Achiugo Somtochukwu, 22, graduated from the Department of Mechanical Engineering, Covenant University, Ota, Ogun State with 4.92 CGPA to emerge as the third best graduate of the institution in the 2016/2017 academic session. In this interview with TUNDE AJAJA, he talks about his motivations and what he likes to become in the near future
Do you recall how your parents received the news that you led your department?
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They were overwhelmed when they heard the great news and they threw a thanksgiving party for me. That was one good way to make them happy for their invaluable support, motivation and inspiration.
You had a very high CGPA, with just few points below that of the overall best in the school. Did you have your eyes on being the best?
The overall best in the school had 4.95 CGPA from Accounting Department and I had 4.92 CGPA. I think I could have emerged as the overall best in the school if I had been leading my class right from the onset. However, I was the third best graduating student in our set.
When did you start leading your class?
I started having first class right from my first year in school with 4.86 CGPA, but I started leading my class in my second year when I had my first 5.00 GPA.
Since you had first class throughout, could you share with us your GPA for each semester?
In my first year, first and second semesters; I had 4.86 and 4.91 GPA respectively. Then in second year, I had 4.74 and 5.00 GPA respectively. In my third year, I had 4.84 and 4.91 GPA respectively. In my fourth year, I had a 5.00 GPA in both semesters. And in my final year, I also had 5.00 GPA in both semesters. Those grades helped a lot, and like I said, it is good for students to have their eyes on a goal, because without that, you would do little and assume you have worked so hard. And when the result comes out and you have 50B, for example, instead of tightening your belt, you would think you tried and that is why people say, ‘after all I didn’t fail.’ By the time you have similar score in several other courses, you might not have a fantastic grade at the end of the day. But when you have a goal and you work so hard towards it, you have an expectation and when it is not met, you simply work harder. And as they say, the end justifies the means. And that is why I would attribute my success to hard work and consistent prayers. Hard work is the price for success.
Would you say it was easy to make first class?
Nothing good comes easy. A lot of effort and commitment were involved to maintain that position in class. For me, I didn’t have any reading plan or schedule. I just ensured that before the next lecture for a particular course, I must have understood what was taught in the previous lecture. Sometimes, to avoid noise or any form of distraction, I always went to a secluded place to study, and I only used the library for research purposes or whenever I wanted to consult a recommended text.
How many people had first class in your class?
Over the years in Covenant University, the highest number of first class students in mechanical engineering was five until this year when we had 17 first class students out of 63 students.
Some people are of the view that it is harder to maintain first class than to get there, were there times you almost gave up?
To be honest, it’s really hard to maintain first class. You would even feel it more if you have a set goal, because you don’t want to drop, but if it is just about having first class, one may not really mind. However, I never felt like giving up because I was so focused on the goal which I had set for myself and giving up wasn’t an option for me.
Were you also leading your class in your previous schools?
In my elementary and junior secondary school days, I was so unserious that I was always the last in my class. My parents were always comparing me with my younger sister who was performing excellently in her class. So, after my Junior Secondary School Certificate Examination, they hired a private lesson teacher for me and we covered the entire scheme of work in physics, chemistry and mathematics required for the SS1 class. This boosted my confidence and I entered senior secondary school with my mind set at becoming the best in my class and that goal was actualised. So, initially, my parents were the force behind my seriousness until it became part of me and that was where I got my inspiration from. When I took my West African Senior School Certificate Examination, I had five A1s, three B2s, and one B3 and I scored 238 in the Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination. I didn’t have any delay in securing admission, so I was admitted immediately after my secondary education. Since then, I have always had the mindset of academic excellence, and so I planned to take it further by graduating with first class, because second class was not an option for me. My parents supported me in the best way they could and that was my inspiration. One thing I found out was that if you aim high, you have a goal you are working towards, and so you don’t settle for less, you would get there.
Perhaps some people work hard too and didn’t have your kind of result, were there certain things you did differently?
I wouldn’t know what others were doing in their private study time, but personally, I ensured that I had thorough understanding of every topic before moving on to the next one. I didn’t always rely on the materials given to us by the lecturers because most of the topics taught in class required good visualisation skills in order to gain thorough understanding. Also, I was always watching different videos on YouTube especially for machine design topics so as to have better understanding.
