Oyeleke Oyetunji, 21, graduated with 4.90 from the Department of Mechanical Engineering, Landmark University in Omu-Aran, Kwara State, to emerge as the overall best student of the institution in the 2015/2016 academic session. He tells TUNDE AJAJA, in this interview, what students can do differently to have excellent result
From your experience, what are the basic ingredients to be excellent in academics?
I think students should have the right mentality to education, because mentality is the key to productivity. Education is for empowerment, but some students just go to school because everyone is going and they just want to pass exam, get out of the system and have a certificate to say they are learned and literate. There has to be genuine interest in it, which I think is the most important step. Then commitment; what you put in is what you get. In other words, to be excellent, they have to put in more effort, hard work and the kind of commitment that can drive them to greater heights of success.
Do we then say the lack of these are the reasons students fail?
I think fundamentally it comes down to lack of preparation, having poor mindset towards education in general and lack of understanding about the reason for being in school. Like I said, the primary reason for being in school should be to be empowered, not to pass exam. That is why I can attribute my success to having the right attitude about education, hard work and remaining committed to my studies, while also committing everything into God’s hands because every good thing comes from Him.
Was your first-class honour a product of a plan or it was just hard work?
When I got admission, I never specifically planned towards a first class. I just wanted to give my education the very best of my efforts, and if that culminated in a first class, I would take it, and if it had resulted in a second class upper, it would have been a little disappointing. But if I was sure that was what my ability could deliver, I would take it. About being the overall best, I don’t think anyone can plan to be the best graduating student, you can only put in the effort and remain committed to your studies. So I didn’t plan it; it happened by providence.
But with the number of mechanical engineering students, including those who made first class, that are graduated every year, why is it that Nigeria, with its bundles of talents, has not been able to produce machines and equipment?
I think there are several issues with the practice of engineering in Nigeria, you talk of us designing and making machines and equipment which is good, but I think the technical exposure in schools is not enough. I’m saying that I’m not very happy with the technical aspect of engineering I was exposed to. I go online and see the projects that engineering students are carrying out all over the world and the technical level of training they are exposed to in schools and I am not too happy and even wished for more like that. The equipment in most schools here are outdated and are no longer relevant to what is taught theoretically, so students can’t practicalise in the workshops, because the bulk of what is taught is theoretical. Also, in terms of utilisation of the talents, engineering as a field can be very expensive, in terms of design and manufacturing, and in most foreign countries, it is driven by the government or requires the heavy investment from the private sector. Nigeria doesn’t meet this standard and our economy is not technologically oriented, and there are not many manufacturing firms as there should be for design and manufacturing to grow. So, those are the issues.
What made you to choose the course?
Actually, my dream as a child was to be an engineer. I always had this curiosity and I enjoyed dismantling gadgets; seeing how they work and what makes them work, and then I would assemble them again. So, it was my choice to study mechanical engineering. My parents did advise me and put me through, ensured my priorities and reasons for the decision were right but ultimately it was my choice. I enjoyed the technicality of the course; learning new things, reading about them and solving technical problems in any area, including thermodynamics and fluid transfer. Understanding is key, so you must fully understand those things to break them down. I enjoy the calculations, so I found those that didn’t have calculations but mainly notes more challenging. I have always preferred technical readings and calculations. Some people do think the course is difficult but I don’t think any course is difficult. Some are just more challenging and demanding, but with the right attitude, mentality and effort, one can emerge successful. I never felt mechanical engineering as a field of study was difficult. I also know people complain about engineering drawing, but for me, it was one of my strong points in secondary school even before I got to the university. In fact, the two courses I was considering when I wanted to choose a course were mechanical engineering and architecture, both of which had drawing. So, it was not a problem for me. That is why students should identify their strength and focus on that.
What was your reading schedule like?
Well, some said I read too much, but I always placed so much interest in understanding what I was reading and I always tried to gain knowledge, and not reading to pass exams. I also taught others, which bolstered my own understanding. That helped too. I think there were people who read more than I did, people I met and left in the library. That means students need to understand what works for them and not compare themselves with others.
Some people would have thought you had read throughout to have a first class. What was your reading schedule like?
I spent good time reading. During the week, I focused mainly on assignments and going over what had been taught that day or what I previously read due to the stress of the weekly activities. On weekends, I read new topics and learnt new things. One thing I think people underestimate is going to class, and that helps a lot to understand many things. I also made good use of the library and I think the security men and some librarians got to know my face, but I wasn’t the only one. And my days in school were not just about reading; I was not overly social but I enjoyed the company of friends. I wish I was more social, but I had to make some sacrifices to focus more on the academics. During my leisure, if I wasn’t resting, I could be with my friends or be watching a movie or playing game. Apart from receiving some service awards from university associations that I was a member of, I played in some football tournaments. So, I tried to balance it. My belief is that nothing good comes easy; everything good requires effort, commitment and some forms of sacrifice, so it wasn’t easy or straightforward but I was able to make first class since the alpha semester in my first year.
Do you have a record of such performance in your previous schools?
Yes in both primary and secondary schools, I was always at the top end of the class, not necessarily the top itself, in spite of the fact that I served in student leadership at both levels. I worked hard and drove myself to excellence. I was never promised anything as a reward for good performance, even during my primary and secondary education. I have a drive to always give my best to whatever it is I’m doing, and I try to be the best at it. My two elder sisters excelled in school so I think there was this little expectation and pressure to keep up the pace and trend.
What was the most extreme thing you ever did to attain your goal as an undergraduate?
I think during exam periods for some challenging courses, one might have to go through sleepless nights to satisfactorily cover the course. And at times in the daytime during exam periods, I did forget to eat. It was that demanding. Two of us ended up having first class.
Did you miss anything about what obtains in public schools?
To be honest, at times some rules could be a bit tiresome, so I think yes, in public schools students are free to live as they please, but keep in mind the rules are to check us and keep us in line, so in some cases the rules were needed and welcome. That, coupled with the fact that there are less distractions are part of the reasons people say it is easier to have first class in private university than in public. We also cannot but mention the fact that absence of strike action, availability of certain facilities, more serene learning environment and knowing that lecturers don’t take advantage of students all make a difference.
What is your view about having mentors?
I think everyone needs mentors, maybe those you aspire to be like or just like certain key traits and characters in them. It helps to keep you in check and you pick up so many things from their personalities and lives that influence you positively.
What kind of company would you like to work with?
I would like to work somewhere where I can make a meaningful contribution and make a mark, I don’t just want to work for money, many of my friends have highlighted big multinationals like some oil companies for the wage package and all that which is good, but anywhere I’m not making a meaningful contribution I won’t be fulfilled, regardless of the money.
What are your aspirations in the short and long run?
Well, I’m not yet a finished product, my aspirations in the short term is to continue to develop myself mentally, spiritually and socially, by continuing to further my educational pursuits, become more competent as an engineer, and in the long term, identify and get in line with my career and focus on making the most out of it and contribute to the society. I really love engineering and I see myself going further in it.
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