On entering the Valdosta State University, United States, Diane Isibor, 21, decided to study two courses at a time. She was in the Department of Accounting, and the Department of Economics and Finance.
Interestingly, she made 4.00/4.00 CGPA from both departments, and with that, she emerged as the best student in the Harley Langdale College of Business in the institution in the 2016/2017 academic session. She also won the university’s most prestigious academic honour and several other awards. In this interview with TUNDE AJAJA, she shares her experience and how easy it was to combine two courses
Why did you study two courses at a time?
I felt that since it was possible to combine two degrees, it was best to maximise the opportunity. I wanted to have a more diversified and marketable skill set in business. I had a strong interest in both Accounting and Finance and I did not want to do one without the other.
How easy was it to make 4.0/4.0 CGPA?
It certainly was not easy. It involved a lot of hard work. I found my first two years easy because I did Cambridge ‘A’ levels and the courses I took were mainly core curriculum. A lot of the work was a repetition to me then. But it got harder in my last one and a half years. An ‘A’ grade in the US is from 90 per cent. So, it was not easy. We had multiple exams and projects, so I had to be on my toes throughout the semester and at the end of the day, I was the best in my college.
You won several awards as the best in the College of Business, what were they?
There were two special ceremonies before graduation; Langdale College of Business Award Banquet where I won the overall outstanding graduation senior in the college of business. Also, the President/Vice Chancellor’s Award Dinner where I won the Annie Powe Hopper Award named in honour of the institution’s first Dean of Women. The award is presented annually to the Valdosta State University senior who represents the highest values of the university, including character and community service, and the person who has reached the highest levels of individual academic achievement. It is recognised as the university’s most prestigious academic honour. On the graduation day, I received the President’s Medallion for Academic Excellence and had a reception with the governor of Georgia, Nathan Deal, who was our convocation speaker, and his wife Sandra Deal. The best in each college carried a banner for their college to lead the graduating students during the procession, so I was the banner carrier as the best in the College of Business.
Were these your targets when you were leaving Nigeria?
Yes, I planned to graduate with honours. My past academic record, quest for scholarships, opportunities, as well as my family name motivated me to graduate with honours. There are three levels of honours here – Summa Cum Laude, Magna Cum Laude and Cum Laude. Over time, Summa Cum Laude (highest honours/first class) became a realistic goal for me and it was by the grace of God that I made it. To have 4.0/4.0 CGPA was not necessarily my target; I just wanted to graduate with honours and it became possible as time went on.
Were there times you almost gave up?
Yes, there were times I almost gave up, especially towards the end. I even considered dropping my Finance degree because I felt one would suffer if I did both Accounting and Finance. My degrees in Accounting and Finance were two completely different degrees from two different departments within the college of business. They were not two-in-one. I was very close to graduating with a perfect GPA and I feared that I would ruin it in my final year, but I refused to give up.
You mentioned working towards winning some scholarships, what were the ones you won?
I enjoyed several scholarship at all levels. I applied for some while I was nominated for others. They include Valdosta State University Ambassador, Beta Gamma Sigma Business Honours Society Inductee, Georgia Association of Certified Fraud Examiners Scholarship Recipient (two years in a row), Ritchie Jennings Memorial Scholarship Winner from ACFE Global, Institute of Management Accountants Memorial Education Fund Winner, VSU President’s Choice Award, Accounting and Finance Women’s Alliance Scholarship Winner, Jane M. Klausman Women in Business Scholarship Winner, Dean’s list every semester, (for persons with 3.5GPA upwards) and International Student Scholarship (Out of State Tuition Waiver). These helped greatly.
Having 4.0/4.0 CGPA was no mean feat, what was your reading schedule like?
I did not have a specific or structured schedule. I just did what I had to do ahead of time in terms of assignments and projects. I studied for my exams accordingly. Different courses had different levels of difficulty. So, study time varied. And I never stayed up all night to read, and of course how much I read depended on the course. I might sleep late because of an exam but not necessarily stay up all night. I studied ahead of time, up to a week in advance, and then reviewed the day before. I never studied or revised on the day of the exam. I am not a morning person and I also feel like I have learned all I could possibly know to do well in the exam at that point.
