The recent signing in Peradeniya of an MOU between individuals representing the Geography departments of the University of Peradeniya and the University of North Dakota is now about to be reciprocated with a similar signing ceremony at the campus in Grand Forks. Consequently, the members of the Department of Geography at the University of North Dakota look forward with great anticipation to the upcoming visit to their campus by Prof. V. Nandakumar, Head of the Geography Department of the University of Peradeniya, for the follow-up MOU signing between that American academic unit and its Sri Lankan counterpart.
Priyanthi and Padmasena Dissanayake (www.scholarshipsforusa.com) exclusive representatives of University of North Dakota (www.und.edu) with Prof. S.B.S. Abayakoon, Vice Chancellor, Prof. Anoma Abhayarathne, Dean, Faculty of Arts and Prof. V. Nandakumar, Head Dept. of Geography soon after signing the MoU linking Peradeniya with UND.
The arrival of this distinguished colleague from Sri Lanka to the Grand Forks campus marks the first initiative to bridge these two specific institutions for exchanging visits of geography-oriented faculty members, graduate students, and undergraduates. Constructing such a bridge, however, would not have been possible at all were it not for the ongoing efforts of Priyanthi Dissanayake for the past six months in helping guide the participants in the process and finding assistance for promoting the activity through the American Embassy in Colombo.
Indeed, Prof. Nandakumar's journey to this part of the United States is anticipated to commence a greater awareness of new opportunities for Sri Lankan undergraduates in particular to be funded to study environmental science and community/urban development in the M.S./M.A. graduate geography programme at the Grand Forks campus.
Starting in the 2010-11 academic year, one full tuition waiver for an international student is being dedicated for a top candidate from Sri Lanka with additional possibilities of a stipend minimally at the quarter-time level or even the half-time level for the right individual to be a graduate teaching assistant, graduate research assistant, or graduate service assistant.
Sri Lankans unfamiliar with the University of North Dakota will discover that while the physical climate of Grand Forks is often exceedingly cold in the winter and intensely hot in the summer, the people of the community are generally warm towards international scholars year-round. Located on a flat, glacial lake plain in the drainage basin of the northward flowing Red River of the North, this area is part of the great tall grass prairies region of the interior of North America.
Although prone to severe weather conditions such as blizzards in the winter, flooding in the spring, tornadoes in the summer, and cold rains in the autumn, the city of Grand Forks is a bustling regional metropolitan centre of 55,000 or so people who have learned how to adjust to the physical environment. The community recovered amazingly well from the devastations of the cataclysmic Flood of 1997. It is a national example of flood recovery with its system of flood walls, dikes, diversions, and other mitigation infrastructure. Indeed, for geographers interested in studying climatology, hydrology, biogeography, and natural hazards, the area is a living laboratory of human-environment interaction.
Then, too, geographers interested in studying population, economic development, community development, and other dimensions of human geography will find this part of North America quite intriguing. Demographic changes throughout North Dakota are weighted heavily to aging-in-place and rural outmigration which are resulting in new patterns of settlement and delivery of social services. The area's traditional agricultural geography is seeing major shifts in types of crops and livestock being raised as well as more competitive efforts at international marketing of such food. Increasingly, the mixed blessings are felt of increased activity in the mining of lignite coal and drilling for petroleum with more and more attention to developing alternative energy such as massive wind farms.
The changing social geography of the region is such that now more than ever there is a need for greater attention to community development in what is a microcosm of alteration of the urban hierarchy of the Great Plains.
Consequently, when Prof. Nandakumar arrives in Grand Forks, he will be seeing first-hand what the University of North Dakota Department of Geography can provide for scholarly collaborations with his department at the University of Peradeniya that would be fairly wide-ranging. Highlighting the importance of education in geospatial technologies, Prof. Nandakumar will be a special guest of organizations associated with the geographers at the Grand Forks campus during the statewide meeting of the ND GIS Users Conference.
Being sited outside the state capital for the first time, the University of North Dakota Department of Geography is hosting the conference under the highly capable leadership of its chairperson, Dr. B. Rundquist. Great opportunities in using geospatial technologies in environmental science and community/urban development await Sri Lankans who come to study at the Grand Forks campus.
Prospective applicants are encouraged to confer first with Priyanthi Dissanayake who then will work with the graduate director of the University of North Dakota Department of Geography, Dr. D. Munski. As autumn comes to an end and winter is bound to follow in Grand Forks, the geographers look forward to a springtime of growth in scholarly relations between Sri Lanka and the United States, particularly between Peradeniya and Grand Forks.