Experiential learning and collaborations the focus of 2024 3M National Teaching Fellowship Award winner Dr. Samanti Kulatilake

Representing Anthropology, Arts and MRU 'an incredible honour'
Dr. Samanti Kulatilake, PhD.
Dr. Samanti Kulatilake, PhD, an associate professor in Sociology and Anthropology, has received a 3M National Teaching Fellowship.

Empowering students through experiential learning propels Mount Royal University’s 2024 3M National Teaching Fellowship Award recipient.

Dr. Samanti Kulatilake, PhD, an associate professor in Sociology and Anthropology, is one of only ten recipients of the honour sponsored by both 3M Canada and the Society for Teaching and Learning in Higher Education (STLHE). Founded in 1986, the Fellowship honors exceptional contributions to teaching and learning at the post-secondary level.

Kulatilake, who came to MRU in 2003 as a contract faculty member and joined the department of Sociology and Anthropology full-time in 2008, is recognized internationally for her educational leadership characterized by innovative, adaptive, and inclusive practices and she empowers learners using the transformative power and value of decolonial experiential learning and collaboration. Dr. Kulatilake says that since childhood she has been thirsty for knowledge, both to learn and acquire skills. Learning about the past and about the evolution of our species fascinated her, and learning itself is one of her core values.

“To represent Anthropology, the Faculty of Arts and MRU, as a recipient of a 3M National Teaching Fellowship Award, is an incredible honour,” says Kulatilake. “It is a gift I proudly share with colleagues, students and communities that I serve here and in Sri Lanka. This recognition inspires me to further explore pathways to develop transversal skills among undergraduates at MRU and beyond.”

Dr. Samanti Kulatilake with students and faculty during a field school.
Dr. Samanti Kulatilake, right, with students and faculty during a field school.

A biological anthropologist studying human evolution and migration, Kulatilake encourages students to see themselves as global citizens, recognizing how our past affects contemporary cultural relations and inequities.

"Experiential learning is a growing and crucial component of what we offer students at Mount Royal University,” says Dr. Chad London, acting president at MRU. “We congratulate Dr. Kulatilake on this award as she represents excellence in innovative teaching and learning.”

Dr. Jennifer Pettit, Dean of Arts, adds: “The human and anthropological coherence Dr. Kulatilake brings to her teaching, scholarship, and leadership in collegial collaborations transforms students’ experiences, her academic discipline, and the communities she works with in true partnership. Dr. Kulatilake's educational methods inspire her students to investigate the lives and stories of those who live away from us – both in time and place. Her educational leadership inspires both her students and her colleagues to foster accessibility and learn and act in an inclusive manner.”

“Dr. Kulatilake consistently encourages her students to contemplate the broader implications of their actions, privileges, and contributions to the global economy,” said Tessa Kostashuk, a former student of Kulatilake’s and now settlement and transition coordinator with MRU’s International Education, Students Division. ”She clearly inspires her students to collaborate and develop leadership abilities. Some of her students, my peers, have gone onto teaching, archaeology, and museum studies.”

Canada now has more than 350 3M National Teaching Fellows, an award that has been likened to the Stanley Cup of university teaching, representing a broad range of academic disciplines from more than 80 small and large Canadian post-secondary institutions. After joining, Fellows continue to elevate teaching and learning at their own institutions and through larger, collaborative initiatives supported by 3M Canada, the STLHE, and the Council of 3M Fellows, a constituent group within STLHE.

“Dr. Kulatilake’s teaching philosophy, infused with the values of learning, connection, and care, resonates with a pedagogy that is both reflexive and adaptive,” says Dr. Karim Dharamsi, PhD, Acting Provost and VP Academic.

Dr. Kulatilake is recognized as an “Open Champion” by Mount Royal University, for her development of Open Access Resources (OERs) that underscores her dedication to the democratization of knowledge and her influence in shaping accessible education. These OERs include the collaboratively peer-reviewed journal “Ancient Lanka'' and a biological anthropology E-textbook widely used in Sri Lankan universities.

"Her leadership is characterized by collaboration, humility, and connections
with students, colleagues, and her research partners. In other words, she leads through the relationships she creates, not the roles she occupies," said Dr. Mary-Lee Mulholland, PhD, chair of Sociology and Anthropology at MRU.

This year’s honourees were unveiled May 6 and featured in Maclean’s Magazine. Kulatilake joins Dr. Brett McCollum (2019), Dr. Pamini Thangarajah (2022) and Dr. Sarah Hewitt (2023) as the only MRU faculty to receive the award. She is the first recipient from the Faculty of Arts and in fact, 3M winners are most often drawn from STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) fields.

"As a Biological Anthropologist, Kulatilake has a unique talent to lead both science/STEM and humanities scholars, administrators, and fellow teachers," said Dr. Sheela Athreya, professor of anthropology, Texas A&M University.

Learn more about Sociology and Anthropology at MRU.