As a highly talented and inspiring senior lecturer, powered with updated knowledge, and 11+ years of combined industry and academic expertise, Ms.Shurmara Fernando Wickramage joins this time in our NerdTalk. She unwraps her personality and reveals the recipe behind her success to motivate the young generation in this special interview.

Who really Shurmara is?

Shurmara is a young at heart, extroverted introvert. Somedays I enjoy time with family, friends and meeting new people, and other days, I enjoy my own company. I like to find new things and I like change. I get bored with monotonous life, therefore look to do new things always. I like studying human behaviour and observing people. I enjoy time with my nieces and nephew and love having fun with students during lectures.

Why did you start your career as a lecturer?

The answer goes way back to two reasons from my childhood. The first reason is the inspiration from my grandfather, mother and Godmother, who were great teachers, I always in my heart found peace when teaching.

The second reason is my own personal experience as a student. I wouldn’t call myself a genius while in school. I preferred sports over books. I couldn’t memorize and I failed to see the purpose of studying someone else’ concepts. Then I met the most passionate teacher in grade 9. She didn’t teach, she lectured. She guided and made each one of us see studying as an enjoyable activity. She made us realize we study because we choose to study. This made me enjoy studying with the realization, that teachers play a great role, not in grades the students receive, but in guiding them to find the path that leads to the grades. I found my own method of studying; Questioning. It made studying all the more interesting because I would question someone else’ concept and refuse to believe it unless I make my own sense of it. Then I realized teaching is an art and if I get that art right, every student would pass. My objective, therefore, was to focus on students who are unique. The bright ones whether we lecture or not will pass. They are self-motivated. But the ones who show signs of laziness in class, they get my attention. They are lazy because their studying styles are different, their personalities are different. That makes them unique. In a class of 40, 60, 70 students, finding that uniqueness is not easy. But for some reason, God has blessed me with the talent to spot them quickly and change my styles to support them. Each new batch I meet, each new day, I adjust my lecturing style to suit their needs. So I started to lecture to help students like me. To help those who are extremely talented but hates memorizing or accepting someone else’ concept unless they make their own sense; To give a voice to introverts in class through their chosen mode of study; To remind those students who feel they are weak or not intelligent enough because their styles are different from that of the system or norm, that they are unique and not weak and that they just have to find their mark.

How did you accept the challenges by being a lecturer in the Faculty of Business School at APIIT Sri Lanka?

The question itself has the answer. Key was to accept. I simply accepted. I was a lecturer for one purpose only; the students. Therefore, remembering the reason I’m there helped me accept easily. I had to work with different personalities. Understanding them and learning to accept those personalities helped me face and handle challenges in the faculty. As the second in command to the head of business school, challenges were immense. But, I never forgot the reason why I was there; My students, everything else became easier there on.

Do you have a unique way of doing lectures?

Well, I just do 3 things.

  • I start my lectures by sizing up the class. There are no weak students in my class. There are 2 groups only. The first group has students who like the subject. The second group of students are the ones who don’t like the subject. It’s simple as that. Once I size it up, it is my duty to convert group 1 students from liking the subject to loving the subject and convert group 2 students from disliking the subject to liking it.
  • Then I try to learn the different personality types in the class. For me, each student is a winner. By grouping students into personality types, I can easily help them win. Then I change my tone of voice, my body language, the way I lecture in order to help each personality type.
  • Finally, I pray. I pray that God gives me the patience, kindness, empathy and tolerance to understand and guide each student. I see every day as a new day and I pray. I pray every morning that I would do the best for my students and help them grow. Therefore, each student’ accomplishment, maybe a simple answer they give, becomes a celebration.

My answer would most probably be not the conventional answer you would have expected from a lecturer, but for the 9+ years I’ve been lecturing, these three steps have given me invaluable results.

What defines your success and what personal traits you think that are important for success?

I would say, values from my family and religion define my success. Personal traits for success would be being dependable, hardworking, conscientious, fair, helpful, confident, observant, reliable, humble, imaginative, trusting, capable, and encouraging to name a few. These have helped in my success. I’m sure there are more traits that could help.

What motivated you to achieve your life goals as a female?

My parents and my husband. They are my strength and my motivators. I’m humbled to say that there isn’t a day where my husband doesn’t remind me how successful I am. He makes me want to achieve more and pushes me to achieve more. My parents never made me feel there is a limit for a female. There was no gender differentiation at home. Therefore, whatever my brother could achieve, it was a given that I could too, perhaps even more. I achieve more than for me, for them, my family.

What are the factors contributing to the success of female entrepreneurs in the world?

The contributing factors were coined equaling to the human mind, body, heart and soul. Given the Sri Lankan nature, culture and context, and also the part of the country in which you are born, many females with immense talent struggle to develop and maintain a business. Therefore, from a research conducted for my MBA thesis, it was found that the following were key for sustainable success of female entrepreneurs in Sri Lanka. These are key for a female entrepreneur just like the mind, body, heart and soul are key for a living human being.

