Nkechinyere Chidi-Ogbolu has every reason to be the pride of her parents and envy of kids. At 18, she has not only completed her Bachelor’s Degree in Chemical Engineering from Howard University, Washington, she has also been awarded a PHD scholarship to study Biomedical Engineering at the University of California. TIMOTHY ODUTOLU writes
She became the cynosure of all eyes, grabbing both local and international headline for her feat when recently, she launched her first book, “Tales of an Uber Minor in College.” She spoke about how it was travelling thousands of miles abroad without any of her parents at age 14 to pursue her dream and what motivated her to be a published teenage writer.
What is about your new book?
The new book, ‘Uber’ doesn’t refer to the taxi service. It means super- so basically a super minor in college. I started college at 14 years old, while 17 is considered a minor, 14 is VERY minor! It’s like a look into my diary for those four years. My fears, my joys, my challenges, my experiences. It’s all in there. There is also advice, from my perspective, for parents and their children who are young and have dreams as well. It’s about taking every opportunity to be exceptional. It’s about being informed. It’s about teenage antics and angst. It written in such an informal way, as though I am having a conversation with you. I think it’s a book people from all walks of life should read and enjoy and it’s for all ages as well! The book discusses everything from scholarships to mentorship to parent-child relationships to crushes and more…
What was your motivation?
Realising the impact the book could have on my generation. My mom of course has been there every step of the way to remind me of how important the message would be for young people everywhere no matter their status.
What was it like living and schooling thousands of miles away without mom at age 14?
My parents were only one call away and so it was no issue at all for me. I have a relationship with them where I can talk about anything and not feel judged. I was and still also blessed with friends who are extremely supportive in every way and I mean I was really just blessed.
Success is about the individual…it may have taken a different path but I do believe, with determination, I could have got here. I was without my parents in the US and I was in an environment that was extremely free and extremely distracting for a young girl. The fact that I was able to maintain my sanity with such mind-numbing freedom means that with my family around me and with people around to ground me, I would have done just as well, or even better, for myself.
People who obviously love and care about me, and were genuinely worried, discouraged the idea of me going all the way to the US by myself despite the excellent educational system. They were concerned that the environment at my vulnerable age and all that would have caused me to derail but I did not. The actualization of a part of my dream was not because I went to the US but because I had a solid support system, which would have had an even stronger foundation in Nigeria.
What lapses do you understand are in the current Nigerian education system?
I would say it is the applicability of what one is taught. It is a system that calls for cramming and passing exams based on that and less of practicality/creativity. In the US, there is more effort made to relate classroom activities to the real world while encouraging creativity, which I think is lacking in Nigeria most times. There is more effort to ensure students remember material in creative manners. For example, I took a class where an extra credit activity was to create a song out of what you had learnt in the class that semester. If you wake me up from sleep today, I can spit out the lyrics of the song and teach you that particular topic quite easily. More emphasis is based on being a total child and not just a book worm- a well rounded child is preferred. The educational system is geared towards all round development of a child and not just totally focused on grades. In fact, your ability to get a job, or get into graduate school, is highly based on the interview process, which is more a chat session, where they get to know you and what you are all about. I think it is important that the educational system in Nigeria encourage the development of a well-rounded child.
What’s your take on feminism?
Everyone should be a feminist because being a feminist is just being a decent human being. Being a Feminist is about women being treated equally with men- socially and economically. Many today twist that around to mean women hate men but that’s not what feminism is about. It is not such a petty issue and not about men at all. It is about women being properly appreciated for what they do and not having their accomplishments downplayed because of their sex. It is also about important movement that highlights the contributions of women to society and demands that they be acknowledged for that in the same way men would because we are all human. It is about giving women freedom to express themselves in whatever way they want and not stuffing into a box of what others have deemed to be “lady like”. It is really just about letting women be the women they chose to be and be duly rewarded for their contributions to society.
What role did your mom play?
Now my mother is a youths advocator and is always looking out for and trying to help young people achieve greater heights. She runs an organization called Croyden Consult which is geared towards empowerment of young people through provision of information and the very many opportunities available to aid them on their paths to success. She brought us up with that. She also believes nothing is impossible as long as we are determined and focused which is part of the reason I never even thought it would be an issue for me to go abroad alone at 14. She was so confident in the fact that I would do well which made me confident.
She knows how to relate with young people at their level. For example, when I wanted to drop chemical engineering for a singing career, if she had yelled at me or fought me about it, I probably would have done it anyway because I had offers from people willing to promote me as a musician. But, she knew just what to say and how to entice me using my Baby Boo Falz( Folarin Falana) She used his story of being a lawyer and a musician and pointed out that he didn’t drop school for his music and that was what got me to stay. That is the kind of person she is, she does not live your life for you. She lets you be you but with a little push and guidance but never force.
What message do you have for the average Nigerian kid while growing up?
Nothing can stand in the way of you but you. If one road does not work out, try another. Search for information because it is a formidable weapon. You can break the mould and set a new standard no matter your background.
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