Editor's note: The talk from Achyuta Samanta will be rescheduled. Samanta notified the university that he intends to stay in India due to the impact of Cyclone Fani. Stay tuned to VT News for updates on a rescheduled visit.

The founder of a world-renowned residential school serving tens of thousands in India will be in Blacksburg on May 9 to formalize a partnership with Virginia Tech and speak about how KISS – Kalinga Institute of Social Sciences – has transformed a generation of “tribal children.”

Achyuta Samanta created what has become the world’s largest school for indigenous children – those whose families are accustomed to dealing with poverty and health challenges. Samanta has said his life’s work is “transforming lives of the deprived, downtrodden, and destitute.” In the city of Bhubaneswar, Odisha, KISS provides not only education, but also food, housing, clothing, and health care.

“It is a great honor for Virginia Tech to be hosting the founder and chairman of the world’s largest tribal school and university offering free education to its students,” said Guru Ghosh, vice president for Outreach and International Affairs, who spearheaded the partnership. “Many of the children, drawn from more than 60 tribes who live in the forested coastal area, finish their studies with remarkable distinction, and many score high enough marks to pursue university studies.

“Achyuta Samanta’s mission and leadership is nothing short of inspirational, opening a path to brighten lives for marginalized children. As we work to evolve Virginia Tech into a global land-grant university, we must also globalize our motto, Ut Prosim. Virginia Tech’s faculty and students have much to learn and contribute in partnering with Kalinga Institute of Social Sciences, Kalinga Institute of Information Technology, Kalinga School of Management, and Kalinga Institute of Medical Sciences. This is going to be a landmark partnership between Virginia Tech and the Kalinga group of educational institutions.”

Kalinga Institute of Industrial Technology (KIIT) is a private institution of higher education that started with just two rooms and a dozen students. Soon after its founding in the early 1990s, according to a 2015 profile of Samanta in Gulf News, “KIIT grew into one of India’s finest and most profitable private universities offering courses in medicine, engineering, information technology, biotechnology, fashion, management, and law,” with its tuition-paying students helping to subsidize children’s education at KISS.

Samanta has won more than 50 national and international awards, with accolades for his work pouring in from around the world, including the highest civilian awards granted by Mongolia and Bahrain. Some 40 universities have conferred honorary degrees on him.

Samanta’s most recent recognition came in March, when he won the prestigious Change Maker Award for Social Transformation in New Delhi. He was recognized for his “relentless efforts in improving the condition of the society and the indigenous community and his years of dedication in reducing the number of people living in hunger, poverty, illiteracy, and unemployment.”

Samanta’s talk, which is free and open to the public, will be at 4 p.m. in the Solitude Room at The Inn at Virginia Tech and Skelton Conference Center. He will describe the founding of KISS and detail how education has transformed lives in a speech titled “Bridging Inequalities to Achieve Sustainable Development: A Case Study of Kalinga Institute of Social Sciences, Odisha, India.”

Earlier in the day he will sign a memorandum of understanding with Virginia Tech and meet with faculty members to discuss potential areas of collaboration.

The formal agreement between KISS and Virginia Tech opens the way to create joint master’s and Ph.D. programs for graduate students as well as joint research programs. Undergraduate student programs are envisioned, including exchange programs and service opportunities. Virginia Tech medical students will be able to take part in a global health rotation program.

David Trinkle, associate dean for community and culture at the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine, visited Samanta’s educational complexes, including Kalinga Institute of Medical Sciences, in February. He said the planned partnership will allow Virginia Tech’s fourth-year medical students to engage in global health rotations including hospital work as well as providing care to children at the clinic on the KISS campus.

“The more I learned about KISS, the more it seemed an incredible fit,” Trinkle said. “The idea that our students could experience a meaningful global rotation and provide significant service – this is just an incredible opportunity.” Students may spend mornings in the hospital doing rounds and evenings volunteering in the KISS clinic, in month-long rotations that may begin as early as January 2020. 

Filming for a Bollywood Hollywood Production movie about his life began in late 2018. Samanta lost his father at age 4; his mother raised him and seven siblings in poverty, prompting him to work toward eradicating poverty and illiteracy for other children. “Jungle Cry” tells the saga of a team of 12 young tribal boys from Bhubaneswar who “played sports barefoot and went on to win the coveted U14 Rugby World Cup in England,” according to the newspaper India-West.

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