Being of service to a community and giving back are not unfamiliar concepts to Kirin Anand, an undergraduate student in the Department of Biological Systems Engineering. Serving others is a value that has been ingrained in Anand by his family. Anand’s father arrived in the United States with only twenty dollars and he had to work his way up from nothing to support his family’s new life. Growing up, Anand watched his father, mother, and grandmother help others within their community without hesitation, whether it was by giving financially or by offering their time.  

Anand was also instilled with a love of science and math. Both of his parents were computer scientists, and he enjoyed the engineering and problem-solving aspects, but he yearned for a role in STEM that allowed him to communicate with people and help them directly. Anand found himself spending a lot of his time with physicians, as he lived close to his grandparents who had a variety of ailments that needed treatment. Being able to witness the work that these physicians were doing to make his grandparents' lives easier and better inspired Anand to become a primary care physician himself. 

After going on a Virginia Tech campus tour, Anand knew this was the right school for him to fulfill his dream. When deciding on a major, he chose biological systems engineering because it allowed him to seamlessly bridge both the engineering field and medical field in ways that Anand did not think were possible. He would focus on the healthcare track in the department and join the pre-health professional fraternity, Delta Epsilon Mu. Anand also served as a BSE Ambassador for two years. “The BSE department has helped me so much throughout my undergraduate career so it was a no-brainer for me to become a BSE Ambassador and give back,” he said.  

Kirin Anand sitting on a Virginia Tech sign
After going on a Virginia Tech campus tour, Kirin Anand knew this was the right school for him to fulfill his dream of becoming a primary care physician. Photo courtesy of Kirin Anand.

Anand was a self-proclaimed introvert until the COVID-19 pandemic came to the United States. He once lived in an apartment full of people but found himself living alone for the first time in his life. “My friends had all moved back home and I stayed in Blacksburg. I thought I could be fine by myself but the pandemic taught me that I loved communicating with others and enjoyed being social,” Anand said.  

During his search for safe, socially-distanced interaction, he received a text message about a volunteer opportunity with the NRV COVID Companions, a program designed to improve the mental health and well-being of the NRV elderly population. The program pairs undergraduate students with elderly individuals in the area and tasks these students to call their assigned individual once or twice a week for an hour. 

"I thought that if this pandemic was hard on me for my social interaction, I could only imagine that it must’ve been harder for a lot of the elderly who may not have had the ability to go on FaceTime or hang out with friends,” Anand said. “I’ve always had a soft spot for the elderly, having lived with my grandma, so I thought this was the right opportunity for me.” 

NRV COVID Companions
The NRV COVID Companions program was launched students at Virginia Tech and provides a buddy system that connects younger and older generations. The companions typically have conversations once a week for about an hour with their buddies. Photo courtesy of Kirin Anand.
Kirin Anand sitting with news anchor from WDBJ 7
Kirin Anand sits on a bench in Downtown Blacksburg as the WDBJ 7 news crew set up their equipment. Photo courtesy of Kirin Anand.

Anand was paired with a sixty-seven-year-old named Bertha. “Bertha is incredibly wise, funny, very smart and she brings me joy whenever I talk to her,” he said. “Initially, I thought that I would just be helping her but she’s helped me just as much. She’s given me so many different perspectives on life, relationships, academics, just everything.” Shortly after Anand joined the NRV COVID Companions, he applied to become an officer and served as the Health Education chair for the organization. In this position, Anand worked closely with the founders of the organization to host meetings for volunteers and to create informational slideshows about the elderly and how they’re affected by COVID-19, how the vaccine works, and how to help the elderly find their nearest vaccine distribution site. His story and work with the NRV COVID Companions was picked up by local news station WDBJ 7

Anand will graduate in May 2021 and serve as a scribe for OrthoVirginia for the next year while he applies to medical school. Once he becomes an alumnus, he’s determined to stay involved with the NRV COVID Companions and he intends to keep reaching out to Bertha. He leaves future Hokies with this advice: “Go out and volunteer! It’s truly a win-win situation, you can help people and do something nice for the world while also contributing to your own self-growth, confidence, and overall happiness.”

Written by Cameron Warren