Teaching others forced me to study more –Obinna, first class graduate
24-year-old Egemole Obinna made first class in Chemistry from the Michael Okpara University of Agriculture, Umudike, Abia State, with 4.57 CGPA in the 2015/2016 academic session. He tells TUNDE AJAJA in this interview his experiences in school
What was growing up like for you?
I grew up in the northern part of the country and I still have fond memories. Most of my childhood memories are about growing up at Sabon Gari in Kano State and that’s where I had my primary education. I was always at the top of the class then and I received cash gifts from people whenever I went home with my report card. I was also a fast runner and I represented my team several times in inter-house sports competitions. My parents moved to Rivers State when I was eleven and that was where I had my secondary education. I was also among the best science students in secondary school. So, largely, my growing up was fun. Then, my dream was to become a medical practitioner, say a surgeon, or pharmacist, but I later settled for Chemistry.
Why did you switch to Chemistry?
It was my most favourite subject in secondary school and I see it as one course that makes one versatile.
Since it was the course you wanted, would you say you had a smooth ride to first class?
Honestly, it wasn’t so easy but I was determined to achieve it and it took God’s grace. I can even say it was sheer providence. I made it a goal to achieve in the university while I was in secondary school but after staying at home for two years before gaining admission, I lost that zeal. On getting to school, I had to ignore what I heard from other students in my first semester in school. I heard lots of stories about how difficult it could be to obtain a first class in my field and I heard that it had been quite long the department had one. That was really discouraging at first but I got over it by being determined to make a difference. I reminded myself that nothing significant had ever been accomplished without criticism or controversy. But once you are determined to excel, you don’t have to allow other people’s words to stop you. So, I ignored such stories.
When did you start having first class?
I started having first class as GPA in the second semester of my first year. That was after the six months strike by the Academic Staff Union of Universities. In the first semester, I didn’t do so well; I had 3.91 GPA but by that second semester, I made 4.76 GPA. At that point when I started having first class GPA, I decided to work harder to graduate as a first class student and I was able to make 5.0 GPA twice. Really, teaching others compelled me to study more. There wasn’t a semester I didn’t teach people. Being a teacher made it easy to remember what I studied. I also led tutorials in various fields; Chemistry, Mathematics, Statistics and computer programming and that greatly enhanced my performance. Those things made a lot of difference because I was the only one who made first class in my class.
Some students do these things but still don’t have your kind of result. In your view, what makes students fail?
There are lots of factors contributing to that. First is skipping lectures. This makes them to miss continuous assessment scores and assignments from time to time. That is not very good for a student, because it limits the student’s chances of passing the course. The second point I can think of is procrastination which may be due to lack of control over social media. Many students like to study only when it’s time to do exams and this greatly affects their performance because they end up not getting a clear understanding of the courses at that moment. The third reason, in my view, is when students study what they don’t have passion for. With the present situation in the education sector in the country, getting admitted to study your choice course is tough. So, many students end up accepting what the school offers them, which is different from what they may have applied for. In some cases, students do find it difficult to cope with the new course, which could lead to poor performance. I believe students need to be determined, attend lectures and learn to teach others. They also need to stay healthy, get enough sleep daily, do exercises regularly and eat well. Finally, they should be prayerful, study the bible, attend fellowships and seek for tutors in areas that seem difficult to them at an early stage.
No doubt, Chemistry has wide application, but some feel it is somehow abstract. Did you once see it that way?
It’s a very nice course to study and I don’t think it’s abstract. It is as real as we can imagine and that is why it plays vital roles in our lives by meeting our basic needs, in terms of food, clothing, health, etc. Some people don’t know that there are always new trends in chemistry. Synthetic organic chemists are always developing new pathways for drug formulations, better and less feeds production routes etc. Also is Green chemistry which focuses on designing products and processes that minimise the use and generation of hazardous substances in the environment. It’s a broad field with various branches with promising job opportunities; polymer chemistry deals with the plastic firms, foams etc., analytical chemistry equips one to work in pharmaceutical companies, food and beverages firms, cosmetics, cement, NAFDAC, research institutes while under organic chemistry we have research and development departments, fertilizers, petrochemicals, etc. There is a lot more, even in the teaching service.
