Hauwa Usman, 22, studied Aeronautical Engineering at the University of Brighton, United Kingdom, and she was one of the four students who graduated with a first class from the department in the 2016/2017 academic session. She tells TUNDE AJAJA how she made it despite having dyslexia
Was there any remarkable event while you were growing up that you won’t forget?
While growing up, my parents usually took us out to get groceries. I remember on one occasion when we went to a shop with my mum, I saw a beautiful aeroplane toy and I really wanted to have it and I told my mum to get it for me. At that time, there were no debit cards, and my mum had spent all she had on buying what she needed in the house. But like the saying goes, there is no love greater than the love of a mother for her child. You know what she did? She had to return some of the things she already bought just to buy that toy for me. I’ll always be grateful for that; having such lovely parents. From there, I started liking airplanes and then, I began making kites and paper planes.
Was that all that influenced your choice of course later in life?
As a child, my dream was to become a pilot and it was partly a fallout of that encounter I narrated earlier. I used to imagine what it was like for pilots to take off and land, most especially at night, when one could barely see far and also, flying in the sky for hours. Over the years, as I grew older, I became more aware of the need for aviation safety in the country due to the plane crashes we had in the past. So, I settled for aeronautical engineering.
At what point did you travel to the UK for your studies?
I decided to travel to the UK after my secondary education. By British standards, it’s called Year 12, which I had at Lead British International School. Actually, for the fact that I had already attended a Nigerian British school with a very high standard, the next step was to progress. If all the necessary resources I needed for my dream course were available here in Nigeria, maybe I wouldn’t have travelled abroad for my tertiary education. But since I wasn’t going to consider another course, I looked forward to travelling and it was a pleasant experience. The admission process was straightforward. It was mainly about meeting the requirements, and the major one was to pass all the core science subjects at the Education First Language School in Cambridge and get a score of 6.5 and above in the International English Language Testing System.
What was your first year performance like or you had difficulties acclimatizing?
I did exceptionally well in my foundation year at Cambridge, and my grades were fantastic. I would call it unbelievable. And then I was admitted into the University of Brighton through Universities and Colleges Admissions Service. However, in most universities in England, the first year performance is not put into account. I would say I was an average student then. I knew I could have done better. I even had an issue with one course but over time, things got better.
Did you have a particular goal in mind when you were leaving Nigeria?
I planned to do my best to make sure I had a good grade and never to take any course with levity because I believe success is beyond passing exams. I have always been of the view that to be very good and outstanding in your profession, you need to pay attention to your studies and learn when you should, which I believe would equip you for the tasks ahead. However, my aim was to graduate with nothing less than second class upper division. So, graduating with a first class was a surprise and I’m really proud of myself and I give all glory to Allah and family and friends that supported me. I must add that making a first class wasn’t easy at all. I had to seriously tighten my belt.
When did you start having first class?
In my first year, I had a second class lower division. The second year, I was still in the second class lower division, and at the end of the third year, I made it. In the UK, I mean some universities there, the third year matters most, because it accounts for about 75 per cent to 80 per cent of your total performance.
We heard you had dyslexia, how did you manage and you still made a first class, because it brings about learning difficulties?
I found it more difficult to assimilate quickly and it took me a longer time to complete a task. But I always had my learning support that included extensions, extra time in exams and one on one study to compensate for my learning difficulties.
Were there people who felt you couldn’t make a first class because of that challenge?
Most people I came across thought I couldn’t even complete my university education, because they see studying aeronautical engineering as a tough call, and such people wouldn’t imagine me getting a first class degree. But thank God.
How many students had a first class in your class?
A total of four students had a first class.
How many were you in the class?
There were about 240 students from various disciplines like Mechanical, Electrical, Automotive, and Aeronautical. We were about 53 and there were times we had some classes with other disciplines because, in engineering, we needed to have the knowledge of certain things in other disciplines and sometimes we worked together to complete a task. It was all interesting I must say.
How many of you were females?
Eight of us were females and I was the only black female.
How many Nigerians were in your class and do you have any idea of the population of Nigerians in the University?
We were only two Nigerian aeronautical engineering students in my class. As for the population of Nigerian in the university, I have no idea, but I came across a handful of Nigerians.
Some people would think that you were always reading to make a first class, what was your reading pattern?
Well, I can’t say precisely how many hours I read, but the way I organised myself and how I went about completing my course tasks and most importantly understanding them, determined the time I spent on studying. My strategy was to understand as much as I could during lectures and that reduced the number of hours I spent on reading. And most of the time, I preferred reading on the table in my room. I knew what worked for me and I simply capitalised on it. Of course, there were times I denied myself of sleep. I should also add that the lecturers at the University of Brighton did a very great job. They were very helpful and they attend to all their students as equals regardless of where one came from. It means a lot when you know that no form of discrimination awaits you.
What did you find most interesting about airplanes?
The one thing I find most interesting about airplanes is that most of their weight is concentrated at the wings. The centre of gravity is located in-between the left wing and the right wing. I also found it intriguing initially.
People see aeronautical engineering as a course that is very tough, how true is this?
Aeronautical Engineering is indeed very tough. But I believe in any field, the term tough would turn easy depending on a person’s passion towards what they want to do.
You must have done certain things differently from others to have such a result. What were they?
Honestly, it’s not rocket science. What I believe I did differently was I never compromised my determination or priority. I stayed focused and I kept the faith.
For the benefit of people who do not know much about the course, what is it about?
Aeronautical Engineering is primarily about designing aircraft and propulsion systems, as well as studying the aerodynamics performance of aircraft and materials used for the aircraft. Aeronautical engineers work with the theory, technology and practice of flight within the earth’s atmosphere. There are different fields one could venture into as an aeronautical engineer, but at this stage, I have only done my undergraduate degree. Eventually, I would stick to one. There are interesting things about maintenance and safety and in Nigeria, we have to take our planes out to some countries for checks. But one of my plans for the future would be to have my own company in Nigeria where other airlines in Africa could fly to for maintenance and repairs.
What was the duration of your course and were there times you came home for holiday or you stayed there through out?
The duration of my course was three years and I did come home for summer holidays. I always missed being home. Home is always where the heart is.
Did you also miss Nigerian food?
I missed Nigerian food, but most of all, I missed my mother’s food.
Would you say it was easier to make a first class there?
Certainly, yes, comparatively. The reason for this is because the environment makes it convenient to study due to the abundance of useful resources such as the Internet, the books in the library, the transportation, the power supply, including the fact that lecturers are always available, even online, to attend to questions. I used all the necessary resources like the library books and videos and I took them to my flat to study.
Were you in a relationship while in school or you didn’t give it a thought?
I wasn’t. I believe I know what I want and I haven’t seen that, so there was really no time to waste.
Were you sociable or were you always reading?
I am a very reserved person. However, I do go to dinners and the cinema with friends.
Where would you like to work?
I’m considering my options.
What would you ascribe your success to?
Almighty Allah. It wouldn’t have been possible without Him and my family.
Did you consider staying back to work or it never crossed your mind?
I did consider staying back to work but for a little while, which allows the question, what is the achievement when you acquire such knowledge and not deploy it for the betterment of your fatherland?
What would you call the most delicate part of your profession?
The delicate part of aeronautics is to be able to clearly identify design elements that may not meet requirements and make sure engineers are able to formulate alternatives to improve a performance of design elements.
What is your advice to people who desire your kind of result?
I would advise the youth to be focused and to prioritise their goals in life and most importantly, to have faith in God.
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