Physics professor only U.S. educator to receive prestigious fellowship

Physics professor only U.S. educator to receive prestigious fellowship

Dr. Hasitha Mahabaduge instructs a student on solar panels.
Dr. Hasitha Mahabaduge instructs a student on solar panels.
G eorgia College Physics Professor Dr. Hasitha Mahabaduge has been named a 2020 Fellow of the International Society for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (ISSoTL). He was one of nine educators—and the only U.S. applicant—to receive the prestigious lifetime award.

“This is a very competitive international fellowship and a great honor. I think it speaks highly of both Dr. Mahabaduge’s hard work and Georgia College’s commitment to excellence in teaching and learning,” said Dr. Jordan Cofer, associate provost for Transformative Learning Experiences.

What a fantastic honor! It’s a wonderful reflection of Dr. Mahabaduge’s commitment to undergraduate education and teaching excellence.
– Dr. Eric Tenbus, dean of Arts and Sciences
Dr. Eric Tenbus, dean of the College of Art and Sciences, offered his congratulations too, saying, “What a fantastic honor! It’s a wonderful reflection of Dr. Mahabaduge’s commitment to undergraduate education and teaching excellence.”

Other winners this year were from Australia, Canada, Malaysia, Ireland and the United Kingdom. Normally, fellows are recognized during the ISSoTL annual conference. But, due to COVID-19, the October event in Perth, Australia, was canceled.

Mahabaduge’s group is the second cohort to be awarded this honor, since the ISSoTL Fellowship was established in 2019. Its vision is “to empower communities of learners committed to scholarship, mentorship, leadership and engagement,” according to ISSoTL. Fellows seek “new ways of thinking, doing and learning” and strive for “holistic, meaningful, intentional approaches to higher education.”

Being named an ISSoTL Fellow is a lifetime title. Fellows are expected to impact the scholarship of teaching and learning at local, regional, national and international levels—demonstrating a particular commitment to mentoring emerging and junior scholars. They also support the development of emerging regions.

Mahabaduge and physics major Bo Cavender at the Great Wall of China in December 2019.
Mahabaduge and physics major Bo Cavender at the Great Wall of China in December 2019.
“This international scope and diverse perspective on higher education will definitely benefit me to grow as a professor,” Mahabaduge said. “I can bring in successful teaching strategies used by educators around the world to my classroom that will benefit our students.”

“International collaborations can also lead to creating study abroad experiences for our students,” he said. “I took one of my students to China on a research abroad experience last year, and I hope to develop similar partnerships that will directly benefit our students.”

The ISSoTL Fellowship is just one thing on a busy schedule—something that highlights the career of a faculty member who’s always thinking creatively and engaging students in new ideas.

Mahabaduge has secured several fellowships, since joining Georgia College in 2016. That year, he was named a Russell Library Faculty Fellow. He moved from the university level to get a SoTL Fellowship with the University System of Georgia (USG) in 2017 and participated in the Governor’s Teaching Fellows Program at the University of Georgia in 2019.

As a personal feat, winning this fellowship makes a complete set for me in terms of fellowships. Each of the fellowships helped me to develop as a researcher and as an educator.
– Dr. Mahabaduge
Earlier this year, Mahabaduge was also the 2020 recipient of the USG’s Board of Regents Felton Jenkins Jr. Hall of Fame Faculty Award—bestowed for “a strong commitment to teaching and student success.”

This year’s international fellows “represent diverse models of excellence,” according to ISSoTL. All applicants went through a rigorous review. One appraiser said Mahabaduge’s “excitement and commitment to teaching really shines through.”

“As a personal feat,” Mahabaduge said, “winning this fellowship makes a complete set for me in terms of fellowships. Each of the fellowships helped me to develop as a researcher and as an educator.”

Mahabaduge with physics students Catherine Boyd and Bo Cavender at Posters at the Capital in January 2020.
Mahabaduge with physics students Catherine Boyd and Bo Cavender at Posters at the Capital in January 2020.

Mahabaduge was a prime candidate, due to his willingness to engage students in his own solar cell research and advocate in the community. He started an annual Renewable Energy Day for local elementary students and, last summer, traveled to India to teach Tibetan monks about physics. Mahabaduge has also connected his physics classes with university students from his home country, Sri Lanka.

Mahabaduge at home during COVID-19.
Mahabaduge at home during COVID-19.
Currently, Mahabaduge’s taking a course, “Incorporating Transformative Experiences in the Classroom,” through GC Journeys and the Center for Teaching and Learning. That center and Georgia College’s Office of Grants and Sponsored Projects reviewed Mahabaduge’s file and helped edit his application for ISSoTL.

As an experimental physicist, Mahabaduge couldn’t continue normal research with students last spring or this summer, due to COVID-19. But he used the time at home to work on a research manuscript and help take care of his 2-year-old son. In the fall, he plans to begin new undergraduate research on flexible glass through a partnership with Corning, Inc.

The Georgia College administration has always extended their support for my SoTL work and, most importantly, created an environment which encourages innovation in teaching and research.
– Dr. Mahabaduge