obstinate determination of studying Psychology. Finally, the financial aid offered meant affordable access to quality American education at a fraction of the big Ivy-League costs, and at prices comparable to the local US/UK affiliated colleges.

Eventually, I found myself at Augustana College, situated amidst rolling hills on the banks of the Mississippi River in Rock Island, Illinois.

Sometimes, I’m still amazed at the courage with which my parents sent a fresh-faced, doe-eyed seventeen-year-old girl to big, bad America, a country they had yet to visit themselves! However, I now realise that it was a calculated risk based on research and sound advice. Unlike larger institutions, my parents knew that a small private liberal-arts college provided the security blanket needed during our early days to navigate our way in a new world.

Further, they were advised to look at student to teacher ratios where professors could take individual interest in their students, rather than being invisible in classes of hundreds. Little did they know that at Augustana College I would receive far more than they ever expected.

At the college, professors become your friends with whom you have lunch, share sorrows and joys, follow your dreams, and stay in touch with long after you’re gone. The liberal arts experience means that you would learn about things you never expected; art history, business ethics, acting, women in Buddhism, archery and even dinosaurs.

Furthermore, the learning and personal growth extends far beyond the classroom through interactions with guests to the college, opportunities to study overseas, and taking on leadership roles in extracurricular activities.

I was involved with the college programming board that organised the annual list of entertainers and speakers brought to college, the residence hall association, planning committee of the Augustana dance marathon raising funds for children with muscular dystrophy, psychology club through which I participated in a number of research conferences, and more.

In addition, I was employed in part-time jobs as a hall resident assistant and as an Augustana Ambassador for the admissions office. Depending on your interest, you could also be involved in the dance team, fencing club, habitat for humanity (constructing houses on weekends for needy families) and so much more. Many students are also involved in sports, music or theatre.

My crowning glory, however, came in my final year when I was elected as President for the Student Government Association. It was a position that really tested my abilities in leadership, multi-tasking and formal representation. For one thing, despite all your involvements, you need to maintain a solid 3.5 GPA.

Next, you’re expected to guide your peers in appropriate decision making and initiating positive changes to the college environment, I was involved in initiating student leadership awards and an academic honour code. In addition, I also gave a welcome speech during freshman orientation to an audience of 700 students and their parents.

Finally, in the role of the President of the student body, I was expected to participate in the college’s board of trustees meetings, and welcome and dine with VIP guests to the college. Some notables that I met during this time include grand-daughter of American President Dwight Eisenhower Susan D. Eisenhower, Augustana alum and CEO/Co-founder of American franchise Noodles and Company Aaron Kennedy and Augustana alum one-time first female CEO of Pepsi-Cola North America Brenda C. Barnes frequently listed amongst the top 10 of the Forbes list of ‘The World’s Most Powerful Women’.

However, the most noteworthy of all visitors was the mostly unknown but dashing senator from Illinois Barack Obama.

These experiences from my years at college have moulded me into the person I am today, and cultivated in me characteristics for which I’m respected as a professional: hard work, honesty, multi-tasking, creativity, public-speaking, diplomacy and leadership.

These simple elements form the foundation for a long and prosperous career in any discipline. For example, some of my friends follow the most intriguing careers: a good friend is a NCIS agent (the TV show), and another was in the CIA. One friend is a jewellery designer, another was crowned Miss Iowa in 2004, and yet another contributes to cancer research.

Others contribute to society as teachers, counsellors, volunteers in developing countries or at Disney world and the Olympics, pastors in Church or in pursuit of Buddhist studies. As for myself, since 2005, with a B.A. in Psychology, I’ve been working to assist people recover following the 2004 tsunami in Sri Lanka, 2010 earthquake in Haiti, and most recently to support persons returning to their homes in North Sri Lanka to rebuild their lives for a sustainable future.

These combined experiences and strong work ethic was recently rewarded where, for a period of six months, at the age of 28 I was appointed as acting-country representative for the organisation that I work for.

My Augustana experience is one that is accessible to any bright, young and ambitious student. As Barnes and other fellow alums say, there might be hundreds of other schools that open more doors, but once there, Augustana graduates stand up better than anyone else.