Women in Engineering

Women have always been challenging personalities in many of the fields in the world today. The involvement of women in fields which are apparently dominated by men has led to many of the most outstanding discoveries and progresses in the respective fields. It becomes even more outstanding and interesting when they can create a pathway of their own, to contribute towards the global community in some way. Most of the engineering elite are known to the world for many different reasons. They can be either a technological contribution/advancement or some research activity which could possibly change the existing techno world. And yet, some of these personalities whose lives are crystal examples of active participation of women in engineering stays out of notice for they have chosen a different pathway to render their contribution. As an engineering undergraduate, I have seen many of them in the very same place that I am today. The first such personality to have a word with us was Dr.Chintha Pathirana, Senior Lecturer (Department of Civil Engineering – Faculty of Engineering, University of Peradeniya)

Starting the conversation, let’s first talk about your childhood memories.

I was born in Kurunegala as the 6th in a family of 10 brothers and sisters. My father was a Principal and my mother was a teacher. My first education was received at schools where my father worked (one school from grade 1 to 3 and another from grade 3 to 5). From grade 6 onwards, I studied at Maliyadeva Girls’ College, Kurunegala.

What were your interests and the extra-curricular activities you did as a school girl?

I was a school prefect and I did Net Ball as a sport. And also I was the games’ captain of my house (smiles). I played Net Ball for inter school matches and provincial level matches.

It is obvious that you liked Mathematics that you selected to be an Engineer one day. So let’s talk about your undergraduate life in the faculty.

(smiles) I entered the faculty in 1981 as a first year student and I resided at Wijewardene Hall for the first two years and at Ramanathan Hall in the 3rd and 4th years. I chose Civil Engineering as my field of specialization from third year onwards. I completed the undergraduate programme in 1984.

I’m sure that you were not only into the academic programme as an undergraduate. Let’s talk about your sports carrier in the university life.

Of course I did participate in different gaming activities in the university. I did Net Ball and Hockey and I became the Vice Captain of the University Net Ball team in my final year (1983-84). I also took part in inter university Hockey and Net Ball games. I was also the secretary of the Sports Council of the university for the year 1983/84.

Taken at CES Annual Seminar 2015
Taken at CES Annual Seminar 2015

After completing your degree, did you join the industry straight away?

No, I didn’t. After completing the degree, I joined the faculty as an instructor. I worked in the Hydraulics Lab (Hydraulics and Environmental Laboratory) and Materials Lab (Materials and Metallurgy Laboratory). To be more clear, I was stationed at the Hydraulics Lab, but I worked in the Materials Lab and Survey Lab as well. It is then only I joined the industry for a short while.

Tell us about your experience as an engineer in the industry.

I joined the RDA (Road Development Authority) in 1985 and worked there till 1987.I was basically working in Pussellawa and Nuwara Eliya. I worked in the project for the resurfacing of PBC (Peradeniya – Badulla – Chenkaladi) Road while I was working in the RDA. I was assigned to supervise the project from Gamapala to Welimada.

Moving a little away from the academic and professional life, tell us a little about your family too.

(laughs) Well, I got married to Prof. Pathirana ( Department of Production Engineering) in 1986 and I have one daughter (Sachinthani Pathirana) who was also a student (E 09) in the faculty. She is now working in the faculty as a Temporary Lecturer (Department of Civil Engineering).

Then let’s talk about your higher studies and the experience you gathered while you were abroad.

Around February 1987(I worked in the RDA till then), I left for Japan (since my husband was reading for his PhD in Japan). I learnt the langauge while I was there and at the same time I started working for a Civil Engineering Construction Company called WEC (World Engineering Consultants) till December,1989.

Well, when did you move back to Sri Lanka? And tell us something about your carrier towards being a Senior Lecturer in the faculty.

I returned to Sri Lanka in 1990 and joined the faculty as anEngineering Teaching Assistant. Later I completed my Masters degree in Structural Engineering in 1997. After that, I was promoted as a Lecturer and later, while teaching, I completed my PhD (2013 May) and currently I am working as Senior Lecturer in the Department of Civil Engineering.

I played Net Ball for tournaments within the university among Faculties and the Senate). (laughs) I basically did other sports too, but I’d rather say that I did play Net Ball more than any other sport.

Taken at Admission of new Entrants 2014
Taken at Admission of new Entrants 2014

As you have already told us, you were a lot into sports and I’m sure you must have had other interests in aesthetics too. Let’s have a word on your interests.

Well, I am also a good fan of music. I like listening to music at leisure and I can play the piano a little as well (smiles). I also find meditating very interesting and I usually spare time to listen to Dhamma talks too. And in addition to all of this, I enjoy gardening quite a lot. And I am into reading as a hobby too.

We’d like to know why you were interested in joining the Faculty from industry.

I really liked my work in industry. I decided to join the Faculty for convenience as my husband was holding a permanent post in the Faculty.

Serving the Faculty as a Senior Lecturer currently what are the subjects that you deliver lectures in the Faculty at present?

Normally I don’t conduct lectures for the first year students. But for the second year students, I take Materials Science lectures for non-civil students. For students specializing in Civil Engineering, I deliver lectures on Building Construction (CE 209),Materials Science (1) (CE 207) and Materials Science (11) (CE 309) for third year mechanical engineering students. Similar set of subjects are taught for the third (CE 314, CE 315 – Laboratory Sessions) and final year (CE 405 and CE 406 Civil Engineering Projects) students.

Apart from sports, which other clubs and societies did you join while you were back in the faculty?

I was the Senior Treasurer in the Arts Circle in 2002 and 2003, and I was also the Senior Treasurer of the Arts Council of University of Peradeniya in 2002. Back in 1993, I was the Secretary of the CES (Civil Engineering Society) and was the Senior Treasurer of the same society in 2001 and 2002.

Well, I believe you have quite a lot of experiences gathered during your carrier as an Instructor, Lecturer anda Senior Lecturer. What piece of advice would you like to give the present undergraduates?

I really enjoyed my life at Peradeniya with lots of extracurricular activities through which I could make many friends from other faculties. It is amazing that I now meet from time to time those professionals from other areas which is exciting and very useful.

The staff is always there to help you to perform well. Interact with them, clarify doubts and prepare for your hurdles. I am sure, you will gain the best grades. Hard working is essential. This is a better opportunity in your life to gain access to the world of engineering, to make friends, to develop one’s character, and to build his or her confidence and to win the world. Always think of developing good human qualities and always be blessed with the best for you.

Naveena JayarathneReporter and Interviewer
Naveena Jayarathne
Second Year, 
Department of Electrical and Electronic Engineering,
Faculty of Engineering, 
University of Peradeniya.

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