C of C professor lands Fulbright scholarship to conduct research in India

The the Kalinga Institute of Social Sciences, or KISS, is a residential school that serves 20,000 indigenous children in Odisha, India.

College of Charleston professor Christine Finnan will head to India this fall to indulge both of her research passions, anthropology and education.

Finnan has been awarded a prestigious Fulbright scholarship for the 2014-2015 school year. She plans to conduct research at the Kalinga Institute of Social Sciences, or KISS, a residential school that serves 20,000 indigenous children in Odisha, India.

The school provides free education, housing, meals and medical care to impoverished children from more than 60 different tribes in remote regions of India. It's becoming known as a model to eradicate poverty.

Indian entrepreneur Achyuta Samanta, started the school, which is affiliated with a private university whose tuition-paying students help subsidize the school.

"It's a small city of children," said Finnan, who visited the school with a group of College of Charleston students in 2012.

When she returns there in September, she wants to take a deeper look at what is happening there, she said.

The school does many wonderful things, she said, but students have to live there 10 months each year. The school is very far from many of the villages, she said. "It's not likely the children go home for the weekend."

Parents apply for their children to attend the school, she said, and being accepted is seen as a great opportunity.

But she's concerned about the impact on the children from being removed from their language and culture. "We learn culture by interacting with each other," she said, If they live at the school, "how do they learn to be a member of their tribal group?"

Finnan said she plans to be fair to the school as she conducts her research. "I don't want a puff piece. I want a fair but critical eye."

If she finds some children suffer from some aspects of the school, she can propose ways to make improvements.

Cathey Ann Price, a 2013 graduate of the college, went to India with Finnan in 2012. The school was one of the stops on their trip. "The school is revolutionary," she said. "There's no place in the whole world that does with they do at that school."

It not only teaches students traditional subjects, but helps them develop job skills as well, she said.

She thinks Finnan will do a great job in her research. "People love her there. She's strong, but compassionate.

Landing the Fulbright will give Finnan the opportunity to spend much more time at the school than a visit over the summer, she said. "She'll get to know the kids on a deeper level and get the real answers from them. I would go back in a heartbeat if I could and help her."

Mary Beth Heston, an art history professor at the college, encouraged Finnan to apply for the Fulbright. "I thought it was the perfect Fulbright opportunity," she said. "She really wants to explore the deeper questions."

Finnan said she conducted all of her previous research in the United States, so she welcomes the opportunity to work abroad. "It's what makes anthropological research, getting out there and fishing it out for a western audience."

Reach Diane Knich at 843-937-5491 or on Twitter at @dianeknich.