Wichita State News
Photo: Wichita State University
TJ Jayaratne with WSU President John Bardo at the 2013 Senior Honor banquet.

Sri Lanka native finds success in WSU aerospace engineering

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

His pleasant demeanor presents an unassuming college senior at the beginning of the rest of his life, but most seniors at Wichita State didn’t grow up moving in and out of a war zone.

For Tharindu “TJ” Jayaratne, it was a fact of life. As a native of Sri Lanka, he lived in danger nearly every day because of the 30-year-long civil war in the country.

In 1994 when he was 6 years old, Jayaratne and his mother left Sri Lanka during one of the most violent periods of the war. Just four years earlier, hundreds of police officers were massacred by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam in one day.

“I was glad we were in the U.S. when we were growing up,” said Jayaratne. “While we were here [in the U.S.], the terrorists blew up the building my mom worked in back home.”

While his mom was earning her master’s degree at Vanderbilt University, Jayaratne spent some of his childhood in Nashville, Tenn.

“I enjoyed both lifestyles,” said Jayratne about the cultural diversity he experienced as a child.

Upon returning to Sri Lanka, 10-year-old Jayaratne could not speak Sinhalese. He learned it with ease as a fifth-grader that year and spent the rest of his adolescence in his native country.

Coming back to America

In 2008, Jayaratne returned to the United States and began attending Wichita State University. He credits his decision to a “world-class aerospace engineering program for one-sixth the cost of other such programs.” Jayaratne will graduate in May 2013 with a degree in aerospace engineering and a 4.0 GPA.

Jayaratne’s interest in engineering is also clear to his teachers. Larry Whitman, associate professor at the department of industrial and manufacturing engineering, emphasized Jayaratne’s passion for learning as an engineer.

“His passion to learn more — engineering is not static, and he tries to learn more about the subject at hand,” said Whitman. “He does a good job trying to get better.”

When asked about his experience at Wichita State, Jayaratne said he most enjoyed the “truly extraordinary” hands-on curriculum the aerospace engineering program provides.

“A lot of engineers haven’t built anything by the time they get out of college,” said Jayaratne. “That’s the good thing about WSU.”

Jayaratne has also served as president of the International Student Union (ISU) and project chair for Interfest. Under Jayaratne’s direction, Interfest doubled its ticket and food sales in 2012.

As president of ISU, Jayaratne helped organize airport pickups for international students with help from other student groups. The student-run program picks up more than 200 students before each fall semester.

Jayaratne now has a co-op position at the National Institute for Aviation Research, working with the certification and testing of the Learjet 85 business jet. He plans to continue his work there after graduation.

As for graduate school, Jayaratne will apply to several programs.

“I’ll probably stay here, though. I like it here,” he said.

Outside of work and school, Jayaratne is researching building a 1967 Mustang Fastback.

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Created on Tuesday, May 14, 2013; Last modified on Thursday, May 23, 2013