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The Sanghanis pose in a garden standing close with an arm around each other.
Mehul and Hema Sanghani. (Photo courtesy of the Sanghanis).

Leaders fueling discoveries

$10 million gift will help fuel discoveries at innovation campus

Virginia Tech’s growing impact in the greater Washington, D.C., metro area received a significant boost in January 2021 thanks to a multimillion-dollar gift from Octo Consulting Group Inc. founder and CEO Mehul Sanghani and his wife, Hema Sanghani.

The couple’s $10 million gift primarily supports the newly renamed Sanghani Center for Artificial Intelligence and Data Analytics, which will be headquartered in the first academic building at the Virginia Tech’s Innovation Campus in Alexandria. A majority of the gift will support recruiting, research, and fellowships at the center, which has operated since 2011 as the Discovery Analytics Center. Funding will also be allocated toward a Sanghani Center scholars’ program, which will afford scholarship opportunities to underrepresented minorities to pursue graduate degrees with a focus on artificial intelligence.

 The gift comes as Virginia Tech builds momentum for its $1 billion Innovation Campus, which played a key role in the commonwealth’s successful effort to lure Amazon’s second headquarters to Virginia. The campus will be located in the Alexandria portion of National Landing near Potomac Yard, about two miles from Amazon’s new location.

“With Virginia Tech’s Innovation Campus coming online, we were presented with the unique opportunity to be part of growing our university’s standing as a world class institution that uses innovation — specifically artificial intelligence and data analytics — to transform our society for the greater good,” said Mehul Sanghani, who earned dual degrees in psychology and industrial systems engineering in 1998 before founding Octo Consulting Group Inc., a company that provides emerging technology and IT modernization services — including artificial intelligence — for the federal government. 

Hema Sanghani earned her bachelor’s degree from the Pamplin College of Business in 1999.

Construction of the campus’ first academic building is on track to start in 2021, with the building expected to open in August 2024. By the end of the decade, the university expects to have 750 master’s degree students enrolled at the campus, along with hundreds more doctoral students and postdoctoral fellows. The campus will anchor a 65-acre innovation district and is a major component of Virginia Tech's Talent Investment program goal to prepare about 31,000 computer science graduates during the next 20 years to fill a critical workforce need.

The Sanghani Center epitomizes Virginia Tech’s growing emphasis on data science, which has coincided with the increasing impact of that field during the past decade. From just four faculty nearly a decade ago, the center has organically grown to have 20 faculty and more than 120 graduate students. While headquartered in the greater Washington, D.C., metro area, the center also has faculty and students based at Virginia Tech’s Blacksburg campus. 

The Sanghanis are the youngest alumni couple to have ever made a gift of such magnitude to Virginia Tech, and it comes as the university is engaged in a $1.5 billion fundraising campaign.