It was quite the email to open. In early June, Sudipta Sarangi, professor and head of the Department of Economics, received an digital invitation to attend the June 23 U.S. State Department luncheon hosted by Vice President Kamala Harris and Secretary of State Antony Blinken for Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Sarangi, who was born in India, had a brief exchange with Modi as the latter sat at the head table on a dais. He did not get an opportunity to speak with Harris but was close enough to the dais to take photos with his phone. Modi’s appearance was part of a larger visit to Washington, D.C., where he held talks with President Joe Biden and addressed the U.S. Congress.

“It was a unique experience — not my usual lunch,” Sarangi said afterward. “I met a host of amazing folks: venture capitalists, industrialists, the president of Middlebury College, NPR's Lakshmi Singh, and the former U.S. ambassador to India Kenneth Juster. I saw, but did not actually meet, a galaxy of well-known folks.”

The luncheon was held in the Benjamin Franklin Room in the Harry S. Truman building.

An older bearded man speaks at a podium with the Vice-President of the United States standing behind him.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi (at left) speaks at a June 23 U.S. State Department luncheon co-hosted by Vice President Kamala Harris. Photo courtesy of Sudipta Sarangi.

Sarangi is not entirely clear why he received the invitation, but he guessed it has to do with the strong tie between the Department of Economics — part of the Virginia Tech College of Science -- and Sarla Anil Modi School of Economics in Mumbai, which have a joint two-year master’s degree program. Students in the program spend one year in each country, paying the school’s relevant tuition. The school is part of the larger Shri Vile Kelavani Mandal's Narsee Monjee Institute of Management Studies (NMIMS).

“The U.S. and India are building a strong partnership,” Sarangi added. “This was a once in a lifetime opportunity, and I was honored to be a part of this lunch. In the two minutes I spoke with PM Modi, I introduced myself and only told him about our partnership with NMIMS and of which he approved wholeheartedly and encouraged me to keep going.”

Sarangi has enjoyed a banner year. Earlier this spring, he received a fellowship from the French Institutes of Advanced Studies at the Collegium de Lyon, located on the Rene Descartes Campus of the Ecole Normale Supérieure de Lyon. The fellowship lasts from Sept. 1-June 30. 

A man with dark hair and a whitening goatee wears a reed polo shirt.
Sudipta Sarangi. Photo by Steven Mackay for Virginia Tech.

His research project will focus on how social and economic networks dominate our lives. Included in this are activities such as is the spread of false information.

“We live in the age of networks. They provide information about new jobs, help in the diffusion of new ideas and the spread of fake news, and in helping to share risk in poorer communities,” Sarangi said. “Firms create networks to engage in resource sharing via bilateral R&D collaborations while countries form networks to manage trade and conflicts. During my time in France, I will be studying different aspects of social and economic networks.”

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