One of the two best graduating students at the Lagos State University, Ojo in the 2017/2018 academic session was 24-year-old Karen Enumah. She studied Mathematics and graduated with 4.88/5.00 CGPA. In this interview with TUNDE AJAJA, she talks about her success and her thoughts about the future
Would you say graduating with a first-class degree was an easy task?
Accomplishments are easy to describe when achieved, but the process taken, the determination needed and the persistence required cannot be described; it can only be experienced. I wouldn’t say it was an easy process, because it wasn’t, but it was not impossible either. I didn’t know I would be the overall best student in my set, even though I made sure to be the best I could possibly be no matter what the outcome would be. However, I worked hard, hence I wasn’t so surprised; although, there was still an element of surprise.
Two of you emerged as the overall best, how does that make you feel?
Success in whatever form is a beautiful thing, so I’m happy for the two of us. Soon after our final results were out, I envisaged that my result would be one of the best results. So when it was announced I wasn’t so surprised but nonetheless, I was filled with amazement. Interestingly, when I got into the university, I didn’t have everything planned out but I knew I wanted to be the best I could possibly be, whether this meant being the best graduating student or not. And I thank God for making it happen.
When did you start having results that could make you graduate with a first-class degree?
From the first semester of my first year, and I never turned back, even though it didn’t happen without some potential distractions. I remember being in a hall in my first year and students were having a conversation about how impossible it was to graduate with a first-class degree. I was never part of the discussion but it was discouraging, especially since I hadn’t even taken my first exam. However, I believe that when you are determined, such comments won’t distract you. The first year is always a tricky one. At that point, one has no idea of what lies ahead and everyone is still filled with the euphoria of gaining admission into the institution. It is a time of great uncertainty for some, while for some, those uncertainties push them to give their best, which was the case for me. When it comes to my method of studying, I was quite uncertain about what approach to use, but over time it became clearer what worked and what would not work. The issue of friendship also came into play. In that first year, we were all thrilled with the possibilities of unending friendships, and that was a form of distraction on its own. So, reasonably, there are issues to contend with in the first year, but students should know that good foundation is key.
Were there times you almost gave up on the goal to be the best you could be in school?
Many times, I felt like giving up on the goal but what kept me going at that time were love for learning, hunger for success and love for my family. There were times in the library that I would stare endlessly at a particular page on a textbook trying to understand a concept. Or at midnight, while everyone was asleep, I would be awake trying to find a solution to a particular problem, using candlelight to read since I had no electricity in my place.
How come you didn’t have power supply?
I actually lived with my mum as an undergraduate and sometime in my second year, that was around 2015/2016, power supply to our house was disconnected. So, from that moment, I read using candle light till I graduated, and even till now, we have not been reconnected and the bills have kept piling up despite the fact that we don’t have electricity. I’m not from a rich home so you would understand what I mean. But I thank God that it didn’t stop me from achieving my goal even though I must admit that it wasn’t easy reading with candle light in this modern age. Sometimes, it seems some things are just beyond us.
Did your background affect your academic performance in any way?
Yes, I actually had some delay in my admission process because of funds. From my primary school days, I have always performed exceptionally, though not without its ups and downs and I learnt early enough that being intelligent isn’t enough, one has to be diligent. I passed my West African Senior School Certificate Examination in one sitting in 2011 and all the times I took the Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination, my results were good. I got admission in 2013, but I turned it down due to financial challenges. I was constrained to put mine on hold because my sister also got admission that same year and there was no adequate fund to send both of us to school at the same time. We actually borrowed money to purchase my Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination form. In 2014, I got admission again and that was when I finally resumed in school. I faced a lot of financial challenges; hence, paying school fees wasn’t an easy task. Getting textbooks wasn’t always easy; I borrowed books from friends in my early days and the university library was of great help.
When your parents heard that you still emerged as the overall best in your set despite all that, how did they receive the news?
