Olubunmi Ogunleye, 23, emerged as the best graduating student of the Osun State University in the 2018/2019 academic session, having scored a 4.85 CGPA. He shares with TUNDE AJAJA his academic journey
It must have felt good to emerge as the best graduating student in your set. Did you know you were leading your set all along or was it a surprise?
I didn’t see it coming because my school has six campuses with various colleges and faculties offering a range of courses, and excellent students with resourceful minds and creative thinking. So, I didn’t imagine I could top my set, especially because I didn’t plan towards graduating with a first-class degree when I gained admission. I only wanted to have good results. My parents and siblings had already told me that if I didn’t do well, I would be sent back home, so I needed to do everything to avoid that shame and so, I had to buckle down. My parents knew I was committed to my studies; after all, I topped my class from primary school to secondary school, even though I never really liked reading.
So, I would say they instilled that fear in me because they wanted me to take my studies seriously. Interestingly, at the end of my first semester, I was surprised I made a first-class GPA. That was when I decided to keep working hard to maintain it. It wasn’t an easy task. There were sleepless nights, going out of my comfort zone to study beyond what was taught in class, since lecturers only give the basics and expect you to be able to tackle complex problems, especially in a complex and broad course like civil engineering. So, it was a challenging adventure, but I’m glad it ended well.
You once said you had a passion for engineering and technology. Do you still remember what triggered that interest when you were younger?
Where I grew up, most of the notable residents who were comfortable were engineers. And at that young age, ensuring that I became very successful was my first drive, and since then, I have remained resolute in my belief. After that, I became interested in civil engineering when I started seeing some infrastructural projects like the Third Mainland Bridge, jetties, dams, high-rise buildings, etc. They fascinated me and I wanted to learn how those massive structures were designed and constructed. Also, at a young age, I had people I looked up to who told me I could earn a lot as a civil engineer if I could get projects to handle. So, passion coupled with the drive to be successful led me to civil engineering. Thankfully, my parents provided all I needed at every stage and that made the journey more seamless.
Were you the type to read at every given opportunity?
Interestingly, I wasn’t. As an undergraduate, I didn’t read every day because I was involved in so many activities, and so, I didn’t really have time to read every day. The world has changed, and so, people should no longer be fixated on one thing; there is beauty and lots of gain in being engaged in different things. In addition to my schoolwork, I had interest in music and several other things. I was an instrumentalist and I went for different church programmes and concerts. However, because I had a passion for engineering, it was quite easy for me to understand basic engineering and mathematical principles. Based on that interest, it never took me long to understand concepts and what I was taught whenever I picked up my books to read. I had friends who would come to my hostel because they thought I read a lot. Anytime they came, we would have casual conversations and sleep off, even when we had examinations the next day. When results came out, I would do better. I would say my interest in the course helped, so I never really stressed myself, neither did I struggle to understand because I had a passion for what I was studying. I also had a good foundation that made me understand concepts easily. Also, for me, instead of going for tutorials or night classes, I preferred reading in my hostel till I slept off. I remember some of my friends started calling me some funny names because they thought I was using some spiritual powers. All I can say is that my passion for the course helped and I put in a lot of effort anytime I had to read. I also didn’t hesitate to run to my classmates to get explanations for some concepts I didn’t fully understand.
Perhaps when things got serious and a bit tough, were there times you almost gave up on pursuing a first-class degree?
Yes, there were times I wanted to give up. When I got to my fourth year and the pressure from school was getting too much, I found it a little difficult to balance academic work with other things. I almost gave up and because I had a strong first-class CGPA, I said, at worst, I would still graduate with a strong second-class upper degree, but I didn’t. My parents were teachers and they always told me to do better rather than be comfortable with little.
With your result, did you win any award or scholarship while in school?
No, I didn’t win any scholarship, even though I applied for some. But I have not given up, because I’m currently applying for various scholarships for my postgraduate programme. However, I won several awards from bodies like the Nigerian Institute of Civil Engineers and Nigerian Institute of Structural Engineers, among others.
What do you find most interesting about civil engineering?
It is a very broad discipline, but what interests me most is that the goal of civil engineering is simply to make life easier for man. Human beings want shelter; the civil engineers provide us with houses. You want to move from one place to another; we help design and construct the roads, plan the transportation network and the type of transportation. You want your country to develop; you need infrastructure to be put in place and that is the work of the civil engineer. You want a clean and conducive environment; it is still the work of a civil engineer to design the structures and facilities. The civil engineer is also involved in the supply of clean potable water, which is one of the basic services. Thus, civil engineering is a crucial part of everyday life and there are other parts that time won’t allow me to mention.
You said you are the co-founder of SamcomEngineering, a growing civil/structural engineering firm. Could you tell us more about this and what inspired the idea?
