With a 4.94 CGPA, Oritsegbugbemi Makpokpomi emerged the second best graduating student for the 2020 academic session at Covenant University, Ota, Ogun State, where she studied computer science.
In this interview with , the software developer and machine learning engineer speaks on her vision to impact society by applying her tech skills to solving problems in mental health.
Tell us about your family background?
I am from Jesse Town, Ethiope West Local Government of Delta State. I am the second of four children. My older sibling graduated from Covenant University while my other two siblings are currently at the school. My older sibling studied Banking & Finance at the university.
Can you give an insight into your educational background?
I went to Primarks International School, Okota, Lagos State. I had my Basic 1 to 5 there. I remember I used to top the class. I got many awards from the school and prizes from different external competitions. I was always the class prefect. I was also the school chapel prefect. I participated in sporting activities back in primary school and we went for a lot of competitions – academic and sporting.
Then I attended PowerFields College located at Egbin, Lagos State. In my secondary school class, I was always also topping the class. Most times, I was the class prefect. It was a boarding school. I used to get a lot of prizes as well. I think that was when I took an interest in ICT and computer science. I received prizes in Computer Science, Geography, Agriculture and several others.
What sparked your interest in Computer Science?
At that time, we had a computer laboratory and I was the class prefect. My class teacher was the computer science teacher for the school so I was always going to the computer laboratory to submit something for the class or for one thing or the other.
A group of my friends and I frequently visited the computer lab. The teacher started teaching us a few things, outside class, like how to use Microsoft Word, etc. With the basic knowledge I got, when I went home during the holidays, I would practise with my father’s old laptop. I would do some things with Adobe Photoshop, CorelDraw and the rest. That was what sparked my interest in Computer Science. When I wanted to apply to school, I just went for the course.
What do you find most interesting about Computer Science?
The course has several fields that one can specialise in. As a computer scientist, you can work in any firm; as a developer, you can work in any firm. Also, one thing that fascinates me about computer science is the opportunities for innovation. There is always new software or a new programming language.
Things always get updated to meet needs, to solve problems. If there is a new problem, then there can always be new technology. There is AI (Artificial Intelligence), machine learning technology, these are new technologies that are coming to the field to make lives better. That is why I like Computer Science.
What were your study patterns? Did you spend all day reading or had time to socialise?
I was involved in extracurricular activities and also spent time studying. From my primary school days, I had been into sports so when I got to the university, I was active in sports. Also, I held several positions in church.
For my department, I was the Welfare Director, I used to organise departmental meetings for 100 to 400 level students. Back to my reading habits, I read but I won’t say I over-read. One thing that helped me much was that I used to pay attention in class. I listened to understand what the lecturers were teaching so I would just go back in the evening to read my notes and jottings. I was never a night-reader so I did not stay up all night to read, I read during the day and at night, I slept. I read a lot but not for long hours.
Being a first-class graduate, what was your relationship with your peers?
I had a lot of friends in school, from my class, chapel service, sports, and social events and all but I didn’t have lots of close friends; I have just a few close friends. Most of them were my course mates and acquaintances from different activities.
What motivates you to strive for academic excellence?
My parents. They noticed I was smart academically so they always encouraged me. I remember my first year in school. I did well, they got me an iPad and promised me they were going to get me something bigger if I did better. My parents were my motivating factor, they always pushed me to do better.
From your LinkedIn profile, you have a lot of certifications, what lessons would you say you’ve learned so far acquiring all these?
Most of my certificates were obtained during the COVID-19 lockdown. I was really learning a lot. I believe there is always something new to learn, master one trade and have little knowledge of several other fields.
I have dreams and goals to have a start-up, to start up a business with some friends. I am trying to gather little knowledge from several other fields and have knowledge in my particular field. Knowledge is power and not just knowledge, you should also know how to apply knowledge.
Was there any time you ever gave up on graduating with a first-class degree?
Keeping up with the rules at Covenant University was quite tough. I had the goal in mind that I was going to graduate with a 4.9 CGPA because I had been calculating my results. But the first semester of my final year was really challenging because we forgot how to read; we were at home for a really long period for IT (Industrial Training) so there was really a short time to prepare for the examination. They had to rush us that semester. I felt like even if I didn’t graduate with a 4.9 CGPA, I could get a first-class degree of 4.7 or 4.6 CGPA at least. I had truly challenging times during that period.
