Water for Food

Rachindra Mawalagedara


Postdoctoral fellow Rachindra Mawalagedara at work in her office in Bessey Hall at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

“This project has really given me a chance to apply what I’ve learned as a scientist into the real world.” 

Rachindra Mawalegadara doesn’t have a crystal ball. But, from the desk of her sunny second floor office, this much is clear: coping with the impacts of climate change 10, 20, 50 years from now will require both scientific and social innovations. With the guidance of DWFI Faculty Fellow and University of Nebraska-Lincoln Earth & Atmospheric Sciences professor Bob Oglesby, Mawalegadara, a postdoctoral fellow, is using this insight to set up a regional consortium of scientists from 12 Latin American and Caribbean countries that aims to strengthen their capacity to deal with future impacts of climate change. Colombia, Ecuador, Costa Rica, Mexico and Jamaica are just some of the countries they’ve reached out to.

In August 2014, the Water for Food Institute awarded its inaugural round of student support grants to faculty fellows. The grants provide stipends to students like Mawalegadara who are working on projects that contribute to a more water and food secure world. For the native of Kandy, Sri Lanka, this means using real world scenarios to guide research. “We’re hoping that the changes we identify in climate will help us identify the vulnerabilities in different countries and help them come up with adaptation strategies.” It also means venturing beyond the laboratory and into the lives of stakeholders. “One thing I really love and enjoy is talking to different people and building these connections. It’s about coming up with scientific questions so they have practical applications in the real world.”

An experienced navigator is essential for a project with so many geographic, climatic and interpersonal variables. Mawalegadara says that’s where Oglesby’s knowledge and leadership are invaluable. “He has a really good knowledge of the subject matter. And he knows when to give me a push and a nudge. But at the same time he lets me discover how I work best and how to figure things out step-by-step.”

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