Immaculata Onuigbo, 22, emerged as the best graduate of American University of Nigeria, Yola as she made 3.98/4.00 CGPA from the Department of Petroleum Chemistry in the 2016/2017 academic session. In this interview with TUNDE AJAJA, she talks about her experience as an undergraduate
Do you recall your most memorable moment in school?
I would say my most memorable moment in school was my graduation day. As the valedictorian, I was to make a speech. Given my shy personality, I was very nervous and worried that I might go up there and blank out. But on getting up there, I looked at everyone seated; my parents, teachers, friends, mentors, coaches, teammates and well-wishers, and I realised these were the familiar faces that had shaped me into the woman I had become. Suddenly, I was calm and I savoured every moment of my speech delivery, knowing that through that, I had the opportunity to thank them most sincerely.
How easy was it to have 3.98/4.00 CGPA?
I would say it was neither easy nor difficult. I was lucky to have chosen a course I am passionate about and to have discovered a study pattern that worked for me. Studying Chemistry became part of me because I found it interesting. I had always wanted to do Petroleum Chemistry if I ever got into AUN because I enjoyed science courses while in secondary school. So, I never saw studying as stressful, rather I saw it as a journey to learn something new.
Your CGPA at graduation implies that you had A in most of your courses.
Yes, I had 4.00/4.00 GPA in all but two semesters when I had 3.92/4.00.
Seeing your result as you progressed, did you already know you would be the overall best in the school?
When I first got into AUN, I never planned or imagined that I could emerge as the best graduating student, even though I had planned to work tirelessly for a first class so that I could make my parents very proud of me. Thus, I made a plan and worked on it every day. So, specifically, it wasn’t to lead my set. However, I would attribute my success to the enabling environment provided by my school, my encouraging instructors, a strong desire to succeed, my faith in God and a good support system from home, well-wishers and friends.
Do you remember how your parents received the news?
Yes, I do. My mum was the first person I called after I was confirmed as the valedictorian. All I can remember was lots of shouts of joy, a little crying and showers of prayers on me, and she was praying for even better things ahead. That was very emotional and eventful for me.
How would you have felt if you didn’t make first class?
I would have been a bit disappointed, given the amount of effort I put into studying and the expectations from people looking out for me. But the truth is that at the end of the day, it is not the classification of the degree that matters but what one has been able to learn and can apply in the world.
Some people would assume that you were always reading to have that kind of result, what was your reading schedule like?
I knew what worked for me and I used it accordingly. For me, I usually don’t study for long hours; I could take a nap or have movie breaks – say 30 minutes to one hour; or engage in sports, which was a major part of me. I had a planner where I wrote down every task as they were given. On my computer, I used the calendar on my MS-Outlook to map out how I would get those tasks done on time. I also disciplined myself to adhere to the times allotted for each task and that planning gave me time to revisit materials at least twice before tests. Of course, at some point, some tasks got rolled over and some were done earlier, but it helped me not to be overwhelmed over school work. Time management is key for students who want to excel.
Were you involved in other school activities or was it all about your books?
In my school, it is almost impossible not to get involved in other school activities because there are countless opportunities provided to get involved. I held leadership positions in various school clubs, participated actively in community development projects, played sports (soccer, volleyball and badminton) and sang in the school choir. There were no boring moments, because the Office of Student Activities and Involvements in collaboration with the Campus Activities Board always had something planned for us every weekend, like comedy shows, talent hunt, fashion shows, Karaoke Night, pool parties, musical concerts plus after parties, Spring Fling etc. Also, for those who do not like coming out, you could enjoy movies/series on Quest – the school’s private site for sharing media files. There is also the option of going out of school with your friends, playing or watching weekly football matches or working out at the school gym. There were so many things to do to get busy. And my leisure time was always precious to me. I love watching videos about random things and gaining knowledge on YouTube. I also read books and saw a lot of series/movies.
In spite of these activities, what did you do differently about your academics?
Averagely, I think I put in similar study hours as most students. I guess what I did differently mostly was organising tutorials for my classmates. Before every test/exam, I usually offered to explain course materials to my colleagues and this helped me understand better as I made sure I understood the material well enough to be able to simplify it for others. I also entrusted my schooling into God’s hands and consulted my instructors whenever I needed further clarifications.
Have you always had such impressive performance in your previous schools or things got better when you got to the higher institution?
My performance in secondary school was also impressive amidst the highly competitive set I was in. I guess I could say we all pushed one another to bring out the best in ourselves. During my secondary school graduation, I got the prizes for: Mathematics, Chemistry, Physics, Agriculture, Biology and Further Mathematics. Also, I passed my O’level and Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination at one sitting, but it didn’t come that easy. A friend’s mum once told me that preparing for senior secondary certificate exam is the toughest people could face in their lives and I have come to see the wisdom in her words because I remember being mostly stressed and having to wake up at night while studying for WASSCE and UTME. But, thankfully, the efforts paid off. Luckily, I had no delay; I finished in July 2012 and started school in August 2012.
What has always been your dream job?
When I was much younger, I always thought I would delve into finance and someday be a bank manager, but along the way, science found me (laughs). The amazing thing about the course I studied is the diverse career options it offers students who do it. Even as most people are skewed towards a career in the petroleum industry, the mixture of courses taken in the programme gives a lot of alternatives. For example, I find alternative energy research interesting and would likely follow that path. Under Petroleum Chemistry, students gain knowledge about downstream and upstream operations and alternative energy research. The specific areas include petrochemicals and polymer processing, oil refining and distribution, laboratory techniques for petroleum products analysis, cracking techniques and oil spill control measures. For students doing an engineering concentration, in-depth oil exploration, oil production, reservoir facilities management, petroleum flow process designs and transportation are taught. So, it’s a very interesting course.
Since you went to school in a region different from where you were born, did you have challenge with language difference?
That was the major challenge I had at the beginning; language barrier, because then, I did not understand Hausa. But, learning the language is one of the best things I took from having studied in the North.
We learnt you won some scholarships, could you tell us more?
Yes, I won two scholarships. First was for my secondary school education which was awarded to me by the Shehu Musa Yar’Adua Foundation, Abuja. The foundation was initiated by friends and family of the late Shehu Musa Yar’Adua to sustain his legacy. I was among the second batch of beneficiaries in 2006. The second was a full university scholarship to study at the American University of Nigeria. I can only hope to continue to make them proud of me. I also won a couple of awards during our graduation awards dinner.
Were there times your parents rewarded you for hard work?
As my parents do not earn so much, I never expected too much from them. Even at that, they always tried to reward me in their own little ways. My mum’s tireless prayers for me were enough reward I must say.
What are your aspirations?
I love to learn something new every day, so I’m working towards furthering my studies and then working as a researcher and as a lecturer. I hope to work at a renowned energy research institute to gain experience and then lecture at a university. The job opportunities for someone with Petroleum Chemistry degree are many.
What would be your counsel to students who desire your kind of result?
How to achieve an excellent result may vary from one individual to another. However, I believe some of the basic things that could help include the fact that students should choose a course they are passionate about; they should have that conviction that a first class is achievable, regardless of how difficult the course is perceived to be.
Also, they should know what study style works best for them and make a comprehensive plan every semester. More importantly, they should discipline themselves to follow the set out plans; exercise every now and then, always ask for God’s grace, sleep well, read inspirational books and watch lots of educational videos. I also want to say thank you to PUNCH for creating this platform as students tend to make better decisions when they get to learn from others who have succeeded how they were able to do it.