Kogi State-born Winnifred Zakari, 22, graduated with a first class degree in Electronics and Computer Engineering in 2017 and obtained a distinction on postgraduate programme in Computer Science in 2018, both from the University of Nottingham, United Kingdom. She said she wants the Nigerian government to develop a curriculum that would enhance students’ vocational talents required to advance the nation’s economy.
Briefly, explain your educational background
My name is Winifred Zakari. I was born in Kogi State, and now 22-years-old. I obtained my secondary school education from Regina Pacis College, Abuja and moved to the UK for higher education. I am a twice graduate of University of Nottingham with an undergraduate degree in Electronics and Computer Engineering and a postgraduate in Computer Science. I now work at a Fintech firm called Refinitiv, formerly Thomson Reuters, as a Java developer in their Risk Division.
Motivated students strive to achieve their best in school. What was your motivation while studying abroad and why the choice of Computer Electronics?
I’ve always had interest in the sciences so I aspired to major in a Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) related subject for higher education. While I enjoyed physics, it was too theoretical and that left a choice in a practical subject which to me was engineering. However, I didn’t quite take to electrical engineering after being introduced to it in physics and browsing through the Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination (UTME) brochure of higher education courses in preparation for the exam in my final year at Regina Pacis College, I found electronics and computer engineering which sounded interesting and so I took it.
My main motivation when studying was primarily the course content and when studying abroad, finding the curriculum engaging was vital because it made me to stay focused. The course presented new knowledge and challenges that I had never encountered before and my desire to learn and excel pushed me to tackle them.
Many students talk about numberless problems and new demands in universities. What challenges did you face during your programme?
Understanding the engineering concepts being taught was especially tough in the first year because this was my first introduction to the subject matter. The progression of workload from first to second year was steep and required a lot more independent study hours. This was exacerbated by the complexity of practical work that was part of the curriculum which also meant more hours spent in the laboratory.
Additionally, gaining work experience was key to finding a job at the end of your degree and this required engaging in extra-curricular activities and taking on part-time employment while studying. This developed soft skills that made a student more employable and resulted in a more robust profile which was sought for by employers. So juggling all those activities and studying was a tough challenge.
How did you overcome the challenges?
Supplementary reading in my own time and doing the problem exercises set by the lecturers greatly helped me understand the material. As students, we were also advised to set appointments with lecturers for further questioning and one to one tutelage on subject matter we found confusing. Making good use of this resource helped me to further my understanding of the respective subject.
Learning how to manage my time helped me to successfully cope with involvement in extra-curricular activities and part-time employment without impacting my grades.
What is your assessment of the British education sector?
It is a system that strives for excellence and is willing to improve itself via investment in school infrastructure and continuous tinkering of the curriculum through student feedback. The talents that make up the faculty are award-winning and collaboration with employers across all levels of education, from students to staff, results in employable students who work on real industry projects.
The curriculum is adequately split between practical and theory modules designed according to the needs of the course. Overall, it is a system that fosters career education and innovation in all fields.
What is your career plan?
Primarily, I want a career path in technology. There are so many fields within technology that I find compelling and would be interesting to watch them evolve and grow over the coming years as it shapes our world. AI (Artificial Intelligence) being a forerunner but ideally I would like a career path that allows me to gain experience in Architecture/Cloud-Computing, Web Technology and Application Development (Mobile and Desktop).
Would you like to return to Nigeria to contribute to nation building?
Yes, sometime in the future. Right now the focus is on building my expertise through experience and when I feel I have achieved a comfortable level of technical know-how, I can begin plans to move back to Nigeria.
What message do you have for the Nigerian government in terms of how to improve the education system?
I would say it critically evaluates the state of the country and develop a curriculum with a mix of theory and practical education that develops vocational talent which would be required to help build the infrastructure and services that would economically advance Nigeria as a nation.