Dinner experience gives students leg up on networking

Jeanna Ratnayake, Dean Rama Yelkur and Dilshan Ratnayake stand in the TWU ballroom
Jeanna Ratnayake, Dean Rama Yelkur and Dilshan Ratnayake at the 2023 Networking & Etiquette Dinner

March 1, 2024 – DENTON – A networking event can be an opportune time to connect with other professionals. Or it can be a nerve-wracking experience in which one initiates conversations with strangers. Add in a sit-down meal and you just may have heightened worries over differentiating between a salad fork and dinner fork. 

The Texas Woman’s College of Business is hoping to alleviate those fears by giving business students a taste of the professional world when they dine at the second annual Networking & Etiquette Dinner at the Denton campus on Monday, March 4. 

With the $10 admission, students receive personalized business cards when they walk in the door. The event starts with 30 minutes of networking followed by a sit-down dinner and a presentation by Erica Medina, TWU’s Director of Catering. Students sit at six-person tables along with their peers and business professionals.

With decades of experience as business leaders in the hospitality and business sectors, Dilshan and Jeanna Ratnayake have seen first-hand the importance of these soft skills. Dilshan Ratnayake is vice chair and Jeanna is a member of the COB Dean’s Leadership Circle, which is a strategic advisory group that supports the COB Dean in advancing the college, community engagement, student success and strategic planning. 

seven students and professionals sit at a dinner table in a ballroom

“This group is critical for the engagement of the College of Business externally in the Denton, Dallas and Houston communities and members represent all three campuses,” COB Dean Rama Yelkur said. 

The Ratnayakes actually learned about the DLC when they were at a social dinner with friends.

And so, it is quite fitting that the couple and their foundation, Ratnayake Family Foundation, are the title sponsor for the COB student event. They have made a multi-year commitment to this event, which began in 2023.

“If you look at our careers, it’s because of access, because of mentors, of being invited to hospitality events, that gave us opportunities to grow over and over again,” Dilshan Ratnayake said. “I have met so many senior leaders because I happened to be at the dinner table with them. And we were comfortable at these events because we felt confident to be at these events.” 

The Ratnayakes became involved with Texas Woman’s and the College of Business to make an impact with students. They decided that education was where they wanted to devote their resources. Dilshan Ratnayake is a chief people officer in the cyber security sector and Jeanna Ratnayake is a regional vice president in the hospitality industry.  

Jeanna and Dilshan Ratnayake stand outside in front of TWU Administration Conference Tower

The couple quickly learned how much impact they could have at Texas Woman’s.

“At the dinner last year, students were telling me they have never sat at a dinner like this before,” Dilshan Ratnayake said. “I immediately thought, wow, our investment in this seed is going to be so much bigger than I even imagined. We see this event as planting a very small seed that will grow into big trees in these students’ lives, way after they leave Texas Woman’s.”

Although neither of the two are Texas Woman’s graduates, they both feel an affinity to the school’s focus on women, minorities and first-generation college students.

“I am a first-generation college graduate in my family,” Jeanna Ratnayake said. “My parents really pushed my sister and I to pursue a college education, and we have been able to be really successful. I know there are so many students in the business school and across the university that have a similar background that I have.”

“In my case, my dad went to college,” Dilshan Ratnayake said. “My dad grew up in Sri Lanka during a turbulent time but he was able to give my sister and I a great platform for us to go to college. He had that foundation. I know my education has a huge part in why I was able to get to the level I did.”

Following the 2023 dinner, the Ratnayakes said they received many thank you cards and follow ups on LinkedIn. 

“I still see their activity on LinkedIn and how they are growing,” Jeanna Ratnayake said. “That is a benefit for the student. We forget we are in a digital age so the networking benefit goes into the social media world as well.”

“It fills our cup to see people advancing themselves,” Dilshan Ratnayake said. “I am looking forward to this upcoming dinner and soaking up that genuine authentic energy. Our only hope is that we have planted the seed for getting TWU students and first-generation students ready.”

Other table sponsors include Saville CPAs and Advisors, Constellation Brands, Business Navigators, DATCU, Mastery Partners, Zimbabwe COB Alumni, Stan Waterhouse, Drs. Gregory & Donalisa Stinyard, Dawn Hooper and Lyn Scott.

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Page last updated 10:34 AM, May 31, 2024