A graduate of Petroleum Engineering at the Nile University, Abuja, Precious Okon, speaks on how she graduated with a perfect Cumulative Grade Point Average of 5.0 in 2022 despite being in a male-dominated field, and her plans for the future.
Were you expecting a perfect CGPA when you began your degree at Nile University?
Thinking back, I would say yes. I had no doubt about making a First Class, the perfect CGPA was a nice addition to it. I have always been a highflyer right from primary school. I have always been first in class in college, Brookstone School (Secondary). My lowest GPA in high school was 4.7. I remember that I cried a lot that day and vowed never to go that low ever again. Every other one was either a 4.9 or 5.0.
I had seven A1s and two B2s in my West African Senior School Certificate Examinations, and seven As and two As in the International General Certificate of Secondary Education. So, when I got to the university, it did not seem far-fetched to maintain that. When I got my first 5.0 in my first semester in my first year, it further fuelled my conviction that I could ride that wave till I graduated. I am glad that I was able to do that.
To whom do you owe your success?
That would be God. He is really my source of success. He helped me understand the big plans he had for my life and exposed me to people like Apostle Emmanuel Iren, who expanded my capacity to accommodate them. For humans, there have been a lot of people that have played significant roles. From my parents to my siblings and to my mentors, Mrs Tope Oshuntuyi, Mr Ere Iyalla, Mrs Amina Danmadami and many more. A lot of my lecturers at the university as well as at different points in time contributed significantly to my life. Dr Ikechukwu Okafor, Dr Petrus Nzerem, Paul Okpe and more played a crucial role in my life. I also know that the staff at CypherCrescent also contributed greatly to where I am today. I often say that while I was at CypherCrescent, I learnt how to appreciate the knowledge that really shaped my perspective for my final year.
How was it possible that you never had a ‘B’ grade all through your schooling period?
It still blows my mind, to be honest. I had heard rumours that the university was tough and that it was not the same as secondary school. I was told by many persons that I would not be able to make the same grades there. But one thing I have always been intentional about was my mindset. When people say, “This course is hard”, “This lecturer is difficult” or “Having an A under his tutelage is impossible”, I would avoid those statements as much as possible, and just rid my mind of those things.
One thing is for sure. People have a very high tendency to project their experiences on you. I remember that when I was about to write my United Tertiary Matriculation Examination, I heard a statement like, “This exam is based on luck; it’s not based on intelligence.” I remember asking some questions like, “Why would an exam be over 400 and I have never heard of someone with at least a 300 in it?” and “Why will I write an exam and not pass it after carrying out my due diligence?” Asking these questions caused a reorientation of my mind, and I was able to block out the noise. With God and hard work, I came out with a 316 in my UTME. I believe strongly that if you can see it in your mind, you can do it. Nothing is impossible to me, and I don’t say that casually. I have the Holy Spirit; so, I can do all things.
What was your reading pattern like?
Honestly, I did not have a consistent reading schedule. I read about a week before the exams like most people, though there were days I would go back to a difficult concept I learnt that day just to be sure I understood it. What I did, however, was to maximise my time in the lecture. I would sit in the front, and listen attentively. I do this when I could because there were times I would sleep during the lecture. These struggles are common to everyone. I observed that if I understood the concept well enough in class, it made it easier to study later.
I would ask as many questions as I needed to in order to understand the concept, and I benefitted greatly from others students’ questions. All these made reading for examinations more like a revision. I was also a textbook person. I did a lot of cross-referencing with textbooks. It helped me to be more grounded in the concepts and I would get to grasp the full picture. I love having the full picture because it makes it easier to make deductions rather than just cramming what had been taught in class. I was very bad at cramming. I also did a bit of note-taking when I studied.
I know that helped greatly as well. I learnt that from my friends, Abdulmalik, Shania, and Aisha. It made it easier to have a reference point and determine the concepts I needed more clarity on. I also enjoyed teaching. I did a lot of tutorials for my friends, classmates, and colleagues at lower levels. So, doing those just helped more concepts stick because it involved repetition and coming up with simple examples to break down the concepts.
