A rarity for South Asian Americans.
By Deepak Chitnis
WASHINGTON, DC: The prestigious U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y. is about to get a rare new addition starting this fall: an Indian American female student, Neha Valluri, who is set to begin classes at the institution in August.
Valluri, a student from Portland, Oregon, will join the renowned military academy as one of its few female students – just about 16% of the school’s student population is female. On top of that, she’ll be part of an even smaller demographic: the school’s south Asian students, for which there have been very few over the course of the school’s 212 year-long history. And, as a student who was even accepted into West Point at all, she is part of an exclusive number of people who can claim that they were deemed worthy of joining the school that only accepts about 9% of applicants.
In order to be admitted into West Point, Valluri had to display top grades throughout high school – no small feat, considering that her school, Sunset High School, runs on the notoriously difficult International Baccalaureate (IB) program for advanced students. She also has been active in a number of extra-curricular activities throughout high school, including Model United Nations, Mock Trials, and various academic Olympiads. In several cases, she even held leadership positions in these clubs. And, as if that demanding workload wasn’t enough, Valluri took computer science and coding classes at the local Portland Community College in her free time.
Aside from the academic credentials, applicants must also be in great shape, passing physical evaluations and proving that they can handle the rigors of military life. Even then, however, students may not apply to West Point unless they receive the nomination of at least one member of the US Congress. Valluri was nominated by both of her state’s senators: Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden (both Democrats).
But what sparked the interest of a young desi girl, interested in IT and engineering, to seek admission at one of the world’s most renowned military institutions?
Last year, Valluri was chosen as one of 50 girls (out of 500 total) to participate in the West Point Summer Leadership Experience boot camp, a week-long program in which the students are put through the physical and mental wringer as they work in a reduced version of military-type conditions. Waking up at the crack of dawn, running miles every day, and even firing automatic rifles triggered something inside Valluri, a feeling that this kind of discipline and structure was something she not only liked, but thrived under.
Now, she will receive a small stipend that will allow her to buy a computer, textbooks, uniforms, and other essentials that she’ll need for her education. She plans to major in either computer science or electrical engineering, serving the Army but staying away from the front lines. That she’ll have to serve time in military duty is a given, since graduates of West Point must serve a mandatory five years of active military service, followed by three years in the reserve corps.
Valluri hopes to use military intelligence to identify areas of economic need around the globe, particularly in India, where she has spent a significant portion of her life (though she was born in the US). The daughter of IT workers from Hyderabad (according to India-West), Valluri has traveled around India and the US, hopping from school to school for most of her life before settling down in Portland. As an aspiring female engineer, Valluri hopes to break down that barrier, too’ in an interview with India-West, Valluri stated that more women should get into the hard sciences just as much as they should apply for spots at West Point.
Valluri will not be the only Indian American girl at West Point when she joins the Class of 2018 later this year. According to India-West, Sneha Singh, a student from Connecticut, is currently a student at West Point, and will be just one year above Valluri.
To contact the author, email to firstname.lastname@example.org
[This story was updated on 4/9/13.]