Ayaska Fernando has assumed the position of director of admissions at the School of Medicine after 10 years of service in the University’s Office of Undergraduate Admissions. The story of his progress at Yale as a student and an admissions professional is remarkable—a story that would have made Kingman Brewster proud.
Yale was not on the list Ayaska Fernando first drew up when he started looking at colleges while in high school. A junior on his swim team in Colombo, Sri Lanka, Fernando rose at 4 a.m. before practice to browse universities over a 24.6 kbps dial-up Internet connection on his family’s personal computer. It didn’t occur to Fernando that he might be suitable for one of the most selective universities in the world. Having a modest assessment of his skills and talents, he made what seemed to him more prudent choices.
Fate intervened in the form of a serendipitous oversight by Yale’s admissions office—a duplicate mailing. “One day, two viewbooks arrived from Yale in the mail at the same time,” said Fernando, “My mother interpreted this as a sign, and insisted that I apply.”
Although Fernando had not previously considered Yale seriously, he followed his mother’s suggestion. He applied and was accepted, receiving a generous financial aid package that reinforced his decision to attend. He enrolled in 2004 and graduated in 2008 with a BS in mechanical engineering.
Originally pursuing a career in investment banking, Fernando had worked as an analyst at Bear Stearns in the summer of 2007, and he received a full-time offer from that firm. However, as Fernando put it, “That offer disappeared along with the company itself after the crash of 2008.” While Yale’s Office of Career Strategy turned up other potential banks for Fernando to consider, he decided to evaluate different career possibilities.
Ultimately, an opportunity to join the Office of Undergraduate Admissions that came about through work he had done as an undergraduate caught his eye. Still on the fence about switching focus from investment banking to academia, Fernando was swayed by a talk with Jeffrey Brenzel, the former dean of undergraduate admissions. Fernando was offered a significant role in the push to recruit more STEM candidates to Yale College and participate in the shaping of admissions policy on a meaningful level. “Most students who come to Yale are people who want to make a difference in the world and in their communities. For me, it came down to a choice between continuing to pursue my idea of one way to succeed in the world, which is to accumulate capital, versus this new opportunity to help the university that had given so much to me to succeed and thrive in the 21st century.”
Fernando joined the Office of Undergraduate Admissions in 2008 as an assistant director; he was promoted to senior assistant director in 2011 and associate director of admissions in 2014. His responsibilities grew significantly over the 10 years since he joined the office. He implemented analytical models focused on identifying (or bringing in) STEM candidates during the recent expansion of Yale College, and he oversaw the drive to recruit those STEM students. Beyond Yale, he has been a member of the Application Design Committee and Technical Advisory Group of the Coalition for College. The coalition has produced and posted an online multi-university application form used by over 140 colleges, including the eight Ivy League schools.
In addition to his work in admissions, Fernando has been a member of the advisory board of Yale Scientific Magazine; a member of the steering committee for the new residential colleges; and a member of the search committees for the three new Heads of College. In his spare time, he secured an MS in electrical engineering from Yale in 2018.
Fernando is also a resident fellow of Jonathan Edwards College, and he participates broadly in its student life, including attending Yale basketball games, advising the football team, and coordinating Mellon Forums in which seniors give talks on their research to the rest of their class. All of these activities allow him to keep his finger on the pulse of college life. Between the abstract ideas he draws on in his admissions tasks and the feedback he receives from students in real time, Fernando has a clear sense of what’s working and why.
These and similar qualifications helped him stand out from a competitive field of applicants for the YSM position of director of admissions, according to Laura Ment, MD, professor of pediatrics and neurology and associate dean for admissions and financial aid. “Ayaska is a data-driven change-maker with outstanding people skills,” said Ment. “His background with engineering and his recent experience evaluating the types of students we hope to attract to YSM recommended him to us, alongside his charisma and genuine engagement with student life.”
Richard Silverman, recently retired YSM director of admissions and Fernando’s immediate predecessor, agrees. “I was not involved with his selection, but we have spoken several times since Ayaska learned he would be leading the Office of Admissions, and I have been very impressed. He soaks up information, and that’s exactly the right attitude to have in a career like his.”
Like Silverman, who came to YSM after significant admissions responsibilities at other Yale schools, Fernando has a background that will give him a leg up on Yale “culture,” though that was not a precondition for the job. “The medical school is large and complex, and there is much to learn about its culture and personalities,” said Silverman.
As Yale School of Medicine continues on its own trajectory, along with ongoing developments in a society that places increasing value on leaders with scientific expertise, Fernando is ideally placed to make a positive difference in one of Yale University’s oldest and most important programs. “To be able to advise and assist the administration and offer effective frontline feedback on how that’s working, it’s an incredible honor,” said Fernando.