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I was in mechanical engineering but switched when I realized it wasn’t for me – Maths Graduate with 5.0 CGPA

Edwards Otoko bagged first-class honors in Pure and Applied Mathematics from the Rivers State University, Port Harcourt, having finished with a perfect 5.0 Cumulative Grade Point Average. In this interview with OLIVIA DOMINIC, he speaks about his journey to academic excellence

You graduated with 5.0 CGPA and emerged as the overall best student in your set. Did you see it coming all along?

Let’s say at some point I knew I was going to come out on top. Along the line I knew within me that I was going to top the class. It wasn’t much of a surprise.

Have you always been a high-flying student since your primary school days?

I won’t say primary school; I actually started picking up in my junior secondary school. I had a teacher in my church who assisted me in learning and that helped me a lot. I picked up academically when I got into secondary school. From that point, it became much easier for me. So, I won’t say getting excellent grades started for me from primary; it actually started from when I was in the junior secondary school.

Mathematics is one subject dreaded by many. What informed your decision to study mathematics in the university?

Actually, mathematics wasn’t what I started off with. Nonetheless, I have always loved mathematics right from my secondary school days. My love for mathematics came from a movie titled PI. The script and everything about the movie motivated me to do more on mathematics but it wasn’t what I wanted to study in the university initially. I was in mechanical engineering for a year before I realised it wasn’t my thing to study so I applied for a transfer.

After switching to Pure and Applied Mathematics, at what point did you decide that you would graduate with first class or did it just happen?

There was a board where names of people who made first class were pasted, so I always imagined my name being on that list. So that had always been my aspiration and with God on my side, I worked hard towards achieving my goal.

Was there any period you would describe as challenging while in the university?

No, the only challenge I had then was when I wanted to settle down at that initial time, before I changed my course to mathematics but after then I don’t think I had any challenges because mathematics wasn’t a challenge to me at the time.

In the course of studying maths, were there times if felt like you might not realise your dream of finishing with first class?

Well, I had some challenges at some point. I remember when I was writing a course and instead of getting an A I was getting a B. I had that as a problem and most times I just told myself that maybe I didn’t do well enough. But then I also felt that it was crystal clear that I had performed well. When it came to some courses that were really difficult to understand, I became more determined and told myself that I needed an A, so I matched that determination with going the extra mile in my study.

Was there something you did differently from others to graduate with first class honours?

I was really intentional and serious about it but I can’t really say others didn’t give their best too. And again I had a really good start and that helped me. So, in essence, I can’t really say there was any special thing I did differently.

 What role did the schools you previously attended play in your performance in the university?

Well, my previous schools really played a vital role in my life, especially because my mathematics teacher back in my secondary school made me love the subject. Also, I had classmates who were as interested in mathematics as me.  We found ourselves spending more time studying mathematics or solving mathematical problems than other subjects. My friends were extremely good at mathematics. They played a very important role in my life; my teacher would also stay in school back then just for us to solve more mathematical problems.

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How did you choose your friends?

I won’t say I chose my friends then. One thing about life is that if you are good at a particular thing, you don’t have to select friends, they will come to you. Many will want to learn from you, because you have what to offer; that was how I made my friends.

What was your study pattern like?

Personally, I don’t study in a noisy environment. I did lengthy hours – most times I studied for between two and four hours and at other times, I did as much as 12 hours, depending on how I felt. When it’s close to exams I don’t really study that long because I already know everything on the scheme, so I only study for two or three hours. I also go online to check out things that are not clear to me. And then I meet lecturers and also people that are ahead of me in class. The library was also a vital part; the friends around me also helped. That was what my study routine was like.

For someone who studied for 12 hours some times, did you have time for extracurricular or social activities?

I had control over my time and I also knew what I wanted. I knew this was the sacrifice I had to make to focus. I had to cut down on my social life and be determined to achieve my goals.

Will you say that was easy for you or you saw it as the necessary sacrifice you needed to make?

I allowed my social life to slip through my fingers. You know that in the university environment your parents aren’t there to supervise you or control you, so, your life is in your hands. I gave more time to learning and gave less to social life, so my social life was really affected. It was only after school that I told myself I needed to strike a balance, since I am now done.

How easy has been for you to make the necessary adjustment?

Well, I am actually a very reserved, person; I don’t consider myself to be a social person. That was why I was able to control myself while in the university. I am not one to talk much because, as I said, I am quite a reserved person. That might be why it was easy for me to make that decision.

Did people around you think you were overambitious or aiming too high?

Most of them actually thought that, even when I decided not to tell people my plans, they still found a name they started calling me – Mr First Class. There was so much envious talk from people. Some said I was doing too much and that I should relax and get my results and leave; they said it was not a must or a do-or-die affair (to make first class) but then I didn’t let all that discourage me.

It is generally believed that mathematics is a tough subject. For someone who made first class in the subject, what do think people need to understand about it?

True, mathematics is a dreaded subject, everybody feels it’s taxing and difficult to handle but then to me mathematics is easy. People dread mathematics because they have not really given it time to know where their mistakes lie. That, in my opinion, is just why people don’t do well at mathematics.

What were your parent’s reactions when you gave them the news of your final result?

Incidentally, my parents never wanted me to study mathematics; they never liked the idea; they never wanted it; so, this is me and this is what I really wanted and I took that bold step. I didn’t inform them about my decision until I got to 200 Level. At the time, I just had to tell them I was no longer into engineering; that I had switched to mathematics. My parents didn’t find it funny at all, but as time went on, as they started seeing my results, they decided to give me a chance since I was doing well. They were really excited when they saw that I made first class honours.

My parents are people who believe so much in education; so they had this strong belief that I couldn’t disappoint them. My mum is always telling people that come around that I made a first class; I always smile anytime I hear her say that. So they were really very supportive of me.

You actually finished with 5.0 CGPA, which is really exceptional. Have you been getting scholarship opportunities or job offers?

Yes, a whole lot, I can’t even mention. I got recognition both in school and outside school; I got connections that are actually helping me currently. I got referrers too; it paid off for me really good.

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