Mariam Momodu is an international trade lawyer, Ph.D. candidate, education advocate and CEO of Get In Education Consulting.
She obtained her degree in law from the University of Ibadan, Nigeria in 2012 and went on to become the first female president of the law faculty students' association in over 30 years of the association's existence. In addition, she also graduated with the best result ever recorded from the law faculty in Ibadan in 35 years and won about 10 prizes upon graduation.
To date, her academic record has not been beaten. In 2015, Mariam obtained a Master of Laws (LL.M.) degree from the University of Cambridge, where she was awarded the prestigious Commonwealth Shared Scholarship and the Cambridge Trust Scholarship. She is now a Doctoral Candidate at the University of Toronto Faculty of Law,Where she specialize in international trade law.
Last year, she was awarded the most prestigious scholarship for doctorate candidates in Canada, the Vanier Canada Graduate Scholarship, making her the only black person from the University of Toronto to be awarded that honour and one of the 6 scholars of African descent in the whole of Canada that was given this award.
The scholar whose Inspiring story went viral weeks back share her journey with me in this mind blowing interview.
In her words " I am learning to live "uncomfortable". This means that I am constantly reaching for things that I think are difficult to achieve no matter how I feel"
I was very fortunate to be raised in a family that valued education. My father died when I was very young, but my mother was determined to provide the best education that she could afford. My siblings were also my mentors as they encouraged me to excel in my chosen endeavours and always provided the necessary resources.
I would read my sister's novels, read books I found in my brother's rooms and devour books that my mother would borrow weekly from the British Council Library. I remember when I turned 10 years old, I was asked what gift I wanted... I asked for more novels and books and I got them. Apart from being very academic, I have always been interested in looking for ways to improve my community.
In addition, I have been blessed to have encouraging teachers who took an interest in my education and always went beyond the average to ensure I succeeded. From Mrs. Obajimi of Sonbeam Preparatory School, to my teachers at the International School Ibadan, teachers at the Educational Advancement Centre, Ibadan as well as the lecturers at the faculty of law, University of Ibadan and the Nigerian law school. My teachers always encouraged me to be inquisitive and achieve my dreams, so I credit them for a lot of the success I have achieved today.
Breaking 30 years record at the University of Ibadan
When I graduated from the University of Ibadan in 2012, I graduated with a 6.7/7 which is the highest CGPA ever recorded from the law faculty in over 30 years. I am eagerly waiting to meet the student who will break the record, as it is long overdue!
In reality when I entered UI, my goal was to graduate with a 7.0, a perfect score from the law faculty. I remember confiding in two senior students about my goals and they laughed at me! They told me it was impossible and if I was going to make a first class from the law faculty, the best I would obtain was a grade close to 6/7. Once I got that negative feedback, I realised I was being like Joseph in the Bible who was sharing his dreams with the wrong people. I decided to keep this dream in my head and continue to work.
I eventually did not finish with a 7.0 largely because I was involved in politics in my 4th year (and that took a lot of time from my studies) but I am proud to say that in my 3rd year, my CGPA was 6.96/7 and in my 5th year, my CGPA was also 6.9/7. So even though I aimed for the moon and did not hit it, at least, I fell among the stars and was able to break the existing record. My academic record in the University of Ibadan opened the door for me to obtain a masters in law from the University of Cambridge on a Commonwealth Shared Scholarship. I would also argue that my grades from university continue to open doors for me today.
I really love that I went to the University of Ibadan. I am the first to admit that the education sector in Nigeria needs a lot of work (and the change needs to start from the government) but I must admit that despite difficulty with funding and so on, University of Ibadan is one of the schools in Nigeria that continues to uphold a very high standard of education. I knew the current vice-chancellor while I was a student and he was one of the people who, in my experience would listen to students' concerns. I have maintained a relationship with him and my professors in the law school and from time to time I communicate with them to give feedback on my progress or to ask for advice.
I was happy that the school administration shared my story and more importantly, I was very humbled when I read messages from people who were inspired by my story.
