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I started being intentional about my education in secondary school – Agbo, UNN best graduating student

Emerging with a 4.90/5.00 CGPA, Jennifer Agbo graduated as the best student of the faculty of social sciences and the department of economics at the UNN.
Jennifer Agbo
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Jennifer Agbo is the best graduating student of the faculty of social sciences and the department of economics at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka (UNN). She speaks with Edugist on her education background, interest in data analysis and business development, and her big dreams of working in finance in the global scene. Excerpts:

Please share with Edugist, a little about yourself and your background.

Thank you for having me. I recently emerged as the best graduating student of the faculty of social sciences, and the department of economics from the University of Nigeria, Nsukka (UNN). I reside in Awka, Anambra state. My primary education was not a memorable experience as I attended about 4 different primary schools, due to parental financial struggle. For my secondary education, I attended St. John of God Secondary School, a missionary school based in Awka. 

What do you enjoy most about your education? What aspects of your field of study intrigued you the most?

I started being intentional about my education in secondary school. That was when I adopted a system that actually worked for me. My first UTME didn’t turn out so well so before sitting for another, I engaged in a series of activities like learning to be computer literate and taking courses in Microsoft Office packages, including running a small-scale business to pay for the activities. During my time in school, I became interested in data analysis. I enjoy it so much. I took courses and completed projects on the subject. I also led some groups in research, such as the policy analysis research group, which is a student research organisation in my school.

Additionally, I taught at various points in time. I have also completed internships at KPMG, as well as virtual internships at EY and other companies in different countries. My main interests lie in business development and strategy, and I enjoy using data analytics and economic knowledge to suggest strategies for business growth and development.

Take us through your journey in school.

I got admitted to the UNN in 2017 on the merit admission list, that was after sitting for my second UTME. I couldn’t resume immediately due to financial constraints. After about 2 months, I resumed and sped up my study to meet up. I took tutorial classes to teach friends and colleagues. My cumulative grade point average (CGPA) for my first year was 4.7 out of a possible 5.0. 

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Jennifer Agbo

This motivated me but I also came to realise that education alone is not sufficient. I needed to back my grades up with industry-related skills, so I started joining student groups, especially those that align with my data analytics. I knew not to do anything like that during my first year because it might take me out of my goals so it was during my second year I started to join groups. I joined policy analysis and research group, an economics research organisation for students. We performed economic models, downloaded and analysed data, drove insights and recommended actionable strategies. All these helped me in my academics because they were not taught in class.

Eventually I became the director of research in my third year, and the rest is history. I joined about six organisations, merging it with my studies. And I was able to balance everything I was doing. I was just invested in gaining extra skills. Interesting fact I must point out about my educational success is the kind of friends I kept. My friends were the greatest contributing factor to my success because even when I felt down or facing challenges, they encouraged me to persevere.

What was your most challenging period on campus and how did you deal with it?

One clear challenging period I had on campus was during my second year when I lost my brother about two weeks to exams. I had to travel home and return to campus within just a week to start preparing for my exams. During that period I felt everything I had built would go in vain. 

In the end, my CGPA was even better than the previous one but it was a challenging moment for me because I had a lot going through my mind, both emotional and financial. I was also lagging behind in classes and lectures, but I pushed through. 

How different do you think your experience would have been if you attended a private university?

If I attended a private university, I feel things would be easier to achieve because in fact, we struggle for everything, everytime in the public university. You have to keep on proving yourself. But when I asked my friends in private university, I noticed that they get a lot of things easily. They can easily access resources and materials they need. Their lectures are very simple and easy to attend. In public university, we’re always fighting and struggling to get those little things. 

However, I saw the struggle from a positive perspective because it taught me how to be resilient and persistent and to set a goal and try to achieve it no matter the hindrances. So I feel if I had gone to a private university, I might not have learned how to be consistent, resilient or even proactive.

Has economics always been what you wanted to study?

Yes. Although when I was little, I didn’t know anything about economics. The courses I knew were accounting and banking and finance, but I always told people I wanted to be in the financial sector. Getting to secondary school, I learnt about economics and my goal shifted to studying economics alone. This was because I was largely interested in mathematics and government. So I sought a course that combines both and still leaves me in the financial sector. Upon researching, I found out that economics can do that for me since it integrates mathematics, government and finance so well. It has been my goal since then.

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Do you have any role models you look up to in Economics?

Yes. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala. I got to know her when I was 8 years old because we were always told in school that she was the minister of finance at the time.

Impressive. Share your thoughts about the culture of excellence, or the lack thereof, among Nigerian graduates.

Given recent events, ASUU strike and COVID-19, among others, I would say the culture of excellence is seriously lacking. I know how I struggled to keep abreast with recent information and modern trends regarding my course of study. If you check universities, there are so many students who just read to pass without really understanding course contents. So it is telling among graduates, and is getting worse. 

For instance, in my university, current undergraduates just returned from a six-week break. And they’re moving straight to sit exams. What exactly did they learn? Most of them just sit the exams and leave the university. In the end, they become unemployable since they lack relevant skills. It’s almost as if the situation cannot be helped, because to an extent, it is really not the students’ fault. On the other hand, I feel some students are trying their best to stay on the path to greatness by combining what they learn with real life applications, mostly tech skills lately.

Students and graduates can help themselves by seeking out skills through online courses even if it’s not related to their coursework, so far they find it enjoyable. This helps them have a direction after school.

Has the structure of your home and family dynamics influenced your success in any way?

I remember in my LinkedIn post, I mentioned that my biggest motivation is my family. Growing up, I can’t really remember lacking anything but all of a sudden, things changed. So ever since, I’ve always had the intention of making things right, easing the burden on my parents, and ensuring nothing stops my younger siblings from attending any level of education they so desire.

Have you been a recipient of any scholarship?

Yes, but not major scholarships, rather from individuals. Sometimes it comes as gifts. When I tried to apply when I got to know about university scholarships, I was already in my third year and most scholarships give preference to first and second year students. Another thing is, honestly, most scholarships are for those in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). So economics unfortunately is usually less included. However, I tried many times, it just didn’t work. 

For students who aspire to graduate with outstanding grades like yours, what would you advise them? 

A lot of students always reach out to ask for guidance on the best way to achieve good grades. My first advice is usually: start in your first year because if you don’t get the foundation right, you may experience setbacks and struggle later. Then watch the kind of friends you keep. Attend lectures and observe your lecturers. Know that lecturers see things from different perspectives so answer exam questions from their perspective. You can only know this if you attend classes. Then don’t be a person who went to the university just for high grades, look out for internships, connect and network with people and always pray to God. 

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After your bachelor’s degree, what next?

I have returned to my projects and courses on data analysis. Very soon, I will be mobilised for the National Youth Service Corps. I intend to work in a research organisation. During this period, I plan to write my standardised tests, prepare statements of purpose, get my academic references and other important documentation. I may work in the industry but for a maximum of two years after which I will be going for my postgraduate studies, either an economics master’s degree programme in the United Kingdom or a direct PhD programme in the United States.

My long-term goal is to work with the World Bank, International Monetary Fund (IMF), World Trade Organisation (WTO), or any other international organisations focusing on economics and finance.

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1 year ago

I pray I make first class.

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