Promise Otuokere, a student at the University of Port Harcourt in Rivers State, won the distinction of top graduating student for the 2020–2021 academic year with a cumulative grade point average of 4.54. She discusses how she accomplished this feat and her academic journey in this conversation with YUSUF ABDULKADIR.
How did you feel when you saw your result?
When I saw my result, I had those feelings of accomplishment, knowing fully well that the days of labour had finally paid off. I felt very happy because it was a tick on my career goals. It gave me the courage that I could do more.
With 4.54 CGPA, you emerged as the best graduating student in your department. How was this possible? What was your secret?
Firstly, I would say it’s God — He has been with me in every step of my life. Then, I would say the secret was in knowing what you want, what your focus is. I knew what I wanted. I always want to achieve the best at every level I find myself. So, yes, that’s my secret.
Why did you choose to study Chemistry Education?
I chose to study Chemistry Education in the university because I have always wanted to be an academician, that is to say I have always wanted to lecture and attain the height of a professor. I love teaching adults.
Would you say you knew this was going to happen?
Yes. I knew it could happen and that was why I keep working towards it.
Do you have any peculiar reading style that worked for you?
I read whenever I find an opportunity to do so. But, most times, I enjoy reading early in the morning between the hours of 3 and 5, and on cool evenings between the hours of 5 and 9.
At what point did you start making conscious efforts to make sure you graduate with excellent grades?
I would say from first year, because in first semester, I was among the last students that resumed — one month to the first semester exam — which was due to the late admission list released by the university. I wasn’t aware that I got the admission because at that point I have lost hope of getting admission that year. So when I resumed, I had to study, to see if I could cover up but my results wasn’t that good. In second semester, I had to tighten my belt, to see if I could fill the gap created during my first semester lapses.
What were some of the challenges you faced while in school?
Some of the challenges I faced as a student included financial constraint, ASUU strikes that added extra two years to my studies. Finally, I discovered that most times good students are not loved by all.
Is there anything you would have loved to do as a student that you could not?
I would say no. I enjoyed the social life in school, participated in school politics to the extent of being the vice president of my department in my final year. I also participated in church and academic activities. In fact, every relevant extra-curricular activity that wasn’t clashing with my studies, I participated in them.
Was there any unforgettable experience you had while in school?
There was a day in my first year during GES 100 class at the Arena — the course was being taken by all first-year students — and the population of students that attend the class was large. So I was trying to come down the steps at the Arena when I slipped and fell amidst the crowd. That day was indeed a day I will never forget. I don’t think there is any day I would like to forget in a hurry because they are all precious memories to me.
What’s your plan now? Do you want to study further?
Like I said earlier, I believe in achieving whatever is achievable at any level because one might not have the opportunity be chanced to come back to that stage again in life. So, I’m focused on pursuing my graduate studies so that I could attain the heights I want to attain academically.
If you had not studied Chemistry Education, what would you have studied?
I would have studied a health-related course like Medicine or Nursing. Apart from wanting to become a lecturer, another thing I have passion in is health. Seeing to the health and well-being of people is also of great interest to me.
Looking at the crisis befalling the Nigerian education system, how do you think the challenges can be solved?
I would say Nigerian education sector needs great attention from the government. It needs funding and strong bodies and committees that would see to the welfare of the sector. We need people with strong expertise to find solutions to the sector. It’s disheartening how most of our graduates seek to go to other countries for their post graduate studies. This is because most of the professors from these advanced countries have grants released to them by their government. They use these grants to source for the best among the best from other countries with good ideas on how to proffer solutions to the country and to world problems.
But our country doesn’t create room for such a thing, leaving the best students with no option than to find their way, leave for other countries and offer their brains that could have been used to prosper our education and other sectors.
How were you able to balance school work with social life?
At some point, I forfeited an aspect of my life — that should be in my second and third years because I was trying to raise my CGPA. So, I paid most of my attention towards reading. But my final year was totally different. I learnt how to combine social life with academics. There is this saying that all works are no play makes jack a dull boy. And truly, when I learnt to balance my social life with academics, in final year, I had the best results. I could read for like 5 hours in a day and then step out to see a movie just to release the stress and tension. I made new friends with the same positive mindset. I was able to know the best time to read effectively for myself, the time to hang out with friends and the time to rest. So I combined the two and this can only be done when you take time to study yourself and know what works for you. Know the time you read best, have your rest and good sleep, make good friends that has same vision and goal like you. Whatever I’m doing, I try to know the value that it would add to me before I continue with it.
Who are your role models?
My role models are Chimamanda Adichie, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Mrs Gift Godfrey, late Mrs Dora Akunyili, and some other powerful women who succeeded in all aspects of their life — maritally, academically, economically, socially, etc.
What is your advice for people who want to achieve great academic feat like you did?
My advice is for you to always know what you want for yourself. Never say it’s too late and never give up on yourself. You don’t have any excuse to lose, and It’s never too late to start. When you fall, you stand again and push on. Never allow what people think to bring you down. Always have a mind of your own. In every semester, try to have a goal you want to achieve academically, spiritually, psychologically, relationship and health wise.