Canadian Scholarship & it's impact as a black woman in a foreign land
I was ecstatic when I received the Vanier last year. We could not announce the award for a while, so I was just sitting on good news! When I applied for the scholarship, I hoped I would win because winning the scholarship will send a signal to other people like me that they too can succeed in academia no matter who or where they were.
The Vanier is a very competitive scholarship that ranks students based on their leadership potential, academic record as well as the potential of their doctorate research. Candidates go through several rounds of application starting from the faculty level to the university level and then national level. I am very thankful that I was nominated by my faculty as this started the process. Apart from my research potential, I really believe my application stood out because of my academic record as well as my leadership experience.
As a student and even after I graduated from University, I always pushed myself to make improvements no matter where I was. In primary and secondary school, I was selected as the head-girl because of my leadership potential and in University I was also elected as the President of the Law Students' Society, the first woman to be so elected in over 30 years.
As a black woman, I am happy to hold the forte for black women, women and anyone from a minority background who has a dream. There are so many challenges along the way for many of us. If I tell the story about the struggles I faced in the first year of my PhD, this article cannot contain it! The Vanier was a big boost for me and I am glad that winning the scholarship has inspired others to reach for more no matter where they come from!
Reaction to my story going viral
This is actually the first time I am thinking of it as a viral story! I would say the reception has been very positive. Many people have asked how they can achieve the same or similar goals and I am inspired to continue to provide support to other people through my company Get In Education Consulting (www.getineduconsulting.com) as well as on a personal basis.
I think I am inspired by problems. I describe myself as an "extra" person because I am always thinking of the next problem to solve. Any Nigerian that is immune to the problems of the country needs to wake up! So, I am inspired to act when I see problems as my interests are driven by the problems that need to be solved in these areas.
Apart from my family, I am also inspired by people who have overcome adversity and are giving back. Dr. Deola Olubamiji is one of my mentors and people like her inspire me to do more.
Challenges of being a female scholar trying to break boundaries both home and abroad
I have faced several challenges and I am still facing several! One of the biggest challenges has been adjusting to a new environment with new expectations.
Academia is a constant learning curve for me. So, I need to really know how to conduct myself as an academic and ensure I am ticking the right boxes that will make me competitive after school. Funding is also a big challenge for many people, but thankfully, the Vanier came through!
On giving up
There have been so many moments! January this year I had to prepare for an examination that would determine whether I progressed to the next level of the PhD. It was very intense and there were many days I questioned if I was doing the right thing, but in the end, I came out successful. Also, during the PhD, you have to apply for grants, submit papers and apply for workshops. I am successful with many applications, but I also face rejection.
Initially, I used to be bothered by rejection, but now, I know the path to success is filled with rejection, so I have to persevere no matter how I feel.
Being a Woman of Rubies
I am a woman of rubies because I am not defined by what I own or what you can see. I am so much more. I am a woman who keeps striving to make an impact on her environment by touching one life at a time with the hope of making my corner of the world better.
Advice for women who are scared to break boundaries and be more
If the voice in your head is not encouraging you, then don't listen to it! A lot of times, we are holding ourselves back because we think we are inadequate when we are actually more than enough. Research has shown that black women are more likely to have feelings of inadequacy compared to many other groups of people and these feelings of inadequacy have has been described more technically as imposter phenomenon.
Appreciation of Black Women
I think black women need to stop waiting to be appreciated. Instead we need to just be who we are "boss babes!" You don't need anyone's permission to excel. Neither do you need permission to be proud of your achievements. Where you need to, demand your accolades, demand that promotion and so on, but do not wait for external validation before you appreciate yourself.
If I could change one thing in the Education Sector
Education should be fun. Students should be excited to go to school because there is something for them; something that can relate to. If I could change one thing, I would change the kind of syllabus we have in many universities in Nigeria. I would work to decolonise our syllabus and make it contextual to Africa and the 21st century. Oh, I would also ensure that 30% of Nigeria's budget for the next 30 years is dedicated to education.