In 1997, Karthik Venkatraj and his family moved to the Twin Cities. Before that, he was brought up with a fairly different skyline, on the streets of Brooklyn and Queens in New York City.
"I guess it was kind of a pre-Corps preparation in that there were a lot of things I learned about survival in a city environment," Venkatraj said.
But when NYC proved to be too much for the family, jobs deep in the heart of Texas lassoed the Venkatrajs into Aggieland. There's no doubt the distinctions one can make between the nation's biggest city and the Twin Cities.
Karthik's first reaction upon arriving in College Station: "Wow, this is small. There's so much space."
His mother would get tickets to Texas A&M football games, so Venkatraj would go to Kyle Field to watch the Aggies. Before arriving in B/CS, he had no clue about anything to do with the university. After living in College Station, it's hard not to get a clue.
Still, the Corps of Cadets wasn't a lock in Venkatraj's mind.
"I never, ever, ever thought in my life that I'd be in the Corps when I first saw them," he said. "I really respected them. I thought they were great, but I never thought I would be one of their members."
But after the events of September 11, 2001, there was a change of heart after a change in the world.
"When 9-11 occurred, that was my hometown they hit," Venkatraj said. And that's also when he decided he wanted to serve.
"When I started investigating the Corps and the opportunity of going to a senior military school and obtaining a commission from here, and having that civilian life and the amazing opportunities of Texas A&M, as well as the traditions, then it started to add up," Venkatraj added.
Though there were other options he considered, A&M ended up being the final choice for him. In his mind now, there are three career choices: the Army, the FBI, or the CIA. Military, intel, or both.
He has even had the occasion to get advice from someone who knows a thing or two about those topics. During the awards ceremony for the O.R. Simpson Corps Honor Society, Venkatraj sat with A&M President Robert Gates. That was before he was tabbed for the Secretary of Defense spot. In fact, Venkatraj has had a couple of occasions to talk with Gates about his passion for intelligence.
"He told me that, truly, the war on terror is going to be won through intelligence," Venkatraj said. "Military is going to be vital, but intelligence is going to win this war."
His list of extracurricular reads like a novel:
-Academy of Future International Leaders
-O.R. Simpson Honor Society
-National Society of Collegiate Scholars
-Berlin Honors Research Trip
-Cornerstone Liberal Arts Honors Program
-University Honors Program
-Memorial Student Center Human Resources
-Student Conference on National Affairs
-Corps of Cadets Honors Recruiting
Yes, he also does sleep.
The battle Venkatraj fights currently is on the academic front. As scholastics corporal of Company A-1, his job is to let freshman know that what happens in the classroom is essential.
"You've got to get high grades," he urges. "I don't know how many times I can stress this. I don't know how many different ways I can tell you this. There are just so many doors that are opened when you get those grades."
Whether he is the one to achieve his next goal, he says, is up in the air, but irregardless, Venkatraj says it's achievable.
"I want one of my class to be a national scholar," he said. "I don't know who it is. There are a lot of people out there in my class that I know for a fact that are potential scholars."
But as all cadets tend to do, Venkatraj points to his buddies as his support in all he does.
"Nothing I've accomplished I've done alone," he said. "There have always been people there."
And it's that drive to excel in any aspect of the Corps that has carried Venkatraj through the first half of his A&M experience, and will surely push he and his buddies even higher still.
"It's about the Corps as a whole rather than one person or one bright, shining star," he said. "It's about the bright, shining star bringing everybody up."