Professor receives Fulbright to teach in Sri Lanka

Crista Arangala in the Department of Mathematics and Statistics will help create a traveling science center and introduce new methods for students to learn linear algebra.

Associate Professor Crista Arangala will teach in Sri Lanka for six months next year. Part of her visit includes the development of a sustainable traveling science center for school-aged children.
An Elon University faculty member with longstanding ties to Sri Lanka has received a Fulbright award to support six months of teaching and research on the island nation starting next winter.

Crista Arangala, an associate professor of mathematics, visits the University of Colombo from February through August of 2014 to teach and develop a traveling science & math center aimed at giving children an opportunity to see that “science is fun” while sparking intellectual curiosity.

In her classroom role, Arangala plans to introduce Sri Lankan students to “inquiry learning,” a combination of exercises and projects that help them uncover linear algebra concepts and their applications. The method that Arangala espouses in her own Elon classrooms gives students a sense of ownership of their education and a confidence in articulating math ideas.

“I could stand at the board and write a lot of properties and theorems out, but to be honest, that’s pretty boring,” said Arangala, who added that she is being supported in her efforts by Elon University’s Faculty Research and Development committee. “Students remember more if they’ve discovered it.”

The traveling science & math center for school-age children would feature exhibits conceived and built by students at the University of Colombo. It mirrors a similar initiative Arangala undertook in Sri Lanka in 2005 with Associate Professor Martin Kamela in the Department of Physics.

That exhibit operated for three years before civil strife convinced the professors to move their effort to India. With the arrival of peace in Sri Lanka, the time is right for reimagining the concept.

“This particular project brings together everything I’ve done – service, teaching and research,” said Arangala.

Administered by the Council for International Exchange of Scholars, under a cooperative agreement with the United States Department of State, the Fulbright Scholar Program each year sends about 800 U.S. faculty and professionals to more than 150 countries to lecture, research or participate in seminars, according to the program website. Approximately the same number of foreign faculty each year visit the United States through the program.

The journey to Sri Lanka won’t be her first. Arangala spent her sabbatical in 2008 at the University of Colombo and later led a class of Periclean Scholars there to organize an environmental forum in partnership with the U.S. consulate. Three of Arangala’s former students have also received Fulbrights in recent years – Hunter Gros ‘10, Natalie Lampert ‘11 and Brittany Carroll ‘11.

Arangala earned her bachelor’s degree from Allegheny College in Pennsylvania before enrolling at the University of Cincinnati for her master’s degree and doctorate in mathematics. She is a numerical analyst with interests in partial differential equations and inverse problems but currently focuses much of her energy on undergraduate research.

She has mentored more than two dozen students in undergraduate research projects, many of which are related to applied linear algebra, since arriving at Elon University in 2000. She serves as the university’s associate director of Project Pericles, a program to prepare students to be global citizens and informed leaders and to foster an ethic of work and service.