How did your parents receive the news?
They were really happy when I called to tell them I made it, after seeing my final results. It’s something they really prayed for because I started receiving recommendation letters from the school’s senate from my first year. I’m happy I made them proud.
Were there challenges you had to contend with as an undergraduate?
Sure. I think mine was mainly criticism and also when I had to do exams very sick and that really resulted in my bad performance in such semesters. However, I thank God for His wisdom and strength that saw me through. In my first year, attending lectures of several general courses was really hectic and I didn’t stay close to school, so I was always tired anytime I got home, thus I would be unable to study. To ensure I met my target, I had to drive myself and I did meet my senior colleagues to tutor me on some topics I found tough. I would tie it to determination and, mainly, God’s grace.
Given that you put in so much hard work into your studies, what was your schedule like?
After lectures, sometimes, I used to go and play table tennis or chess in the evenings. I normally went to the library on Wednesday because lectures usually ended by midday. After that, I would study for about two to four hours as the case may be and I would hold tutorials for students in courses they found challenging in my lecture free period. I must say that I learn better when I teach others. So all I had to do was to make sure I taught people. As regards reading, I only read for two hours daily and it really helped me. Although there were times I was too tired to do so. On the other hand, I slept well, usually between six and nine hours daily. I used to go to the library to study, at least once weekly, due to the availability of materials and the quietness. Also, there were times I went for night class. Meanwhile, during exams, I did my best to cover all the courses I offered two weeks before exams. During exams, I woke up daily by 2am to revise the courses I had for the day till 6am. I studied past questions and I did tutorials with other students on weekends. That really helped a lot. So, having first class is not about reading throughout the night every day, it’s about knowing what works for you and being consistent.
Did some of your colleagues see you as too serious?
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Being at the top of the class made my colleagues to call me a “Hyper”. It’s a common name in my school for students that others see to be too serious. When you sit at the front of the class during lectures, you will be called a “Hyper” by other students.
Studying is enough work on its own, however, were you involved in other school activities?
Yes, I played football and I was among the team in my class. I played chess and table tennis very well too. Actually, one of the things I wish I was able to do as an undergraduate was to play chess very well and represent my school at NUGA. Chess is a game that takes a lot of time when playing with someone that is good. So when I realised I wasn’t performing so well academically, I stopped going to play chess.
Have you ever been disturbed by the rate of unemployment challenge in Nigeria?
Well, it’s quite discouraging but I am optimistic and I always pray for God’s grace on that. Students even find it difficult to secure a place for internship (Industrial Training) in the country and some get discouraged after searching for long and yet unable to get a place which results in not getting the practical experience the programme was meant to provide. And that is little, compared to getting a job.
Many students rarely get all the financial aid they need while in school. Did you also have any challenge in that regard?
The money I was getting from my parents wasn’t really enough for my daily expenses in school, so I did typing jobs and that helped a lot. However, my parents did their best to encourage me, sometimes with cash but mostly with their words and prayers.
What about scholarships?
No, I didn’t benefit from any. Most of the scholarships were restricted to few courses and I applied only for a few, but I wasn’t shortlisted for any.
What was your disposition to being in a relationship as an undergraduate?
I wasn’t in any, but I had good, close friends. I thought it was better to achieve my goals in school before getting involved in that.
What were your most memorable moments in school?
My happiest moment was when I saw my final result and I made a 5.00 GPA, which was really what I prayed for. My embarrassing moment was being sick when I had to do my exams and I got a ‘D’ in a three-unit course in the first semester of my first year, and that was my worst semester in school. I felt it would be difficult making a first class after that experience because my GPA dropped from 4.76 to 4.09, but by God’s grace, I made it.
When you were in school, was there an opportunity to apply what you were taught?
Yes, I worked with Emzor Pharmaceuticals and Mopson Pharmaceuticals during my IT. So I was able to apply what I was taught in school in the laboratory and in my research project.
What are your aspirations in life?
I would love to be a lecturer and become a professor in my field someday. That would broaden my horizons in the field. I’m highly motivated to work with academic institutions, pharmaceuticals, petrochemicals, breweries and food processing industries.