20-year-old Oritsegbubemi Makpokpomi graduated with a First-Class in Computer Science and also emerged as the Best Graduating Student in the Department of Computer and Information Services with a CGPA of 4.94/5.0. She shares her story of success with franktalknow.com in this interview
Let’s have a short description of you from the beginning of your academic years to this point. (If you were a titular character in a story, what would be your description?)
I attended Primarks International School, Okota Lagos State for my primary education between 2005 to 2010. I was privileged to occupy several positions during my primary school year as the class prefect and school chapel perfect.
For my secondary education, I attended NEPA Staff Secondary School, Egbin Lagos State (now PowerFields College) from 2010 to 2016. While I was in secondary school, I came out best in ICT, Geography, Agricultural Science, among others. I also represented the school in quizzes, science competitions, and sporting activities. In my SSCE I made distinctions in Computer Studies and other subjects.
I served as the Welfare Director of the National Association of Computer Science Students (NACOSS) CU Chapter during the 2019/2020 academic session. I participated in several tech boot camps organized by Covenant University, Hebron Startup Lab, and Google. During my internship in 2019, I worked at Bincom ICT Solutions as an IT Project Manager where I was awarded the Staff of the Month twice (March and June 2019) and received a letter of exceptional service.
Aside from learning from the classroom, I took my studies forward by taking courses from different international universities where I obtained certificates from the University of California (Identifying Security Vulnerabilities, 2020), University of Washington (Programming Languages, 2020), Macquarie University (Leading Transformations, 2020), Georgia Institute of Technology (User Experience Design, 2020), Technion Israel Institute of Technology (Cracking the Creative Code). I was the best graduating student in Computer Science and also in the Department of Computer and Information Sciences.
You had a nearly perfect CGPA, which is very impressive. Can you, in summary, tell us how did you accomplish this feat?
I am grateful to God for giving me the grace to accomplish this feat in my academics. My 4years journey at Covenant University was quite challenging but I was able to achieve my CGPA by continuous commitment to building several habits like reading daily, managing my time, and also being highly disciplined and dedicated. I also had a goal in mind to graduate as the best in my department. I was always setting a higher target for myself and building healthy relationships. My parents were always providing for me as the need arose and encouraged me at all times.
Did you set out to study Computer Science or was it a course you had to do when you couldn’t get your choice course?
I set out to study Computer Science. Computer Science has always been a field I have been highly passionate about since I was in JSS2. I can recall on several occasions when I would suggest to some of my friends that we should go to the computer lab to operate the system and play games. I was curious about how applications were built on these systems. My ICT teacher noticed that about me and started teaching me a few things. I was excited because I got to learn more than the curriculum with a few friends. He taught us how to use several tools like Microsoft Office (Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Access), CorelDraw, Adobe PhotoShop, and so on.
Whenever I was on holiday, I would pick up my dad’s old laptop and practice some of the things I learned from my school. I found it interesting and everyone in the house realized I had a new hobby which was smiling while staring at the laptop screen. As years went by, I got opportunities to organize computer tutorials for some of my friends and was pleased by doing so. It didn’t take me long to realize that I had a passion for computers and would want to study Computer Science at University and change the world while writing codes.
Many people seem to be attracted to computer science because of the buzz around tech giants and the crazy amount of money that tech start-ups raise in seed funding. Now that you are here, what would you describe as the main attraction for your course?
I can’t agree less, the computer science/tech space seems to be attracting more people in current times. Several people from different backgrounds are beginning to gain interest while others are going further to build a career in tech. Technology has proven to be the fastest ever growing sector because of its ability to provide optimum solutions to our everyday problems which makes it is highly profitable and attractive. One of my main attractions in this field is its continuous innovations. I find this field to be intriguing, everyday there is always something new to learn, there is always an upgrade of a product, new versions of programming languages and libraries, and more innovative solutions birthed.
