24 year-old Ebarumeifo Obaseki, emerged as the best graduating student from the Department of Petroleum Engineering, University of Benin, Edo State, with a 4.737 CGPA in the 2013/2014 academic session. He disclosed to our correspondent about some of the choices that helped him to excel
How easy was it graduating with a first class?
Academically, I would say it was not that difficult. What was required was consistency and determination to get it. I believe once a student sets his academic goals and puts in efforts towards achieving them, the whole universe conspires to help him attain it. By God’s grace, I had above 4.5 GPA all through my five-year programme, although my 200 Level was very stressful because of the Mechanical drawing and other Mechanical courses that required long hours of intensive study. The drawings could be challenging if you did not do Technical Drawing in your secondary school, just as I didn’t, and it was very easy for my friends who did it. Also, the early years in school were stressful for me financially and emotionally. I lost my mum two weeks to resumption for my first year in UNIBEN and for the first month of my resumption, I could not really settle down for work. In my 200L, my dad also had an issue with his job. So, those were trying periods for me. But thank God I still performed excellently. I had 14 As and three Bs and I had 4.85GPA at the end of that session. It was not easy focusing on my studies them but thanks to my friends who always dragged me to the library. The financial challenges in my first and second years were also very strong but respite came for me when I was awarded the Petroleum Trust Development Fund undergraduate scholarship.
What was the scholarship about?
PTDF undergraduate scholarship is mainly for selected disciplines, such as engineering, and we wrote the aptitude test in 200L. It was a negative kind of exam where one’s score would be deducted for a wrong answer. So, I did it and I passed. The scholarship covered my tuition, accommodation, school fees and final year project, and it ran from that 200L till graduation. Everything was about N200,000 per session, and that helped me a lot, considering the challenges I had with my finances. Before then, there were times I could not eat two meals in a day.
Did you have any difficulty in securing admission into the university?
It was a bit tasking. I was not admitted into the Department of Petroleum Engineering in the University of Lagos with the first UTME that I wrote while in SS3, even though I scored 65 while the cut-off mark for Petroleum Engineering was about 71 that year. One of my uncles asked me to pick the change of course form but I declined because all I wanted to study was petroleum engineering. I got admission into the University of Benin with my second UTME. I had always wanted to be an engineer or a scientist right from my JSS3, although some of my close relatives and science teachers wanted me to study Medicine because of my academic performance and personality. I read about some people’s works in the oil and gas industry that inspired me, such as John Rockefeller and Dr. Edmund Daukoru, even though they were not petroleum engineers, they played vital roles in shaping the modern petroleum industry.
What is the course, Petroleum Engineering, about?
Petroleum engineering in its simple form is basically applying the principle of science and technology to search for hydrocarbon (crude oil and gas) accumulation (deposit) beneath the earth surface, called reservoir, and then determine the best method to optimally get these hydrocarbon resources to the earth surface. Basically for processing at facilities such as flow stations, gas processing plants and finally to refineries to get valuable products such as Premium Motor Spirit(petrol), diesel, Liquefied Natural Gas, etc. The process entails exploration and exploitation/production. It is a very challenging field that requires innovative thinking to optimise these God-given resources located thousands of feet under the ground under great pressure and temperature. That is my simple summary of what petroleum engineering is about. It has been a wonderful experience especially during my Industrial Training.
What was it about your IT?
I did my IT with Shell Petroleum Development Company in Port Harcourt and I was posted to the department where I had real practical experience. I saw the things we were taught in class live because it was a real field work, such as going to the flow station, gathering plant, the gas processing plant. In fact, it was a wonderful experience. I got to see everything I had been taught in class for four years. I was also offered an internship position in another multinational company in Lagos then but because of the proximity, I chose the one in Port Harcourt.
Some people feel the reason why people study the course these days is because it is lucrative. What attracted you to it?
