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Focus on Faculty: Dr. Jayawickramarajah

Publication date

September 10, 2019 9:00 PM


Madeline Ninno



For over a decade, hundreds of sophomore Tulane students each year have encountered Dr. Janarthanan Jayawickramarajah— or Prof. J—as the tough but fair instructor of one of the most dreaded classes on the pre-med track: Organic Chemistry. This fall, sophomore residents of the Honors Residential Learning Community are getting to know Prof. J in a whole new way, as the new Faculty in Residence in Weatherhead Hall.

Over snowballs in the Weatherhead lobby during the first week of classes, Prof. J and his wife, Dr. Mehnaaz Ali, a professor of chemistry at Xavier University, chatted with students while their three young children explored the game room and made new friends. Prof. J is already enjoying the opportunity to engage with students outside of the classroom setting, whether or not they also happen to be enrolled in his Organic Chemistry class. “I wanted to show students that professors—especially science professors—are approachable, that we’re not just robots,” he says of his decision to apply for the Faculty in Residence position. Prof. J has found the Weatherhead residents to be “really welcoming” and “genuinely interested” in interacting with him. In keeping with the current literature on higher ed outcomes, Prof. J believes that interaction with faculty has a strong positive impact on students in terms of academic achievement, interpersonal skills, and long-term success. This belief stems from Prof. J’s own experience as a college student. His first significant interaction with a faculty member was with his General Chemistry professor, with whom he went on to conduct research that ultimately led to his own career path. They still keep in touch. 

Prof. J is excited about putting his own stamp on the programming offered through the Honors RLC in Weatherhead Hall. In partnership with the Honors Program and HRL, he is developing programs around a thematic triad he has termed “C-cubed”: community, creativity, and career. He is reimagining the Weatherhead Roundtables in the form of a Bengali conversational tradition known as an Adda, encouraging Weatherhead residents to suggest topics for discussion and faculty members to invite. The first Adda, on Thursday, September 12 at 6 p.m. in the Weatherhead Lobby, will explore the question “Is Globalization a Crisis to Be Averted?” Whatever their opinions on globalization, Prof. J hopes his residents will take advantage of the opportunity to study abroad. He has already connected with some Weatherhead residents over a shared passion for travel, and he believes that experiencing other cultures first-hand is key to becoming a citizen of the world.

While Prof. J is passionate about travel, rush-hour traffic is less appealing, so he appreciates the zero-commute lifestyle the FIR position affords. He can walk to his classroom or to a meeting, while his eldest son walks to his nearby elementary school, an empowering experience that few modern American children have. Likewise, few college students have the chance to live in a residential community alongside a faculty member in residence. Judging from the lively conversations at the first Weatherhead event of the year, residents are ready to take full advantage of this unique opportunity.

All faculty interviewed recommend a book they find compelling and important.

Prof. J. recommends Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari. “This book discusses the diverse aspects of human history, civilization, and technology. It is a must read for anyone who is interested in how our species came to dominate planet Earth via the creation of big ideas and concepts such as agriculture, money, capitalism, and science. A great book for our deep-thinking Honors students.”