Oreoluwa Olomodosi, 21, graduated with first-class honors from the University of York, United Kingdom, where she studied Economics and Finance. She speaks to TUNDE AJAJA about her motivation and strategy
What have you been doing since you left school?
Due to the pandemic, I organised online classes for the three members of Lattice Club, a club for girls from low-income families, which I managed remotely. My motivation was for them to have access to quality education which would help them get a good job and ultimately break the cycle of poverty in their families. I believe education is one of the most important ways to empower a woman and I am constantly motivated to help every member of the club achieve their dreams because I don’t believe family background should limit a girl child. Whenever I’m not studying or working, I spend my time volunteering to mentor the girls. I didn’t want the pandemic to stop them from learning, so I provided them with data to join classes. I also prepared them for their university and scholarship application to Pan Atlantic University and three girls were awarded 98 per cent tuition scholarships to attend university. I had previously set up an online revision programme for 20 girls preparing for the West African Senior School Certificate Examination, so I have been engaged with these volunteer works till I resumed my job in September 2020.
Have you always wanted to study Economics and Finance?
I got attracted to Economics when I started taking the class in SS1. The teacher was very good and she made the subject very interesting and easy to understand. I have always had an entrepreneurial spirit. I learnt vocational skills like hairdressing, bead-making and making African prints. So, right from junior school, I would sell anything I had in excess; I baked cakes to sell as well as ankara (fabric). In the university, I was a popular hairstylist for black students on campus and it was very lucrative because there were not many black hairdressers in the city I lived in. I used some of my earnings to support the girls I spoke about earlier. With my interest in entrepreneurship, I knew economics would give me a good foundation to run a successful business in the future.
What would you tie your success to?
I would tie my success to God. He was the one who gave me the grace to do so well. My secondary school, Lagoon School, also played a big role in my success. The teachers instilled in me various virtues, including hard work, discipline and orderliness and they always pushed us to be the best. This laid the foundation for me to succeed in the university.
There are students who believe that one needs to read at every given opportunity for one to make first class. Was that the situation in your case?
No, and I will not advise anyone to read throughout their time in the university. I think university is not just about academic work. Students should focus on their academic work, but they should participate in other activities. They should also build leadership and soft skills. Some of the skills one needs in the workplace are not learnt in the classroom but through experience. I’m happy with the much I was able to do in school. I was both an international student ambassador and economics student ambassador. I facilitated open days, taking prospective students and parents on tour of the university and talking to prospective students online on behalf of the university. I was the Treasurer of York University Nigerian Society, where we ran bi-weekly events, and Nigerians and other nationals could come to socialise and learn more about the Nigerian culture. It was a safe space and always felt like home with the popular Nigerian dishes present at our events (laughs).
What are your aspirations?
I have always planned to work for a strategy consulting firm because of my interest in consulting and finance, and now I work with KPMG. After having conversations with many consultants, coupled with my work experience at York Community Consulting, I realised that I enjoy solving problems, communicating with stakeholders and the variety in the work that consulting offers. I have done various internships in corporate organisations like Shell, Stanbic IBTC and Deloitte. With that, I leveraged my expanded network by connecting the girls with young professionals who mentor them. In addition, I am passionate about education, especially for the girl child. I will continue to volunteer my time to causes that improve the educational outcomes for girls from low-income families in Nigeria. Someday, I hope to build a successful non-profit organisation to help more girls access quality education, funding and scholarship opportunities. My long-term goal is to help reform education systems around the world, starting with Nigeria.
You mentioned that you had a wonderful time studying, volunteering and taking up leadership roles in societies and departments. Can you expatiate on this?
I joined the university’s volunteering group called York Students in Schools. It was a scheme set up by the university’s volunteering department where students could volunteer to tutor underperforming students in local secondary schools who would otherwise not be able to afford private tutors. As a member of this group, I tutored General Certificate of Secondary Education students from low-income backgrounds who were underperforming in Mathematics. It was very rewarding seeing their improvement each week and how their attitude towards Mathematics changed. The most rewarding moment for me was during an event when my student introduced me to her mum as her tutor she had been talking about. Her mum kept expressing her gratitude about how much I had impacted her daughter. Meanwhile, to help the young girls cultivate the spirit of volunteering, I coordinated them to carry out an annual community service project in a rural community where they taught 20 young people about hygiene, recycling and basic culinary skills. I also organised a three-week workshop for primary six students on the art of marketing. After a year of tutoring them, I took up a managerial role where I helped to promote volunteering by speaking at events and running information sessions. I also volunteered in my department as a Peer Assisted Learning Leader where I taught first year students who were struggling with Statistics.