Ladies in Nigerian universities are often judged to be less interested in studying STEM-related courses, particularly in terms of Engineering and ICT. People who hold this view cite the smaller number of female students seen in these departments in comparison to the number of women in Art-related courses. Have you noticed that discrepancy as well and what do you think is the reason for it?
Yes, I have noticed this across several Nigerian Universities but it’s not the same for Covenant University. The reason I have identified is that most people just follow the crowd and listen to news out there of people saying that STEM-related courses are difficult and it’s mainly for the very smart people and those who are ready to do the hard work. I would agree that these courses are quite challenging because it pushes you to think along a particular path different from the average person. But because it’s challenging doesn’t mean it’s difficult to graduate with a good grade from these fields. Any lady can achieve whatsoever goal she wants in this field as long as she is dedicated and disciplined to the course.
Many students would be curious to know how you made it. What sort of student were you (hip, playful, quiet, jovial, or what)? What sort of friends did you keep, and was that a deliberate decision?
I have always been this serious-minded student who sits at the front in classes, walks with a couple of smart friends, and goes to the library, chapel, and social gatherings. I was a goal-getter and a vigorous planner. I didn’t leave any of my time to chance. While I was in school, I had just a few friends, most of which were my course mates who were also smart people. These were people whom I believed have common goals and shared the same values. We were always going to classes early together and most times during exam period we could organize tutorial sessions and study nights. My choice of friends was a deliberate decision. Ever since I was in secondary school I realized that keeping the right company of friends can go a long way to support and help you achieve your goals.
Emerging the best graduating student from your course in a prestigious university as CU is something to be proud of. Has your circle of friends increased since your convocation? For instance, new admirers, friend requests on social media, etc.
Definitely yes, I now have a lot more friends and most people who barely knew me in school because I was not on the loud side got to know more about me and my interest in the tech field. After posting about my accomplishment on LinkedIn, I have had several comments and connected with great and like-minded people which increased my network.
What has been your reaction to them?
I like meeting new people because I believe there is always something to learn from everyone including the people with not so good character and attitude towards life. A few of these individuals were people I knew from afar, we attended the same universities, some were acquaintances so I was glad to get to know them more and share ideas on common ground.
Often, people assume that brilliant students are unrelenting, boxed-in readers with very little time for play. What do you have to say about that? For instance, how often did you use the library while in school? What were your study habits? What did your social life in school look like?
Over the years, I have met a couple of brilliant students who didn’t have these traits; they were very social, playful, and outgoing. I rarely used the library because I found it too quiet for me to read and might eventually start dozing. So most times I read in the afternoon during break or in free periods at the corner of the class. I was never also great with late-night reading or reading all night, so I push myself to do all the reading during the day. During my stay at the university, I got involved in sporting activities, church service unit meetings, and other non-academics events like fashion events and farming. These events made me build a social life outside academics and have fun while learning.
Could you describe your parents/guardians role in your academic success? Also, were they insistent on excellence, or that was just something you picked up yourself?
Both of my parents are graduates and have been instrumental to my excellent performance by way of assisting me with my assignments right from primary school, celebrating my success each time I made an outstanding performance in both internal and external exams. My parents encouraged excellence.
Have you always been an A student? What was your performance like academically in primary and secondary schools?
Yes, I have always been an A student from my primary school. I topped my classes as the best student severally and was awarded prizes from my school and Macmillan Nigeria Limited as 2009 Best Scholar in Mathematics. During my secondary education, I came out best in ICT, Geography, Agricultural Science, among others. I also represent the school in quizzes, science competitions, and sporting activities. In my SSCE I made distinctions in Computer Studies and other subjects.
What are your plans career-wise? Do you plan to foray into scholastic endeavours (e.g. obtaining higher degrees and lecturing), where will you like to work?
Currently, I am undergoing my NYSC at a FinTech Company in Lagos. After my one year of service, I hope to further my education by obtaining higher degrees in Computer Science related courses. I would like to work in established international tech companies as a software developer and consultant.
The ICT sector provides so many career paths for graduates like you. Suppose you were likely to go in the direction of a career outside of academics. What would you say is your favourite sector of computer science/Software development to focus on?
Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence, aside from this sector has been one of the buzz in the computer science field today. I have also had a passion for it way back my second year in Covenant when I had an opportunity to attend a Machine Learning and Business Boot Camp hosted by Hebron Startup Lab Covenant University.
What has the ‘reward’ situation been like in CU? Were you just given cups or plaques? Did you receive any job offers, monetary prizes, or scholarship opportunities?
There were no scholarship opportunities, job offers, or suitable monetary prizes. But as it happened, I got a token.
What would you say is the most important piece of advice/skill/knowledge that you have acquired from your primary school days till now? It doesn’t have to be school-related at all.
“Trust the Process.” This has been my motto for a very long time. It simply means setting a goal, having plans to achieve such a goal, putting in the work that is required -both hard work and smart work with dedication and discipline, even if the journey seems challenging just keep making progress and trust the process that at the end you would accomplish your goal.
What would you say you did differently from your peers to attain your success?
Every responsible student reads their book because they want to pass a test or exam. They attend classes because they want to gain knowledge, they ask questions to clarify some grey areas but not everyone finishes with a good grade or gets their expected results. I said all these to say that it is not just coming to class, reading, or having a desire to succeed that makes these students succeed. It takes more than, as a wise one once said to be Extraordinary, you need to put in the extra effort. One of the things I did differently was planning and having control of my time, I had a personal timetable and was disciplined enough to follow through. I was able to tell my friends “No” when it was my reading time and they wanted me to follow them somewhere. I had a vision for myself and made plans towards achieving it. I had a direction, a mission statement, and personal core values that guided me on how I should live.
If you have to advise students on how to do better in their academics, what will your advice be?
My advice to every student who wants to attain greater heights in their academics is you need to set end goals that you would hope to achieve, develop plans on how you want to achieve these goals, and stick to them. When you have a goal in mind, write it down in places that you can easily see. Don’t just set goals like “I want to pass my exams” or “I want a good grade at the end of the semester”. Rather set goals that allow you to track progress and build a habit around it. In my first year, the first semester, I did not have the best first-class result in my department; that was the lowest grade I ever got. I didn’t have a well-detailed plan, all I wanted was to make my parents proud by getting a First-Class result and I just did it.
From that moment I believed I could do better, I got to my room sat down, and redefined my goal. My goal was not to beat the best and be the best as they often say but my goal was to be the best version of myself. I got a book where I wrote down all my courses for the next semester, the course unit, prospective test1 and test2 scores, my exam score and totaled it and assigned the grade as appropriate. I calculated the GPA which would be 5.0 and then calculated the cumulative. I made several copies of this and placed them in my purses, bags, church notes, jotters, and my room locker. At Covenant, the total test grade was 30% assignments and project inclusive while 70% was for the exam. So, I could set a goal like for CSC121 test1: 14/15, test2: 13/15, exam: 62, total: 91, grade: A. I did this for all the courses I ever offered from my 100 level second semester till my Final year second semester and I got a 5.0/5.0 GPA six out of seven times I did it.
Another piece of advice would be to spend time understanding yourself to know the right timing for your reading and the structure that needs to be set in place for you to assimilate well enough. I knew right from secondary school that I was not so good with reading at night, I often find myself dozing and spending a lot more time when I read at night. So I never tried it while I was in University. Every Sunday evening, I would draw out a reading timetable using the lecture timetable as a reference to plan what subject I would be reading daily. It was quite difficult reading in the evening after a stressful day so most times I wake up very early while others are still sleeping to read. I always kept a policy that I must never go to class the next day without reading my previous day note, so no matter how tired I was even if it was 5 minutes I could sacrifice, I would use it to go through all my notes before I sleep then continue very early in the morning. I had a fixed schedule of when to sleep, wake up, pray, read and eat. So it wasn’t really difficult for me to make a day a success. I pasted a mini personal timetable on the door of my wardrobe so all my friends knew me to be the lady that always keeps to time and they knew when I had time for chitchat and when it was time to read to eradicate distractions.
