After breaking a 42-year-old record at Usman Danfodiyo University where she studied Mathematics, Fatima Akinola went ahead to achieve a perfect grade of 4.0 at Marshall Univeristy, United States. In this interview by ENIOLA OYEMOLADE, the mathematician talks about how her love for mathematics started, her journey so far, among others.
How did the love for Mathematics start?
I would say it started way back in my junior secondary school, or I will say I became aware of my love for it at that time. While watching the advertisement of the Cowbell Mathematics Competition on television, I wanted to be a part of it and luckily, I was chosen to represent my school. I came first in the state and went down to Lagos for the national stage. I also went for other mathematics competitions.
Was studying Mathematics at Usman Danfodiyo University a choice or an accident?
My first admission to the university was agriculture in 2012 and I accepted it. I retook the United Tertiary Matriculation Examination (UTME) and was offered Mathematics by the university and Joint Admissions Matriculation Board (JAMB). It was a closer choice to what I wanted which was engineering, so I decided to accept it wholeheartedly.
What were some of the challenges you faced and how did you solve them?
If you meant challenges with the first class, I would say they mostly came from my anxiety to keep up with it. With every new semester, the goal was to make sure I either maintained the current CGPA or go higher. That was the main challenge I faced, as that meant I had to push myself hard.
From your first year at Usman Danfodiyo University, did you know you were going to come out with distinctions? Did you maintain a high GP from then?
With hope, yes. After I entered the first-class range at the end of my second year, I always made sure to work towards keeping up my grades.
You broke a 42-year-old record there. How did that make you feel?
At first, it felt accomplishing. Seeing my department have only one female Mathematics lecturer was one of my defining inspirations for pushing through harder. To be sincere, I thought of it more as an awakening. Women need more representation in the Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) fields. So, I hope that in years to come, I can be a part of those statistics.https://a2afbcce3a3ee9d11648916672818cea.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-38/html/container.html?n=0
What would you say were the extra steps you took that made you finish with distinctions?
Personally, after God’s grace, I would say preparation and planning. Before the start of every semester, I had friends in higher levels who would lend me materials they used during their time. Most times, I gave those materials surface readings, but all the studying started coming together when the lecturers explained them in class. So, this way I did not feel like I was learning something entirely new in class.https://a2afbcce3a3ee9d11648916672818cea.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-38/html/container.html?n=0
How were you able to balance school work with social life and others? Or did you forfeit some for school work?
Oh, I had a social life! I still do. I didn’t need to forfeit one for another as they all had their place. When it was time to study, I studied. When it was time to join school politics, I did. When it was time to join the happenings in school, I made sure to not miss it. I had other club associations I belonged to also.
Would you say graduating with first class was easy?
No. Nothing good comes easy. Everyone has different methods that work for them when it comes to studying.
How did Marshall University happen? What influenced your choice?
Well, I was going to further my education. So, I started applying to schools. I had more than four rejections in 2017/2018 before landing my three admissions in 2019. Marshall was the only United States (US) University I applied to. The two others were AIMS, South Africa and AUST, Abuja. They all were great places I wanted to study at.
Was achieving a 4.0 easier there than it was at Usman Danfodiyo?
NO!!! It wasn’t. But I would say that Usman Danfodiyo ‘prepared’ me. I had already gotten used to studying earnestly, so I just had to carry over that energy.
How would you rate the Nigerian educational system compared to the system abroad?
Comparing really would not do justice. Their system abroad, at least in America, has factors which are better like the ‘teacher-student’ ratio. I was an instructor for undergraduate students and in all the time I taught, the highest number of students I had in a class was 30. So that really constituted an important difference between the two systems.
Asides being a Mathematician, what else do you enjoy?
I love cooking!!! It was my major go to for ‘de-stressing’ from all the anxiety and hard work that came from schoolwork. I also enjoy hanging out with friends.
What is your advice for people who want to achieve great feats academically?
First, I would say wanting to achieve it is already a step in the right direction. So, from there work hard and pray hard! To cap it all, please in whatever situation you find yourself, try to enjoy what you do. I never wanted to study math. I wanted to be an engineer. But I embraced my decision to accept that admission at the time and made sure to put effort. So, we should strive to at least find a tiny bit of passion in what we do. That is what would keep us going when the challenges surface.
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