Erica Metta is the Best Graduating Student of Electrical and Electronic Engineering, Covenant University Class of 2020. In this interview with franktalknow.com, she shares her thoughts on Nigerian education system and what can be done differently among others.
You are the Best Graduating Student of Elect -Elect, which is very impressive. Can you, in summary, tell us how you accomplish this feat?
I accomplished this by setting a goal and continuously pushing myself and doing whatever I needed to do to get it. Always tweaking my study patterns when required prioritizing my education and above all, with the help of God.
Did you set out to study Electrical Engineering or was it a course you were forced to pick for other reasons? e.g. employability, better opportunities and so on?
When I was a lot younger, I wanted to be an artist. I was discouraged, and then at some point, I wanted to be a doctor. Getting older, I realized it was not what I wanted. In Senior School, I decided engineering was the best path for me since I was good at math and physics and I enjoyed them more than I did my other subjects.
Many people seem to be attracted to Engineering courses because they offer good financial returns; many are also interested in it because they love to build things and learn how to mastermind solutions. What would you describe as the main attraction for you?
While I care about how lucrative engineering is in our world today, I am more interested in it for the range of possibilities this field allows. The world of science and technology is still growing at an ever-rapid pace and I would love to be a part of it.
Ladies in Nigerian universities are often judged to be less interested in studying STEM-related courses, particularly in terms of Engineering and ICT. Most 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?
My programme in school had about a 100 students in total, out of which 13 were girls. I think lower-level education does not do enough to inspire young girls to go into such fields. It is up to us as a society to correct the biases from a younger age and show girls that this is a place that they can thrive too.
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 like to think of myself as very outgoing and friendly. Most of my friends had similar interests and beliefs as I did. They were fun to be around too and serious when they needed to be.
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?
Well, yes I’ve had a ton of message requests, containing congratulations, greetings, friend or mentorship requests and some other trivial stuff.
What has been your reaction to them?
There were a lot of messages and I have tried to reply some of them.
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?
In my earlier years at Covenant, I used to go to a library a lot but subsequently, that changed as I started becoming comfortable studying in my room. I don’t think that brilliant students are boxed-in readers with little time for play. I believe that every individual should know what works for them. I’m not a bookworm. I’m a social and lively person, but I always keep my academic responsibilities at the top of my mind and make sure I attend to them accordingly.
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?
My parents take academic excellence very seriously, especially my dad. My siblings and I even have a lot of inside jokes about it.
Have you always been an A student? What was your performance like academically in primary and secondary schools?
As far as I can remember, I’ve always been a good student. I can’t really remember how it was in primary school but in secondary school, I was an A student.
Although it is a little early to know exactly what you will be doing for the rest of your working life, 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? Tell us the reason for your choice.
I plan on pursuing a master’s degree in Artificial Intelligence after my service year. The applications of AI are very fascinating and even more interesting to think that with all that’s being done with it currently; it’s still at its infant stages.
The ICT sector provides so many career paths for graduates such as yourself. Suppose you were likely to go in the direction of a career outside of academics. What would you say is your favourite sector of Engineering to focus on? Why this choice?
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?
I only got plaques.
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.
As generic as it may sound, believing in myself has taken me a long way and will continue to take me far. I wouldn’t be here today if I didn’t believe that I could do it. And with that belief comes the courage and determination to prove yourself right. It goes a really long way.
What would you say you did differently from your peers to attain your success?
I really don’t know what I did differently. It is hard to say because I’m just one person on my own journey and I can’t really tell you what the journey was like for others. Ithink I studied like everyone else was studying.
If you have to advise students on how to do better in their academics, what will your advice be?
Know yourself and what works for you. You and your friends may not learn the same way or at the same pace.
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?
I think the approach to teaching and learning process can be improved on. More emphasis could be made towards practical works and not just theoretical. The current system mostly veers towards students pouring all the material they were given back at the lecturer in a two-hour exam. Questions should be designed with problem solving in mind based on your understanding of the work and not necessarily who could memorize the most before getting to the exam hall.
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?
It was really disorienting at first. I had to adapt to the change and learn how to still be productive away from the patterned and rigid school systems, while also doing this in isolation physically away from other study groups and means of help. Eventually, I learnt to overcome and things started moving smoothly once more.
What were your coping mechanisms?
I like to watch cartoons. It helps me to clear my head when needed. Also, the friends and people around me made it easy to go through the tough periods.
Engineering is also a course that seems to hold a lot of stigma amongst students in the lower levels of education (Primary and Secondary school). It is often seen as a tougher course due to its relation to mathematics. Would you describe yourself as somebody who has always liked mathematics, and do you think that younger students who do not have that same level of interest in the course can still pull through?
As I stated earlier, I was really good at math and I enjoyed it a lot in secondary school. I think interest is primal to succeeding in any career and engineering is definitely not an exception. There are some times when things won’t go as easy as you’d like. It is then you’d need your passion to drive you to keep going.
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?
Better integration of technology in our daily lives and communities. Ease of automation will go a long way to save us time and help us do a lot of mundane tasks in this country.
If you were to choose between living in Nigeria and abroad, what would be your choice? What is the reason for your answer?
Abroad is relative. Are we talking about Afghanistan abroad or Canada abroad? Anyways, I don’t mind living in Nigeria if I have a job that pays well and I didn’t have to worry about my safety.
Do you think Nigerians are taking the best approach towards advancement in the country? Whether in tech, social justice, or governance, what do you think can be done in an improved way to push the country forward?
I think there is a lot of room for improvement in this country. One of the most important things we need to do is take a united stance as a nation; come together with one voice and push for actions of change in both large and small ways.
Lastly, 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?
I think my high school prepared me adequately for CU. I didn’t have any serious problem with the rules. I just wanted to get by and be done like everyone else.