Achala Kankanamge C’26 ENG’26 joined the Penn community in the fall of 2022 as a Vagelos Molecular Life Sciences (MLS) scholar, and then transferred to the Vagelos Integrated Program in Energy Research (VIPER)—a coordinated dual degree program in the College of Arts and Sciences and the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences—in the spring of 2023.
While she now resides in Philadelphia, Achala was born and raised in Kandy, Sri Lanka—and deeply appreciates the access to research and education she has gained at the University, made possible in large part by generous donors: “Coming from a developing country, my family could never have afforded an education and experience of the quality that Penn provides without generous donor contributions.”
In fact, the support of a few crucial alumni donors has empowered Achala’s undergraduate experience. “Dr. Roy Vagelos, a Penn alumnus and great philanthropist, funds VIPER research and makes it possible for us to work full-time on research over the summer.” Through Dr. Vagelos’s example, Achala has learned the power of alumni philanthropy to create an impact at the University and beyond. “His incredible contributions have made a world of difference within the STEM curriculum and research at the University, through both VIPER and the Vagelos MLS program, as well as the newly constructed Vagelos Laboratory for Energy Science and Technology.” Achala is also a recipient of the George Weiss Endowed Scholarship—established by yet another generous alumni donor who has supported the overall experience of countless students.
During her remaining time on campus, Achala looks forward to further developing her passion for scientific research and directing her work toward projects with meaningful applications and outcomes. She plans to mentor fellow STEM students through tutoring and teaching assistantships, and engage with Philly-area high school students through Penn’s Access Engineering program, as well.
For Achala, the Quaker community has opened doors that will continue to inform and support her life’s journey for years to come. “What I am receiving from Penn holds unquantifiable value,” she shares. “I would like to express how grateful I am to alumni philanthropists for making my experience possible, and for giving me the opportunity to craft a beautiful youth, career, and life.”