Would you say your upbringing played any role in your academic excellence?
Yes, I can say that. My parents have been very intentional about our education. They did a lot of research on the academic standards of the schools we went. I was exposed to a computer at a young age courtesy of my dad. I made sure to learn some basic computer skills like Microsoft Word, Excel, Access, and PowerPoint early enough. These gave me an edge in class overtime.
Whose idea was it for you to study Petroleum and Gas Engineering?
This is a funny story. I was indecisive about what course to study. It was between Chemical Engineering and Petroleum Engineering. I was leaning more toward Chemical Engineering since it seemed to have more applications, but my mum was more adamant about Petroleum. I eventually applied for Chemical at Nile; and on entering, I was informed that the two departments had been merged into one to form Petroleum and Gas Engineering. That was how I found myself in the department. It was not exactly by choice, but by accident. It turned out to be the best accident of my life because I really love my course. But in it all, I just see the hand of God orchestrating my life according to His best plan.
Why did you choose to attend a private university?
I had a full scholarship at Nile University first off. But added to that, my parents were not very comfortable with the continuous strikes that happen at public universities in Nigeria and all the negative news that we would hear about cultism, rape, and the likes. I do pray for all these vices to become things of the past soon. With all those in view, I made the decision without any difficulty.
What was your experience like at Nile University?
I would say it was interesting and expository. I got to meet several people from different cultural and religious backgrounds. It was a new experience for me. It would be my first extended stay in Abuja, and I did not exactly know what to expect. Coming from the southern part of Nigeria, there were preconceived notions about what the North was like. So, being there and seeing it for myself, helped to break a lot of wrong ideologies and helped me build amazing friendships. I also liked the environment; it was very serene since we were not many in the university at the time, though that has changed over the years. We have a lot more students now, and I think that is a testament to the fact that the university is getting some things right.
There is this assertion that some private school graduates are not as grounded as those of public schools. How true is this?
It’s a wrong assertion. I have friends in public universities, and we can have deep conversations on concepts within my field and there is no difficulty when discussing. I have received academic assistance from students in public universities and aided some students there as well. I am also of the opinion that being grounded is more of a personal decision because anyone can go through either of these kinds of institutions and come out knowing nothing. If you do not put in the necessary work to understand the concept, then you would not know it, and vice versa. So, I think people should lay that mentality to rest.
What were some things you cannot be caught doing at Nile University?
I had a very social life; so, I was everywhere to a large extent. I played sports, I was at most events, and I hung out with friends at the food court. The things I most likely would not be found doing would just be on the negative side like being called by the disciplinary committee or being involved in a physical fight.
Were you a sociable person?
Yes, yes, yes! I knew a vast majority of the students at the university. I think that would primarily be because of my personality. I have a very warm and friendly outlook so it is very easy to talk to me. I also like meeting new people and making new friends.
Were you into extracurricular activities?
Oh yes! I mean a lot of people are even bewildered when they find out all the activities I was involved in and still managed to make a 5.0. I have always occupied leadership positions. So, getting into the university was something I was still actively involved in. I joined the Society of Petroleum Engineers as I said earlier on. This was in my first year, and I volunteered at the biggest student conference that same year. Then I served with the Nigerian Universities Engineering Students’ Association in my second year, where I served as the Assistant Social Director. I became the Financial Secretary in my third year. In that same year, I served as the Vice President of the SPE, Nile Chapter and eventually became the President in my fourth year till I graduated. I was in the choir at the Nile Christian Fellowship from my first year till my final year. I became the head of the NCF Choir in my third year and was appointed as the president of the fellowship from my fourth year till my final year. Also, I played a few sports. I played table tennis and competed at the Nigerian Private University Games in my second year. Then I also played volleyball for leisure.