My parents and sister weren’t so surprised when they heard the news because they knew how hard I worked. They have always known me to be someone who is diligent and they were first-hand witnesses to my work and study ethics. So, they knew it was deserved.
Did you win any scholarship throughout?
Yes, I won the University Scholars Awards consecutively for three years and that was quite encouraging and helpful.
From your own experience, what do you think students who want to be excellent should pay attention to?
They should pay attention to themselves because excellence comes from within. Don’t go along with the crowd, set clearly defined goals and don’t be afraid to engage in a healthy competition for the top position. Don’t be too concerned about recognition, rather be absorbed in self-improvement. Overall, I would tie my excellence to God’s support because without His help, one’s effort is useless; hard work, focus and consistency. And so, I encourage students to try and adopt that too.
What informed the attraction to mathematics?
I have always been someone with a lot of interests. I could have as well been a writer or a fashion designer. I have never been monotonous when it comes to choosing a career path. When going to LASU, I chose to study mathematics because it was one of my many areas of interest. I have observed that a number of students have more concern about passing exams than getting an in-depth understanding of their area of study, which should not be so. Studying simply to pass exams is a wrong approach to learning, rather study to understand, which is what the whole process is all about. Also, I believe in having a good foundation. I wouldn’t say mathematics in itself is easy, but a good foundation helped a lot, and I believe it is the same thing for other courses. I implore students to do all they can to start strongly.
For some students who would like to know the job prospects of the course, what can you share with them?
Mathematics is one of those few courses that offer a flexible approach to choosing a lifelong career. Job prospects include being a data analyst, operation analyst, mathematician, investment analyst, teacher, software engineer, statistician, insurance underwriter, operational researcher, etc. The beautiful thing about mathematics is that it opens up a whole array of options.
How would you have felt if you hadn’t graduated with a first-class degree?
I wouldn’t have felt bad because I knew I had put in my best. I believe it’s not about graduating with a first-class degree, but about constant self-improvement.
Would you have felt the same way if you hadn’t emerged as the overall best?
I do enjoy being recognised for my efforts, however, the whole process was not to bear a certain title but to be the best version of myself. Thus if that comes with the honour of being the overall best graduating student, then it becomes even better, however if not, it still would have been acceptable.
Did you have people you looked up to (like mentors) that inspired you?
Yes, firstly, my mum, a strong woman who gave me the inspiration needed to keep up the efforts. Secondly, I am highly inspired by Mrs Aminat Afinju, the Yeye Oge of Akesan, for her active engagement in giving girls and women around her community a voice.
LASU is socially inclined; were you also sociable or you were always reading?
Everyone has some characteristics peculiar to them no matter their environment. I’m an introvert, even though I describe myself as a vocal introvert. Hence, I engaged in social activities but at a moderate level.
Were there friends who felt you were too serious with your studies?
I worked hard, but I tried to be effortless about it. Nonetheless, some friends at some occasions always jokingly said things along that line. I guess I just did my thing. When I didn’t have classes, I wouldn’t show up in school unless I needed to use the library. I did not really participate in study groups as I enjoyed studying in isolation. I also enjoyed reading at night as I felt my level of assimilation was at its peak at this time. I believe it’s best to follow what works for you.
What fond memories of your growing up do you still have?
My grandfather was a headmaster and he had lots of books in his personal library. I enjoyed reading them when I visited him, especially since I learnt to read at a very young age.
What are your aspirations?
I aspire to attain greater heights. I wish to obtain a master’s and doctoral degrees in mathematics from a good institution abroad.
Where would you like to work?
Academia or any environment where I can fully integrate, enhance and use my mathematical skills to make crucial impacts.
Your course is one of STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) education, how do you plan to maximise that?
I’m open to and interested in opportunities open to people in these disciplines. I trust that it would bring to reality my dreams of excelling in mathematics and representing Nigeria at a global stage.
source: from punch