What are your thoughts about Nigeria’s educational system? You’ve been to the pinnacle of learning, in some way. What can you say has helped in the system and what would you call outdated or obsolete?
There is a lot in Nigeria’s education system that needs to be reviewed. Over the years I have been able to identify a few improvements but more needs to be done. Several school curriculums need to be adapted to meet employers’ standards. Skills and Entrepreneurial studies should be introduced in public institutions. Academic Staff welfare should be enhanced to prevent strikes. Funds should be made available for research and development. Infrastructures and learning facilities should be provided. The budget allocated for education should be increased. The right kind of teacher with a positive mindset and supportive attitude needs to be employed because good education sets the foundation for a solid future.
The Class of 2020 was peculiar with the outbreak of COVID-19 and its attendant impact on education with school closure and the rest. How will you describe the impact on you?
I was about to resume my last semester at the university right before the lockdown. I had a lot of plans concerning my final year project and other social activities I was involved in at school. I also had a few concerns on how I would be able to keep up my grade that semester but thank God for the management of Covenant University, they were the first university in Nigeria to commence online classes, assignments, and quizzes. So in no time, everyone started learning though it was not convenient, it was resourceful.
What were your coping mechanisms?
All through my 4 years journey at university, the COVID-19 period was the most productive and resourceful break I had, and like I told a few of my friends I needed it. Aside from having the opportunity to spend quality time with my family and attend online lectures, I got so engaged in online internships and improving my software development skills. I can recall during the first month of the pandemic outbreak a lecturer in my department sent some links to various programming-related materials where we could learn how to build websites and get started with Artificial Intelligence for free and after a few days, a colleague of mine sent various online internships and hackathons to our group chat.
I engaged in some of these materials and got started with Mobile App Development using Flutter, CNN, GAN, and RNN in Machine Learning. I took part in Code Warriors Python for Machine Learning Workshop. One of my proudest achievements was taking part in the HNG Internship, It is popularly known as an internship only for the best and I was able to make it to Stage 8. I also enrolled in WEJapa Data Science Internship where I learned a lot about the application of data science and analytics in businesses. I also participated in Briggs Internship, Google Africa Developers Cloud Training Program 2020, among others.
What change would you like to see in Nigeria? Apart from insecurity and corruption, what are other “little foxes” you notice in the system that you think might be hindering the progress of the nation?
I would like to see the Nigerian system restructured so that there would be devolution of power where each region would be able to harness and develop its natural and human resources to full capacity. Other factors that are hindering the progress of this country include nepotism, tribalism, religious extremism and poor leadership.
If you were to choose between living in Nigeria and abroad, what would be your choice? What is the reason for your answer?
If faced with an opportunity I would choose to live abroad than in Nigeria. My reason being there would be more opportunities for me to maximize my potential in my given field. Also, due to the insecurities and lack of infrastructure in Nigeria such as Power supply.
Do you think Nigerians are taking the best approach towards advancement in the country? Whether in the case of tech, social justice, or governance, what do you think can be done in an improved way to push the country forward?
Nigerians are not taking the best approach towards advancing the country. In terms of technology, the government should invest in infrastructures such as power, roads, water, and communication so that industry can perform maximally and generate employment. In terms of social justice, the leadership of the country at all levels should ensure that fairness and justice are applied in terms of appointment into government offices. In governance, competent hands should be appointed to man government establishment. Nepotism, Corruption, Tribalism, Religious bigotry, and other social vices should be put aside to push this country forward.
Some people think CU is tough. What’s your take on this? Did you take to the school’s discipline methods like a fish to water, or did it come as a shock to you owing to your high-school (or previous university) experience?
Covenant University is building the next generation of leaders and if a student isn’t ready to be built then it gets tough on them. I draw most of my core values from the school core values so; taking to the school discipline was not difficult for me. I was able to abide by the majority of the regulations because I understood the “why” behind them and I had a disciplined background that made me fit into the school standard with ease.