It is quite funny to say, honestly. I never knew how popular or lucrative the course was while I was choosing it. I was attracted to it because petroleum is the major product the Nigerian economy depends on. I saw it as an opportunity to help produce what my country and the world at large need to meet its energy demand.
Did you ever plan to graduate with a first class?
Yes, I had always wanted to graduate with a first class, because I believe in the pursuit of excellence since my secondary school days. I was more interested in getting A’s in every course I offered as compared to getting a first class.
Were there things you did differently from others that helped you?
I maintained a positive attitude towards my studies, I read motivational and inspirational books as much as my engineering books. I bought more textbooks for every course than I needed. I also showed so much humility and respect for my lecturers and colleagues to avoid any form of victimisation. I was reading newspapers, journals, articles and books on other disciplines. I made friends with people of like character and disposition, in terms of reading partners and study team, and I was always writing down my academic goals before any semester began.
What was your performance like in your previous schools?
I was always among the top three then. It was an over-populated public school such that we barely had enough chairs in our classrooms. The population was so much that I was in JSS 1M. Because of crisis among students, the school was closed down twice by the state government, but I thank God I joined the literary and debating club to develop myself and represented the school in some major competitions. I ended up graduating as the overall best student in the Junior Secondary Certificate Examination in my set. Passing my Senior School Certificate Examination was easy; I wrote General Certificate Examination while in SS2 and I passed all my papers with four distinctions. When I wrote the West African Senior School Certificate Examination in SS3, my result was seized, together with those of some of my classmates. When it was eventually released, I passed all my papers with some distinctions but my geography was cancelled. I was the overall best student and the best science student.
What was your typical day like?
I lived a triangular kind of life. Mainly, my movement revolved around class, hostel and church, though I was involved in some social activities such as event planning, and I was both an executive in my department and my church fellowship. I was the Technical Director of my fellowship and an executive in the Society of Petroleum Engineers, UNIBEN chapter. I invested about six hours on my academic books and two hours on non-academic books daily and I made sure I slept for six hours. I believe sleep is necessary for assimilation.
Have you ever been discouraged by the unemployment challenge in Nigeria?
Not exactly. I believe it is a challenge that is surmountable with dedication and hard work. The advantage I think engineering has over other courses is that you are trained to be able to adapt engineering principles to solve problems in almost every aspect of life. As a result of industrialisation and advancement in technology, engineers are needed in every aspect of the society.
How did you cope with gestures from females?
I was lucky to have just few ladies in my class, I set my boundaries from the start and I maintained a strictly academic friendship with them. Some of my friends used to make jest of me that I was not sharp but I was used to it right from my secondary school days, so it was not a big deal.
What were your happiest and most embarrassing moments in school?
The most embarrassing moment was the day I was sent out of the lecture room for dosing while lecture was going on. On the other hand, I had many happy moments. Very notable ones were the day my friend called to tell me I won the PTDF scholarship coupled with scoring the highest in UNIBEN, and the second one was the opportunity I had to choose to do my Industrial Training in two multinational oil companies.
What are your aspirations in life?
My aspiration in life is to be a source of motivation to kids from poor financial background and ghetto environment like myself. To help them see that if they can believe in the beauty of their dreams, they can achieve much more than I have done.
Were you told stories about how difficult it could be to have a first class?
There were countless stories to scare me and my friends, considering UNIBEN’s engineering first year policy, which was very strict. Any student who fails more than six units credit would repeat 100L (i.e probation) and such student risks being sent out of the faculty if he/she fails any course while on probation. That fear of ‘probation’ helped drive me and my friends to rigorously pursue academic excellence.
What is your advice to students?
They should have a big picture of what they want to graduate with. Students should always write down their academic goals for every semester or session, and they should invest their time to persistently pursue their goals and maintain a positive attitude towards them until total success is achieved. I encourage them to go beyond reading to pass exams to reading wide to become subject matter experts in their fields. With these, the sky is their starting point.
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