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From Yabatech,Lagos to the University of Colorado Boulder: On Winning 3 Full Scholarships to the USA

Scholars Spotlight is a weekly series by GetInedu that explores the stories of successful grad school applicants and their journeys to securing scholarship offers for graduate school. We discuss their reasons for applying, the peculiar challenges they faced, their application strategy, and their lives post-application success. The subject of today's Scholars Spotlight is Bola Pius Odunaro, a GetIn Alumnus and a 2021 recipient of the GetIn Application Fee Grant. He won several full-ride scholarships for his PhD at the University of Colorado Boulder, Purdue University, and the University of Nebraska Lincoln, United States of America. He talks about his determination for quality education despite challenges from his past, staying committed to the course and strategically putting his best foot forward. Nice to finally get to speak with you, Pius. Having won so many offers last year, how was that experience for you? Thank you so much for having me. To be honest, the application process was really challenging, however, I am grateful that I approached it with the right mindset. Early on, I ensured that I was very clear on what I wanted and the kind of research I wanted to pursue. This helped me narrow down my options and to send out targeted applications. In addition, I wasn't lazy about my applications. I created a document where I saved the schools I was interested in and the various research areas of their respective professors. My goal was to approach the entire application process with as much clarity as possible. I love the ginger! You are inspiring us already. What would you say was the most difficult part of the application process for you? I would say sending out several cold emails to secure a supervisor was tasking. This is usually a prerequisite for receiving admission and funding in most schools in the United States of America. Therefore, if you are applying there, you need to get ready for it. Sometimes, even when professors say they will take you in, that’s not enough assurance that you’ll be picked. This was the most stressful and difficult part of the application process for me. Despite this, I stayed focused and ensured I kept applying to schools that aligned with my research interests. That is very key. Thank you for the insight. If you do not mind, can you please give us a snapshot of your academic and professional background /experience before you applied? I completed most of my higher education in Nigeria. Firstly, I completed a National Diploma at Yaba College of Technology in Lagos, where I finished with an Upper Credit in mechanical engineering. After this, I proceeded to complete a Higher National Diploma at Yaba College of Technology, where I graduated with a distinction and as one of the best students in the class. After that, I furthered my education at the University of Ibadan, Nigeria. In the university, I studied mechanical engineering and graduated with a first-class degree.

Professionally, I completed my industrial training as a student at Flour Mills of Nigeria (Golden Sugar company) in Apapa, Lagos state. Through this, I was exposed to various types of mechanical engineering equipment and their respective applications. Furthermore, my industrial training exposed me to the practical aspects of my academic training. During my compulsory National Youth Service Year, I worked at Mainstreams Energy Solutions Limited (Jebba Hydropower plant), Niger State, Nigeria. Currently, I’m a volunteer research assistant at the University of Ibadan under Dr Olusegun Ajide. That's really stellar. So in total, can you tell us how many schools you applied to and how many fully-funded scholarships you won? I applied to four schools in total. I was admitted into all schools and won full-tuition school scholarships in three out of the four schools I applied to. I applied to the University of Colorado Boulder, Purdue University, Arizona State University, and the University of Nebraska Lincoln. I received full-tuition scholarships at the University of Colorado Boulder, Purdue University, and the University of Nebraska Lincoln. Oh, amazing. Na you dey reign oh! What was your funding package like in these schools?

Full tuition waiver, monthly Stipends, and health insurance. Well done! We are super proud of you. Can you give us the 411 on your proposed PhD research?

My research aims to understand the mechanical behaviours of biomaterials and develop artificial organs/ tissues for the replacement of failed organs and tissues. I also hope to work on the development of materials used in prostheses or medical devices. My goal is to explore how biomaterials could be used for the creation of artificial organs like hearts, kidneys and tissue generation. This will significantly improve organ transplants in developing countries and the well-being of people across these countries. In addition, I shall be conducting failure analyses of various tissues that have failed. My ultimate goal is to one day develop artificial kidneys, hearts, and livers for human transplants. Wow. Sounds like you would be making a lot of impact in the future. Well done, Pius. Thank you so much. So can you tell us why you decided to study abroad? I am from a very humble background and this has motivated me to pursue quality education all my life. Also, since my parents couldn't access quality education, I have remained motivated to attain educational qualifications of the highest standards. I understand that education can potentially open doors for me in the future.