A successful female entrepreneur’ Mind would be: past experiences and triggering events.

A successful female entrepreneur’ Body would be: support from family, the social and collaborative networks they create.

A successful female entrepreneur’ Heart would be: support from other domestic help, financial institutions and government institutions.

A successful female entrepreneur’ Soul would be: Internal Locus of Control, Ability to Foresee Opportunities, Determination, Motivation through need for achievement, Management Style, Decision Making Style supported by Cultural Norms.

Tell us more about your family business in retail and service sector.

It is freelance consultancy on education and IT.

We would like to know about your family background in brief. How are they influencing you?

I’m from a family of 7 members. My parents, and 5 children. But of course, my parents and grandparents were philanthropists. Therefore, it was always a full house with people, relatives, friends and those others who came asking for help. Anyone who visited our home, to this date does not go empty pocket, empty bag or empty stomach. There are marketers, entrepreneurs, accountants and financial controllers, engineers, HR experts, a lawyer and most importantly a great chef – my mum, in my family. So yes, my family is an all-rounder family?. We are a big family but wherever we are in the world, at time of need, both in happy as well as sad times, we all come together, that’s my influence and that’s my strength. We don’t let each other fall. We stand as pillars of strength to each other even though we are all married with our own families. The beauty is, even our extended families have integrated into our own as more pillars of strength.

What motivated you to get involved in charity work especially eliminating child poverty in Sri Lanka?

From my answer to question 9, you know where I got the knack and passion to do charity. My parents were highly involved in charities through the church and also international organizations. From a very young age, they used to take us with them to the most vulnerable places. From an early age, therefore, we were taught life is not all a bed of roses for every human being. Whenever my parents bought something, we were asked to share with others. We were never given in abundance even if they could, but we were given enough but was asked to share with those less fortunate, so that we understood what it was like to not have enough. From a young age, first gifts were bought for the domestic help in the household and poor, then for us. Therefore, we got used to not asking for things but giving. I was about 10 years old when I was taken to Mother Theresa’ orphanage, there with a heavy heart of a 10-year-old, I had to give away my favourite doll. But today, I love the feeling of giving which has made me a better person than losing the doll, because I know I made a little girl happy that day. The same day I carried an infant for the first time. An infant of an unwed mother. I didn’t understand the concept then, but I remember telling my dad, one day I will give a home to all these babies. Of course in my adult age, it was realized to be impractical. But, the thought always worked in my mind. So I was motivated to do little projects to help whichever the way I can to support children but of course, I know I’m not doing enough still. It is a long-haul, but I’m in it.

What do you think of the current undergraduates in your field compared to your undergraduate period?

There is no difference in terms of the personalities of current undergraduates and those at my time. It’s just the environmental factors that have changed. We are dealing with Generation Z who experience economic downturn, global warming, the best of mobile devices, cloud computing, and too much media democracy exposing information that sometimes these teenagers can do without. These factors naturally get them distracted which makes it difficult for them to concentrate on a lecture beyond 20 minutes. However, it is the advancing world out there. So if the undergraduates of today understand these, they will be able to achieve great things. The day they realize the generation they are studying in is born for great things, that’s when they will get their thinking caps on.

We recognized you as a versatile person who looks ahead for the development of your country. What is the next milestone of you?

Thank you for the complement. The next will be to complete a research on educational psychology.

What is the secret recipe that you would like to share with younger generation as an education consultant?

Well, it wouldn’t be a secret if I shared with you, would it?? My recipe is not so much a secret. It’s my simple HELP formula; Just go out there and HELP.

  • Key ingredient is Happiness: I look for happiness in whatever I do. I strongly believe happiness is contagious. You could be going through a horrible situation, but if you are happy doing what you do, it helps achieve great heights and also keeps others around you happy. So to the younger generation, “always be Happy”.
  • Enjoying whatever I do: If I don’t enjoy what I do, I wouldn’t give even a second of my time to it. How do I make it enjoying? Look for novel ways of doing the same things, listen to music (it definitely heals the soul), eat my favourite food, surround myself with people of positive vibes. So to the younger generation, “always Enjoy what you do”.
  • Love: though a difficult ingredient to find, it’s not impossible. I always try to find ways to love life. No matter what the situation, surrounding, or the different types of people I deal with, I try to love life. Through love, you find peace of mind, which is the pinch of salt we add in the end to every tasty dish. So to the younger generation, “always Love life”.
  • Passion to keep on doing something great: once one great thing is achieved, I look for the next great thing I could do. This gives me hope and willpower. It keeps all neurons of the brain functioning well which is the key to developing great ideas. So to the younger generation, “always be Passionate”.

Why I call it the HELP formula is because these four ingredients not only fuel me in my life but also helps anyone that I come to contact with. This is perhaps why I am a contented lecturer today.

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