The COVID period also had its own challenges; we were supposed to resume for the last semester. We just went on break for the first semester of my final year. We were supposed to resume for the second semester and then COVID happened. It was really difficult because of the way Covenant University did it, they gave us access to Coursera courses. We were taking courses from several international universities and that was where I earned most of my certifications. We were also having online courses though it was quite strange and weird. Sometimes, we had challenges with internet connection, we might not hear the lecturer and they were always giving us tests after every class.
Most times, you might not hear the lecturer very well or you were not paying attention because you were at home and something else might be taking your time or attention. So, we were always taking tests and they said we might end up taking the exams online since we already did 70% of the coursework online. I was really kind of scared because that was my final semester and you know I had been maintaining my good grades from 100 level, so I felt like if this thing happens, will I be able to read well because sometimes I didn’t even understand what the lecturer is teaching.
What would you say about the role Covenant University played in your exposure as an undergraduate?
In Covenant University, we had a start-up lab called Hebron. I had been a member of the community since my 200 level so most times during the holidays, I didn’t go home. They used to have several business boot camps and we used to go out, maybe to Google, and several other companies. Sometimes, people would come and we would pitch our start-up ideas to them; we had investors. I think being part of that community gave me exposure to several tech companies, business opportunities, and funding. I met a lot of founders, so I am a part of several start-ups from that community. We were able to do amazing things so I think the Hebron start-up was a big thing Covenant University did.
Also, in my department, we used to organise a programme; we had speakers from outside, we had CEOs from different companies who came to address us; some even shared their contacts. Most of my friends got their IT placements or maybe their current jobs through them. People met with founders of companies, network, and pitch their ideas.
If you had not studied Computer Science, what would you have studied?
If I had not studied Computer Science, I would have studied Psychology because I love that field. I love to read books about how people think– the mind, and how people operate. I love the field, I would have done something like that.
I use Quora so there was a time I signed up for a Psychology community. I kept on reading. They sent emails when there were new updates on mental and emotional well-being. I go there to read and I just love it. I think that was where my interest came from. I always look out for Psychology materials to read.
Who are your role models?
My role models are my parents, they’ve really been able to achieve a lot of things considering their backgrounds and where they are now, having four children in Covenant University. I have another role model and that is David Oyedepo, our Chancellor at Covenant University. The reason I chose him was because I have seen the way he walks with God, the love he has for God, his relationship with infrastructure, the way he thinks, and the books he reads. I have read many of his books. I like the way he thinks and the things he has achieved, he has achieved a lot.
Do you think the situation of things in Nigeria is hindering young people from optimally exploring their potential?
Yes. I believe things should be done better in the country…even our education system, there are lots of flaws in it. Nigerians need infrastructure and power supply. If these things are looked into, rebuilt and restructured, life will be better for the youths. Those who want to do business will be able to achieve a lot.The Nigerian system is just not encouraging. Sometimes I feel it’s not just made for youths or they don’t just put these things into consideration and they are not even listening.
What are your career plans?
Currently, I’m serving at a fintech company. After my service year, I definitely will travel abroad for my master’s in a computer science-related course and maybe work for some years probably as a software developer. I am a software developer and also a machine learning engineer. I’d work with several companies as a software developer and machine learning engineer, whichever opportunities are there for me. After my master’s, I will definitely start working on my start-up.
As a software engineer and machine learning engineer, what would you do differently to impact your world?
I’ve always seen technology as a tool to solve problems and make lives better. That’s the idea of my start-up though. What I will do differently with the skills I have and still gather will be basically to impact lives.
Sometimes, it’s not about the money made but the number of lives you’ve been able to impact. I have really been looking at mental health for a while, especially in this country. A lot of people are under stress, depressed; they have psychological problems and most times when you bring up these mental issues, people think you’re mad and they don’t want to speak with you. I am thinking of ways to apply my tech knowledge to improve that field.
I was even part of an NGO, Mental Health Status. I created a chatbot which I’m currently working on. It’s a chatbot that anyone can chat with. Maybe if you’re feeling sad, depressed, you can put it down on chatbot and hopefully, it can pick out how your day is going, how you are feeling. It can also help users with insightful, positive and happy codes, happy messages, and send you gifts that can brighten your mood.
What is your advice for young people, especially on academic excellence?
For academic excellence, one needs to set goals; that was what helped me. Set goals, track your progress, avoid things that can distract you and try to pay attention in class. It is good to have a definite goal in place and have plans to track the progress to know if you are doing well and if you are not doing well. You can then change your goal or strategy towards achieving that goal.
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