Did you have similar performance in your previous schools?
Yes, I always had good academic record right from primary school. In primary school, I had good grades despite my activities. I guess that is why my parents allowed me do everything. I actually was the Best Graduating Student of my set in secondary school. I became a nerd in junior secondary school but actually began to relax when I got to SS2, probably because at that point, I was doing only the subjects I enjoyed. Likewise, I did not find the West African Senior School Certificate Examination and Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination difficult. I had all distinctions in my WASSCE and I did well in my UTME. I took both exams only once.
At what point did you travel to the United States for your education?
I travelled to the US in December 2013. I completed the Cambridge A Levels after secondary school before I left.
Did you face any challenge you faced as a foreign student?
The challenges I faced as an international student included difficulty in getting internships, having to prove yourself and be respected for who you are and not where you are from. I think I did a good job overcoming those challenges. Fortunately, I did not have to deal with language barriers since Nigeria’s official language is English and it is my first language. However, that was a big challenge for international students from non-English speaking countries.
Were you involved in other things apart from academics?
I did not only do well in academics, I led organisations, travelled for professional conferences and volunteered in the community. I was the director of Plant Tours and Events at the Institute of Management Accountants, VSU Chapter; Treasurer at Beta Alpha Psi (Mu Zeta Chapter) Accounting and Finance Honors Society; Treasurer and Vice-President at Society of International Students; student member in Association of Certified Fraud Examiners; student member of Georgia Society of CPAs and Valdosta State University Ambassador. Those were other things that kept me busy.
Given your other engagements and remarkable performance, what would you attribute your success to?
I attribute my success to God, family motivation and self-discipline. My success is a product of hard work and divine help.
When you were young, were there times your parents coerced you to be serious or you had always been that serious?
Seriousness and excellence run in the family; I was not going to be an exception. It was not forced or coercion. Our parents didn’t have to coerce us to study or do well in school; we just did. My elder sisters set a good example for the younger ones to follow.
How easy was it getting an admission there?
Securing an admission into my school was not difficult. My school had a large international student body and the information on what I needed to do to be accepted was readily available on the school’s website.
After attaining a first class in two challenging majors in three and a half years, I need a break from school. I plan to work before getting my Master’s degree.
What attracted you to the two courses?
I was great at accounting in secondary school and I liked it. I love numbers and business, so accounting and finance was a great combination of both.
Were there times your parents rewarded you for good performance?
Yes, mum would buy me gifts when I came back from boarding school, but that was not the motivation to be great.
Could you capture the way they felt when they heard about your result?
My parents were proud when they heard about my results. They have always been proud of all their children.
Were there other Nigerians in your class?
There were no Nigerians in my major classes but there were Nigerians in my school. And there was no discrimination and anybody, including Americans, could be eligible to win all the awards I won.
Could you tell us about the grading system there?
A is 90-99.99 per cent; B is 80-89.99 per cent and C is 70-79.99 per cent. Anything below that is a fail and would require repeating the course.
What was your typical day like as an undergraduate?
I worked two jobs on campus. So, on a typical day, I was going to work and classes.
How often did you use the library?
I did not like the library because I lived off campus. I could not be there late and there were always a lot of students there during the exam period, causing too much distraction. I studied in my quiet study space in my apartment.
How did you use your leisure and what was your relationship like with other students?
I did not go out much. I was always stressed, combining work, school and my leadership activities. I preferred resting at home. I had a good relationship with other students and I’m an easy going person.
Were you in a relationship or you didn’t bother so you wouldn’t be distracted?
No, I was not in any relationship and this was not because I thought it was a distraction. Anyone with focus and maturity can be in a relationship and still do well in school.
What were your memorable moments in school?
I think the conclusion of my programme was my most memorable and happiest moment. I mean seeing the reward of everything I did right and the grace of God at work. I cannot think about anything embarrassing while I was in school.
What are your aspirations, career-wise?
I plan to be a business leader in whatever area I decide to specialise in within my fields and to be certified.
What do you think students need to do to have your kind of excellent result?
To be successful in school, three things come to mind – be focused, be disciplined, and pray.
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