My Experience in the World’s Finest University as it Transformed Me From a Dreamer into a Maker

My Experience in the World’s Finest University as it Transformed Me From a Dreamer into a Maker

If you are looking for a university for a graduate program, I recommend the very one I attended – The Johns Hopkins University.

When I made it into the electrical /computer engineering doctoral program, I was among the less than twenty selected students out of more than 900 that applied. The Whiting School of Engineering is very competitive because the University will not admit you for a PhD program unless it has funding for you.

Essentially, the School does not expect you to fund your PhD program.

Also, the usual admission application fee is waived – the only university in the top ten where that is done, at least for the engineering program.

I had great grades – 800/800 in GRE quantitative with 4/4 in CGPA coming in from Tuskegee University master’s program. And my Statement of Purpose was clear – become an expert, work in the US semiconductor industry to understand electronics business, teach in a top university faculty to improve my profile, and then move on to help develop electronics design industry in Africa.

When the action started, I asked for the course requirements towards the award of the PhD. Most schools have defined number of credit hours which must be satisfied for a doctoral degree.

I was told that in Hopkins Engineering PhD program, there was no official course requirement. Practically, you could get the PhD without technically taking any course if you can pass the Qualifying Exam, Graduate Board Oral Exam (GBO) and demonstrate excellence in research and scholarship.

But be warned – there is no way it would be humanly possible to accomplish these requirements without taking courses. You need the courses to deepen your depths as you would be working on things no one has a clear answer, including your professor.

The structure of the program gave me freedom. I could create a Course for my life by myself. But it has many risks as anything is fair game. How? During my GBO exam, a professor asked me to develop the equation of motion of a simple pendulum using the Lagrangian. Another asked me questions on complex numbers and L’Hopital’s rule.

For most of the questions, they did not expect me to know the answers, on the spot, with 5 professors watching. Largely, they were more interested in how you approach things than actually solving the questions. They were assessing the thinking process and not necessarily the final answers. At the end, they would vote if you have the capabilities to remain in the program.

More than 40% of PhD students end the journeys at GBO exam – they graduate and go home with master’s degree. Passing the GBO exam makes one a PhD Candidate as you are likely to get it because you have passed the most challenging hurdle.

In my first year, I had three fellowships: Johns Hopkins Fellowship, Whiting School of Engineering Fellowship and National Science Foundation Engineering Research Center Fellowship. I never received an invoice for tuition; the good Americans in different ways paid all.

At the onset, I decided to maximize these fellowships. I took as many courses as possible including biology, creative writing, business, mathematics, medicine, surgery besides typical engineering courses.

It was liberating especially the Creative Writing course which I registered to follow the footsteps of my country woman, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, who turned her class homework into a bestseller titled “Purple Hibiscus”. I did not do well at all; I dropped the course big time. Imagine listening to a professor on how to effectively choose titles, for hours, and why titles are the most condensed summaries for any work. It required a different level of talent which I lacked.

As I progressed on the PhD program, I quickly realized that I could do many things besides electronics and circuits. Anything I did not know but desired to know, I would sign-up for a helping class in Hopkins. And if the work load became unbearable, as many were, I would drop them but still attended the classes. I used the Steve Jobs strategy – forget the grades, focus on the learning.

Within two years, I had become ultra-exposed in many things.

I got my first consulting gig with World Bank, assisted in reviewing documents for World Bank, UN and African Development Bank. The African Union accepted and published my paper on the single currency policy. They even paid me to present my work during AU Congress. I wrote a book on technology policy which won IGI Global Book of the Year award. And spoke before the Mayor of Moscow as they planned the Skolkovo project. Later, he invited me to Moscow to keynote Moscow Open Innovation Forum. As a student, I was in cash.

Then I started buying stocks in New York Stock Exchange and NASDAQ. One day I lost $26,700 when they nationalized Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae. I had cut-off all stock research to finish my dissertation and was not following market news. I felt bad and learnt a huge lesson – the professionals deserve their wages!

For most universities, my experience would not have been possible. Hopkins gives students opportunities to create the future they deserve. It was an unbelievable experience in the best of educational quality.

I received IGI Global 2010 “Book of the Year” award

After my first year, I authored Nigeria’s Vision 2020 Microelectronics Thematic Area and was invited to join the International Advisory Board of World Bank -STEPB multi-million dollar project by the Nigerian Government. The reality was the courses were so good that I became an expert and an authority in the domains. STEP-B Coordinator, Prof M.U. Adikwu, current Vice Chancellor, University of Abuja (Nigeria), later contributed in two of my books.

My Surgery Class – we did abdominal surgery on a pig on this particular day

While in Hopkins, I developed the passion for business. At a time, I knew the names of at least 80% of Fortune 100 CEOs and I had paid subscriptions to Forbes, Fortune, Economist and Businessweek (still active).

When I was rounding up, I knew my world very well. I had done real work in engineering as I had obtained a patent on medical robotics. I had authored good papers and in the technical domain, I had flourished.

As a Hopkins Engineer, I work to address the world’s challenges

Then I graduated, but I was very unhappy to be leaving. It was tough as there was no practical way to delay it as my advisor has noted that I was “ready” to depart having demonstrated scholarship in my area. I was making good money from fellowships and the extra went into funding Fasmicro in Nigeria. I had started it in Hopkins, hiring 13 bright young Nigerians remotely. In the day, I was a Hopkins student; in the night, I was a startup founder in Nigeria.

My first service after earning my PhD was touring 43 universities in Nigeria over 4 months. I had wanted to inspire younger people in Nigeria. I also went to Kenya, Gabon, and Rwanda to share some of the things I had learnt from JHU. My focus was introducing microelectronics in school programs. I assisted many professors in Africa to refresh their courseware on electronics. I also developed lab manuals for schools. For all, I declined payment.

My presentation at Federal University of Technology Owerri (Nigeria), my undergrad alma mater

Making sure no one paid me was important. I had told William R. Brody, then President of Johns Hopkins, the day I received JD Samstag Fellowship from him, that awarding fellowships to people like me would be more impactful than the U.S. government sending money to corrupt African leaders. That people like me could develop Africa if U.S. government focuses on developing young Africans.

The JD Samstag Award letter

After the African trips, I accepted a job in Analog Devices. Intel Corp (Ronler Acres Campus, Oregon) had provided an offer but I preferred to live in Boston because of the stronger university communities. But Intel Corp was special as they paid me per diem of $40 per hour for the four days I traveled for the interview.

Life has been beautiful and I am eternally thankful to Johns Hopkins. My Fasmicro Group will add more than 1,500 people in Nigeria as we expand in our agriculture business. Atlantic Americas, a joint venture agriculture operator, will absorb the new hires. Hopkins made me a parallel entrepreneur with agility to quickly adjust as economic indicators change.

On May 28, 2015, I read then Nigeria President-elect Muhammadu Buhari’s prepared inauguration speech. I requested for a dinner with my business mentor, Mr. Tony Elumelu, who was in Abuja for the inauguration. That evening, I asked him 5 questions on what I saw as the opportunity in the next four years based on the prepared speech. He cleared some ambiguities in my thinking. Quickly, I moved into agriculture and other areas in line with government policy.

If you are looking for a university to do PhD, please choose Hopkins. It offers an endless world of learning expected in a university that pioneered graduate education in United States.

I am a Hopkins Engineer. I am addressing the world’s challenges.

I am a MAKER.

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One thought on “My Experience in the World’s Finest University as it Transformed Me From a Dreamer into a Maker

  1. Thank you for this write up sir. This is my new adventure as soon as I am done with Masters, do you mind writing a reference for me when I apply?

    Reply

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