Would you have an idea of why students fail, maybe from your observation?
I think students fail because they lack focus and seriousness. I believe no one is naturally dull. Sometimes, you find that some students get to school and they join groups that redirect their focus and weaken their zeal. I believe students need to know what works for them and maximise it. I also believe that the only thing required from every student who desires academic excellence is hard work. Students should set goals for themselves and endeavour to be committed to actualising those goals. In school, I didn’t have enough time to read every day because I usually came back late and tired from lectures, but I made sure I used my weekends to understand what was taught during the week. With that, I wouldn’t have bulk of notes to study and I wouldn’t be under pressure. It even helps one to learn faster. I made good use of my time during the day and I ensured I had my eight hours sleep every day. I didn’t joke with that, and that is one advantage of reading ahead, because if you don’t, when exams are approaching, you would want to finish your syllabus in one night, which may not be very easy. And I believe that studying is to learn more and understand the nitty-gritty of a course, and not just to pass exams. These are areas I believe students should look at.
What was the longest number of hours you read at a time?
In school, I think I read for 12 hours at a stretch.
Did people see you as too serious?
Some of my classmates always regarded me as being too serious but that didn’t mean I didn’t have a social life. My social life was still intact. I had a lot of friends, both male and female, and I still attended a lot of social gatherings.
Do you recall what landed you in mechanical engineering?
In secondary school, I had always had flare for machine design and that was what attracted me to mechanical engineering. While growing up, I wasn’t so sure of what I actually wanted to become. Whenever the question was asked randomly in school, church or any gathering, I always had a different profession as a response. But during my senior school days, the picture became clearer that I’m meant to become an engineer. I realised that I was good at Technical Drawing which is the language of engineers and that attracted me to the field. I chose mechanical engineering because, personally, I think it is one of the best engineering disciplines that involve design, production and operation of machinery by applying certain design or manufacturing principles. I must add that it was very exciting, and one thing that I found intriguing about machines is the control system in many modern day machines, which makes them so fascinating. My best aspect of mechanical engineering is technology management and it involves the integrated planning, optimisation and control of technological processes. On the other hand, I found machine design to be very challenging because it requires a lot of technical calculations.
Some people feel engineering in Nigeria is still largely theory-based, and perhaps it explains why we have mechanical engineers who cannot fix their own cars, not to talk of Nigeria being independent when talking of that aspect of technology. What is your thought about that?
In most schools in Nigeria, engineering is theory-based but Covenant University merges the class activities with real life applications. For instance, in my fourth year, we were given a project in machine design class to design a machine that would solve a major problem in the society. My team and I came up with an idea to design a gutter cleaner that would help clean our gutters to prevent flooding. This particular project gave me a clearer understanding of the application of mechanical engineering in the society. Most people out there believe that all mechanical engineers should be able to fix their cars but in the actual sense, that is not true. Automobile engineering is only a branch of mechanical engineering among other fields and one can decide to specialise in any field that suits him or her. However, in order for Nigeria to advance technologically, the government should invest more in research and development.
Do you believe some courses, like engineering, are more difficult than others?
Engineering is not difficult; nothing is. However, commitment and dedication are the yardsticks for success in engineering and even any course one decides to study.
Were you involved in other activities while in school?
Yes, I was involved in other activities in school. During my first and second year, I was in a service unit in the chapel where we usually organised word study programmes for students. So, yes, I had other engagements. I don’t believe you have to shut down every other aspects of your life because of academics. At my leisure, I saw a lot of movies during my free time and read lots of inspirational books also. All that matters is being able to prioritise. I also believe students need to develop themselves in many ways they can. For example, during holidays, I wasn’t reading all the time, rather, I used my time to develop myself in software such as inventor professional and AutoCAD.
How easy was it for you to cope in your first year, given the rules in private universities?
It wasn’t really easy to cope during my first year, with all the rules. At a point, I felt like leaving the school for a university in Ghana, but I got used to the rules and things began to change for the better.
What are your aspirations?
I would love to go for my Master’s in Engineering Management but would love to complete my youth service programme before doing that.
Where would you like to work?
I would like to work in an oil company or production company, but I’m open to other opportunities. Generally, I would love to do anything that would make me a notable resource to my country.
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