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Dr. Kumara Jayasuriya Introduced to Campus/Community

Published Thursday, March 21, 2019
President Connie J. Gores, left, and President-designate Kumara Jayasuriya
President Connie J. Gores, left, and President-designate Kumara Jayasuriya

Southwest Minnesota State University  President-designate Dr. Kumara Jayasuriya knows how transformational a college education can be.

He points to himself as a prime example.

His father died when he was young, leaving his mother to raise six children. “Fast forward to today. That is the transformational power of higher education, and why I’ve committed my adult life to public education,” he said.

He grew up in Sri Lanka and maintains his mother “is the reason I’m here today,” he said, following the campus/community welcome he received on March 21, a day after being named the 10th permanent present of SMSU.

“I played cricket, so it wasn’t hard for me to find a job. I could play for (business-sponsored) teams. I did get two jobs in high school, but mom begged me to go back. She said, ‘We’ll suffer today for a better tomorrow.’”

Jayasuriya said he wants to become familiar with the personnel on campus through small group meetings, to hear their ideas. “I hope they’ll all work with me to help get all of our students to the finish line. All of you can make a big difference,” he told a packed Conference Center audience. “It’s the power of working together.”

He comes to SMSU from West Virginia State University, where he is Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs and Professor of Mathematics. Prior to that he was Associate Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs and Professor of Mathematics at Purdue University North Central, and before that, Dean of the School of Natural Science and Mathematics at Indiana University East.

He received his undergraduate degree in Mathematics from the University of Colombo, Sri Lanka; his master’s in Mathematics from Southern Illinois University, Carbondale, Ill.; and his doctorate in Mathematics from the University of  Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

In introducing him to the campus/community, Minnesota State Chancellor Devinder Malhotra said he listened to all constituent groups at SMSU during the process, and said Jayasuriya possess the many qualities sought in a president. Collaborative, authentic, engaged, strategic leader, passion, visionary leader, and communicator are all adjectives used by the Chancellor to describe SMSU’s new president, who begins his duties on July 1, 2019.

Chancellor Malhotra and President-designate Jayasuriya both praised the work of President Connie J. Gores in their remarks. “She’s a tireless advocate of SMSU, and when she’s at the system level, making your case, she pounds the table hard,” said Chancellor Malhotra.

“I pledge I will honor your dedication, what you started here, and your legacy, by sustaining the work you started, and by building on the good work you’ve done ” said Jayasuriya.

Jayasuriya wants the entire Mustang Family to help spread the word about SMSU. “The Office of Admission can’t work all by themselves,” he said. “Imagine 3,000 people talking to their neighbors and friends, telling them that 99 percent of graduates get jobs, 97 percent in their field (of study).  Imagine 3,000 people wearing their SMSU gear, they are walking billboards. All of us can market SMSU.”

He said he’s been preparing himself to take a presidency for years, “and I knew I wanted to continue to work at a system school,” he said. He’s had previous experience within the Purdue, Indiana and West Virginia systems, and is committed to public higher education.

“Words can’t describe the gratitude I have for the support and welcome I have received here today, and before (when he was on campus during the interview process). President Gores yesterday pinned me into the Mustang Family. I’m very grateful.”

Jayasuriya and his wife, Salmini, are the parents of three children: Daniel, 25, who is attending medical school at Marshall University, Huntington, W.Va.; Dylan, 21, a senior at West Virginia State who will be attending medical school at Marshall University; and Devon, 13, a seventh-grader.

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