Growing up, attending school was a big challenge for me because of the financial instability of my family. During my secondary school education, I had to work on side hustles to afford my textbooks and other materials. To fund my university education, I travelled to Lagos from Ekiti State Nigeria, to work for 2 years. During this period, I worked in a hotel and also a cyber cafe. I used the money I earned from my jobs to apply to a university and polytechnic. However, because I could not afford to pay my way through the university, I settled to attend Yaba College of Technology Polytechnic, Nigeria.

I was quite brilliant during my HND program and this quality drew many students to me. On many occasions, I would hold paid tutorials and lessons for other students. Fortunately, one of the students I taught some courses decided to sponsor my education at the University of Ibadan. I also received support from friends like Agbanigo Bolade, Obasi Obinna, and Emmanuel.

I chose to study in the US because of the high quality of education in the country and its flexible educational system. The United States of America houses some of the best schools for my course and has the best financial support system for international students in terms of funding. Your story is so inspirational, Pius. We are so proud of you. Do you view this scholarship as a life-changing opportunity for you?

Of course, securing admission and a fully-funded offer is a life-changing opportunity for me. My school tuition is around $63,000 and I can not afford to pay such a huge amount for my education. This is a huge opportunity for me to achieve my career goals and also to study in the country of my choice. Also, it is an opportunity to forge future research collaborations with a lot of agencies in Nigeria after my PhD. Furthermore, I believe that it is an opportunity to become a faculty member at the University of Ibadan at the end of my academic career. I especially look forward to doing this.

Well done! Do you see yourself giving back to your community in any way at some time in the future?

Yes, I hope to do so. I have always been doing that. During my National Youth Service Year, I sponsored a girl to school in Niger state. Also, I have supported many people during their graduate school application process and beyond. Just recently, I paid the JAMB exam fees for a student. I am passionate about education and I can go to any length to help anyone passionate about education. After my PhD, I will also deploy the results from my research to give back to my country, Nigeria. I hope to contribute immensely to the health sector and give hope to people's health and well-being.

That's awesome. For many applicants, the wait between an admission offer and a scholarship offer can be very daunting. We've seen students become anxious about how to raise their fees and other living costs. How did you cope, considering that you had to wait for your funding offers on multiple occasions? Truthfully, the most challenging period was the waiting period. The uncertainty of funding made it more challenging. I just kept hoping and praying for the best outcome. That is all I did. How did you ensure your recommendations were sent in on time? Did you create a good relationship with them beforehand?

Exactly. I ensured that my referees were up to date throughout the process. As early as September, I opened my application portal and sent all requests to them. After this, I ensured that I followed up very frequently. I understand how difficult it is to get a recommendation and how busy referees get, so I was not ready to leave it to chance. Take note, guys. No chances. Always start early. So, in what ways do you think the GetIn organization supported you through the process?

Oh, I have received support from GetIn in many ways. Firstly, I have immensely benefitted from various scholarship tips and application resources. Also, last year, I won the yearly application fee grant hosted by GetIn Education Consulting. At the time, I did not have enough money to take my GRE and TOEFL, so it was a huge blessing to me. I remember seeing the mail and being asked to send my account number for the N60,000 grant. It was such a huge relief for me! I would recommend GetIn to other hopeful scholars for the most updated graduate school advice and tips.

Lastly, what's one piece of advice you will give to other African students on this journey?

My advice to everyone is that– You need to believe that you can achieve whatever you put your mind to. To be honest, tough times don’t last, only tough people do. If you have a goal, don’t give up. keep chasing your goal till you achieve it. If you fall once, rise two times. Graduate school allocations are very competitive but you always have to stay committed. We are out of time now, Pius. Thank you so much for your time. I'm certain our community would benefit from this immensely. You are welcome. Thanks for having me!

If you want to learn proven strategies to secure juicy admission offers with scholarships, ensure you sign up for our Bootcamp! We launch the first cohort on June 4, 2022.


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