How did you combine these with your academic work?
In my first week in the university, an older student advised me to divide my day into three parts; eight hours for sleep, eight hours for studying and eight hours for fun and extracurricular activities. That was how I structured my week days. Most societies had their activities in the evening and by then I would have completed my eight hours of studying. I would then spend the rest of the evening participating in the societies I was interested in or catching up with friends. I also loved reading in the library as there was less distraction. If I didn’t have classes, I would study in the library till evening.
How easy was it for you to graduate with first class honours?
I would say it was challenging. It was a new way of learning, especially in my first year. Coming from the Nigerian education system, it took some time to get used to the British system but there was a lot of support provided by my university in various forms and that made the transition a bit easier. It was also challenging because I tried to balance my academic work with extracurricular activities. I wanted a wholesome university experience, and to have the best chance of getting a job after graduation in the UK, you need to attend networking and career events right from the first year. I was conscious of that.
Would you say first class was a goal or your hard work simply paid off?
Getting a first class was a goal I set for myself. I knew it was attainable because in secondary school and foundation school, I was one of the best students. So, I planned towards it by making sure I was consistent with studying and not leaving things till the last minute. I also utilised my lecturers’ office hours by seeking clarifications if I needed to.
You expressed gratitude to your family members, friends and mentors for their help. What specific roles did they play in your achievement?
My family really supported me especially during the COVID-19 lockdown when I had to study from home. My parents always encouraged me and provided me with all I needed to succeed. When I told them I graduated with first class, they were elated and even more excited than me (laughs). They were proud of me and glad that my efforts paid off. I also remember they told everyone who cared to listen that their daughter made a first class. I’m glad I did not disappoint them and their investment in my education was not a waste.
What about your mentors?
They also played a huge role in my university experience by pushing me to attain my full potential. They guided me in applying for scholarships, internships and graduate jobs. They also supported me in my academic journey by teaching me how to write better essays and connecting me with people in their network who could teach me any subject I was struggling with. Furthermore, they supported me with my volunteering initiatives in Nigeria by giving their time and money and inviting some of their friends to join in volunteering. Having mentors literally changed my life. I met them at the first internship I did and since then they have supported me every step of the way. I used to be very shy but my mentors helped me to become more ambitious and bold.
What role did your friends play?
They helped me to settle in the UK and adjust to the cultural differences. They also motivated me throughout my time in school. I tried to interact and connect with as many people as possible but I made sure my circle of close friends shared similar values with me and had things I could learn from them. Meeting people from different parts of the world was an interesting experience; I learnt about different cultures. It also taught me how to communicate with people from different backgrounds and cultures and I learnt to respect people’s ideas and opinions even if I do not agree with them.
What were your most memorable moments?
One of such moments as an undergraduate was when I got the York Futures Scholarship for outstanding academic and extracurricular achievement. Another one was when I was selected by Boston Consulting Group to attend an all-expense-paid workshop in Spain. It was amazing connecting with successful women from around the world and learning more about consulting. Also, seeing the kids I tutored improve in Mathematics was also a memorable moment for me.
You said you led a book drive that raised 400 books to stock the library and provide textbooks for the members of the club, how was it?
When I started teaching the girls, I realised they did not have the textbooks they needed to study. I found that most students from my secondary school had no use for their textbooks after they graduated. I was right. I went on the social media to make posts about it and I sent messages to my old classmates encouraging them to donate the textbooks they no longer used. The turnout was great and I was able to raise over 400 textbooks. Since the book drive, the word has spread and people have continued to donate textbooks after every academic session.
Some students see being in a relationship as a distraction while some feel otherwise. What do you think?
I think it is important to know yourself and what works for you. While some students manage their relationship well, some others don’t and it ends up being a distraction. It is also necessary to set boundaries if you decide to be in a relationship. This was something I saw my friends do and they succeeded in their academic pursuit while having thriving relationships.
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