Chandana Wirasinghe has spent his career as an engineering academic putting the success of students first.
Now, the World Federation of Engineering Organizations (WFEO) has recognized his passion for teaching and course development with the 2015 Medal of Excellence in Engineering Education. He is the first Sri Lankan and first Canadian to receive this medal.
“This award means a lot to me because it is also a recognition for the Schulich School,” says Wirasinghe, professor in the Civil Engineering Department and founding dean of the Schulich School of Engineering. He's also an Anandian, Peradeniya graduate (1968), and Hon. senior professor at the University of Moratuwa.
“I believe that much of this award is due to what we achieved as a school while I was dean. It’s big component of my accomplishments I’m proud to share this recognition with the entire school, faculty and staff.”
Building top engineering school in Canada
The biannual award honours individuals with noteworthy contributions to the improvement of engineering education and significant educational accomplishments. Wirasinghe has dedicated his career to teaching, research and service to the engineering community.
“I have always felt that our students are the top product of the school and the University of Calgary,” says Wirasinghe. “We depend on producing high-quality students and I tell them, ’You are important and you will be treated with a great deal of respect.’”
Wirasinghe, a Berkeley PhD (1976), and Fulbright Scholar (1972-76), became the dean of the Schulich School of Engineering in 1994. He held the post until July 2006, and advanced the school to be one of the best in Canada. His research interests are in transportation and mitigation of natural disasters. He has undertaken extensive work in the analytical modelling of public transport, and systems analysis of disaster mitigation activities.
“My vision as dean was to become the top engineering school in Canada and to do that, we need to attract the best faculty, students and researchers,” says Wirasinghe. “We are at a point where people are choosing Schulich as their first choice not because we are in Calgary, the engineering capital of Canada, but because we offer a high-quality educational experience.”
Championing new programs and growth at Schulich
Under Wirasinghe’s leadership, new Bachelor of Science programs were launched in manufacturing, oil and gas, computer and software engineering, as well as the specialization in biomedical engineering. He also oversaw the expansion the internship program from 35 placements to more than 400 placements; the addition of the ICT and CCIT buildings and the donation of the Petro-Canada Building.
Wirasinghe also led the expansion of the Engineering Associates Program from 35 to over 100 members, and the establishment of more than 30 research chairs.
His achievements at Schulich (with the support from many others) include initiating the Women in Engineering Committee (now called the Gender and Diversity in Engineering Committee) and expanding first-year enrolment from 370 to 730 with associated expansion in faculty members.
“Supporting student success and fostering diversity are priorities at our school and have been lifelong goals for Chan,” says Dean Bill Rosehart. “His vision and accomplishments as dean helped build this school’s reputation as a leader in engineering education.
"We continue to launch new programs like the Energy Engineering Program and support student success through the Devon Academic Resource Centre, building on his passion for providing some of the best engineering education possible.”
Inspiring leader and mentor to engineering students and professionals
As a longtime academic director in the Centre for Transportation for the Van Horne Institute, Wirasinghe has provided exemplary service to the community, says Peter Wallis, president and CEO, Van Horne Institute.
“Chan Wirasinghe is an inspirational leader and mentor to engineering students and professionals around the world,” adds Wallis.
Wirasinghe continues to be active in APEGA (Association of Professional Engineers and Geoscientists of Alberta) and Engineers Canada activities. He is the founder of the International Institute for Infrastructure Resilience and Reconstruction (IIIRR), a network that works on disaster mitigation research. He is also a founding Canadian member of the Committee on Disaster Risk Management of the WFEO.