The thirst to be independent inspired the idea. We all know there are no jobs for graduates and I never really wanted to work for anybody, so I decided to acquire certain skills and experience by working with other firms. Then, I started a structural firm with my brother, who is also a civil engineer. So far, we get little jobs and it keeps growing till we get to our desired level. My dream for the company is for it to provide future solutions to complex engineering problems and be at the forefront of the engineering profession in Nigeria and beyond.
You said you were also interested in data science. What motivated that?
As we all know, the world is changing and technology is advancing. Artificial intelligence is taking over the world and to meet up with the pace at which the world is fast changing; one must acquire a new set of skills to be able to fit into society. I developed interest in data science because everything about the world now is data. Data is being collected and stored on a day-to-day basis, but basically how to analyse and manage the data to bring meaningful results and expected development to our present-day society has been the problem over the years. That is why I have developed interest in this aspect to be able to obtain, arrange, and analyse data and come up with meaningful information and predictions for the development of our society.
You said you were also interested in the oil and gas sector, particularly in the areas of Oil and Gas Servicing, Structural Designs in Oil and Gas, Rope Assess, Health, Safety and Environment and many more. Could you tell us more about this?
Oil and gas is a really broad field and even though I haven’t been privileged to work in that sector, I have great interest in a lot of engineering activities going on there. I have read a few publications about Non-Destructive Testing, Rope Assess and Structural Engineering in Oil and Gas, and they really fascinate me – how those gigantic structures are designed by the structural engineers, how Non-Destructive Testing and other tests are carried out and the use of rope assess for rig activities.
It’s the season of Nigeria’s 60th independence anniversary. If you look at the built environment, how much has the country improved?
When comparing technologies of other countries like China, Japan, UAE, Singapore and many others with Nigeria, we could say Nigeria is still struggling and this is as a result of several factors. It’s not like we don’t have qualified professionals who could handle such jobs, but the current problems Nigeria is facing haven’t allowed those technologies to thrive.
Why did you opt for the structural arm of the course, instead of roads/highway?
I opted for structure because it forms the backbone of every other aspect of civil engineering. A structural engineer’s task is so broad. We also do the structural design of pavements and bridges, etc. No civil engineering project can be undertaken without the contribution of a structural engineer and this is what made me develop so much interest in this field.
For years, Nigeria has had a lot of building collapse incidents. What do you think could be done to address this perennial problem?
There are a number of factors that could cause building collapse. Only situational investigation can determine the particular cause of a building collapse, so the best way to address this problem is to do the right thing; adhere strictly to standards and specifications, avoid shortcuts and there should be proper supervision and enforcement of relevant rules. I believe this would help.
How would you have felt if you had not graduated with a first-class degree?
I wouldn’t have felt bad because I was more concerned about the knowledge I was acquiring, rather than the grades and I can proudly say I got the knowledge. The grades came as a reward for the great knowledge I acquired.
Some people believe that one must have earned very good results in previous schools to graduate with a first-class degree. What was your performance like before you got to university?
I don’t believe in the school of thought that one must have good results before going to university. Although I graduated as the best student in my secondary school and my O level was good, when I took the Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination, I scored 197, which I consider low and I never thought I could gain admission. So, previous academic performance should not stop anyone from being the best in the higher institution.
Distraction is a major problem for undergraduates, what were the things you did or avoided to make sure you were not distracted?
I think distraction is likely a product of the kind of friends one keeps, and once you mingle with the wrong set of friends from the beginning, it may be really difficult to retrace your steps. Basically, what I did was that, immediately I got into school, I identified the right people to mix with. Good friends could be a good form of checks and balances but bad friends would distract you and they would keep you busy without you realising it.
Were you in a relationship or that was a form of distraction you had to avoid?
Yes, I was in a relationship in school, but when I felt it was taking its toll on my studies and my other activities, I had to let it go. So, a relationship may or may not be a distraction; it depends on how one is able to handle it.
People have repeatedly lamented the state of the education sector. As a product of that system, what would be your recommendations to the government?
The government and concerned stakeholders need to look into the quality of education. Also, it’s high time schools started teaching students to be independent, instead of teaching them to just aim for good grades to be able to get good jobs that are not available. The curriculum should be designed to teach entrepreneurship, so we can create jobs and wealth. I also want to advise students not to limit themselves to what is being taught in schools. In addition, I realised that it’s helpful when students study the course they have a passion for. That way, those who struggle may not find things difficult.
What are your aspirations?
My aspirations are to become one of the greatest structural engineers, providing solutions to complex engineering problems and become an independent consultant to private individuals and government. I also want to be at the forefront of engineering research and come up with new innovations that would help improve the development of my country and society at large. I would also like to be a mentor and teacher to the younger generation of engineers to come and help them fit into the profession.
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