Ranjani Wasantha Kulawardhana awarded Schlumberger 2012-2013 Faculty for the Future Fellowship

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The Schlumberger Foundation has awarded 63 new fellowships for the 2012-2013 academic year. The awards will fund women from developing and emerging countries for advanced graduate study in science and engineering disciplines at top universities around the world. The 63 new Fellows come from 28 countries, including for the first time Malawi, Swaziland, Lesotho, Botswana, Iraq and Fiji.

The new grantees will be pursuing PhD or Post-doctorate studies in 9 different countries in disciplines as varied as civil and environmental science, computer engineering, chemistry, physics, mathematics and hydrology.

The overriding objective of the program is to see the Faculty for the Future Fellows inspire other female scientists, building steadily on their empowerment and their leadership skills to become influential role models in countries where women are still underrepresented in science.

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Ranjani Wasantha Kulawardhana, PhD Candidate of the Department of Ecosystem Science and Management (ESSM), has been awarded the Schlumberger 2012-2013 Faculty for the Future Fellowship.  The Schlumberger Foundation Faculty for the Future program, launched in 2004, awards fellowships to women from developing and emerging economies to pursue PhD or post-doctoral studies in the physical sciences and related disciplines at top universities abroad. Schlumberger Faculty for the Future community is now made up of 257 women from around the world.

This is a significant achievement considering the intense competition.

Wasantha graduated with BSc. in Agriculture (specialized in Agricultural Biology) from the University of Peradeniya, Sri Lanka in 2002. Soon after her graduation, she joined the university as a teaching assistant of the Department of Agricultural biology. She was then awarded the Unilever Ceylon Water Professional’s Fellowship by the Post Graduate Institute of Agriculture of the University of Peradeniya which supported her MSc. program in Integrated Water Resources Management. After completion of her MSc program she joined the International Water Management Institute in January 2005.  IWMI is one of 15 international research centers supported by the network of 60 governments, private foundations and international organizations collectively known as the CGIAR (Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research).

During her 3 year period at IWMI, Wasantha engaged in several research projects to incorporate Remote Sensing and GIS data and technology for the study of research questions related to agriculture, climate change, and natural resource management. He most recent research activities include delineation and mapping of wetlands and characterization of wetland land use/ land cover (Limpopo River Basin in South Africa, Zimbabwe, Mozambique and Botswana), spatial modeling for Land suitability analysis using inland valley paddy cultivation in Ghana, and Analyses of climatic parameters, vegetation characteristics and their relationships for natural vegetation of Sri Lanka. She also has field experience in several African countries including South Africa, Zimbabwe, Mozambique and Ghana.

During this period she also involved in national level activities to enhance the use of   geo-spatial technology in scientific research. Wasantha was elected as the Founder Secretary of the Geo-Informatics Society of Sri Lanka – GISSL (www.gissl.lk) which was inaugurated in December 2003 and had been elected for the same position for four consecutive years until she left Sri Lanka for her higher studies.  Being a member of the teaching panel of the Board of Agricultural Engineering of the Post graduate Institute of Agriculture (PGIA), University of Peradeniya (www.pgia.ac.lk) she also contributed to teaching post-graduate students of the country. Recognizing her contributions to the scientific research in Sri Lanka she was awarded the Presidential Awards for Scientific Research 2007-2009 by the National Research Council of Sri Lanka.

At TAMU, Wasantha is working on her doctoral research study that focuses on developing a remote sensing and GIS based modeling approach for the assessment of vegetation dynamics, plant productivity and carbon sequestration ability of herbaceous vegetation communities, particularly in grassland dominated ecosystems. This study will reveal the capabilities of remote sensing and GIS techniques to quantitatively assess and map carbon sequestration abilities and their variations spatially at regional to global scales. Drs. Rusty Feagin and Sorin C. Popescu co-chair her doctoral research committee.

Based on her academic performances at TAMU, Wasantha was also awarded the Tom Slick Graduate Research Fellowship 2011/ 2012. It is one of the most prestigious fellowships awarded to outstanding PhD candidates of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at TAMU. The first three years of her academic program was funded by the United States Department of Agriculture-Forest Service Grant # 07-CS-11221611-341 to Dr. Robert Washington Allen.

Wasantha has several publications, peer-reviewed and published in internationally and regionally recognized journals and conference proceedings.