When Stella Chinelo Emelife started her Masters in India, her goal was a distinction. However, breaking records was a very welcome surprise. She speaks about surmounting her disappointment after being denied admission to study Medicine in Nigeria even though she qualified, to settling for a different course and going on to break records in a foreign land.
Daily Trust: Please tell us about how it all began.
Stella Emelife: For three years, I applied to study Medicine at the Usmanu Danfodiyo University, Sokoto, but wasn’t admitted even though I scored 239 (2007), 241 (2008) and 265 (2009) in JAMB.
I even applied for the University’s pre-degree course, but I wasn’t selected. It was so frustrating. My parents, Sir & Lady Christopher Emelife (KSJ), were fully involved; struggling to get me a place in the university. At some point, someone suggested to my dad that I changed my name to get favour. But we refused. In the end I settled for Applied Chemistry, graduated with a first class and was also overall best graduating student of the university in the 2012/2013 session. In 2016, I got an Indian government scholarship to do a Masters in Chemistry at the University of Mysore, India. I graduated in 2018 with a distinction and as overall best graduating student of the university. I received 25 awards which had never been heard of in the school’s 100 plus years history, making me the first student and first foreigner to ever achieve this.
DT: Congratulations on your remarkable feat. At what point did you know you were breaking a record?
Emelife: Studying Chemistry in India was not easy. There was always something to do at every point in time, classroom activities, laboratory practical and loads of assignments.
All I wanted was to find a way for the overwhelming environment to sink in, so that I could get to the peak of the course. I worked towards getting a distinction but never did I imagine I would become the university’s best, let alone break any of its records. I only got to know I was on my way to breaking a record, in my final semester, during one of my external laboratory viva voce (oral examination). An external supervisor told me he had heard about me in his own university and that the way I were going, I might end up breaking a century old record.
I felt good, but then, I didn’t let it get into my head. I simply said to myself, ‘Lord Jesus, may your will be done.’ It was not until I got the invitation to my convocation ceremony in February, that I knew I had indeed broken records.
It was unbelievable to me, considering how tough I found the system when I started. I must say that principally, it is the grace of God upon me. I was born into the Roman Catholic faith and I have grown up to accept that faith with all my heart. Whatever I have achieved so far, cannot be far from my devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary. I feel like I have a really close relationship with her and I do not take that for granted. I do not joke with attending Mass. I grew up attending not just Sunday Masses but daily Masses with my parents. I still practice that till today but for my work schedule recently.
Then of course, I worked extremely hard. I sacrificed so much to make sure I got what I wanted and I am grateful to my professors who were very supportive of me, knowing I was the only foreigner in my class. They paid attention to me and answered every question I had in the classroom and in the laboratory. I shared my fears with my classmates too and they assisted me in every way they could especially with laboratory practices. I am especially grateful to Darshini Gowda and Deepthi Gowda who were my lab partners. My parents and siblings, supported so much and even more, with their prayers, when they learned of my struggles. My husband, John Amagbor, who at the time was my friend, (laughter) was a strong support for me.
DT: You received five cash prizes. How much did they come to and what’s your plan for them?
Emelife: (Laughter) The cash prizes were not much of a big deal though. Nothing serious. Actually, they had value many years ago when the professors retired and had such named after them. All the cash prizes I received were from retired professors who by now must be so old and may not even remember they have such in their names. What is most important is the recognition and certificates that came with them.
DT: There are people who after breaking such a record would have remained there or gone on to the West. Why did you decide to return home?
Emelife: I was on a scholarship and they were terms and conditions which I appended my signature to. One of which is that I will return back to my country as soon as my final results were declared. So, I had to return home. Also, I was going to start up my own family same year I graduated. My husband to be was in Nigeria and so I had to come home to get married. I also feel it would be great to extend my service to Nigeria before I go onto the next stage of my life in academics. I still look forward to leaving for a PhD in Europe or America, as God wills.
DT: We didn’t hear anything about your being best graduating student of Usmanu Danfodiyo University. Was that you keeping a low profile or the university didn’t do anything as they did with your success in India?
Emelife: Yes, you are very right about not hearing anything about my success in Usmanu Danfodiyo University Sokoto. The convocation ceremony was in March 2016 and unfortunately, I was not given any recognition as supposed. I was only told to go to the student affairs office to get my cash prize (N50,000) and a certificate to that effect. I didn’t even get a presidential handshake, neither was I exposed to the press. The convocation ceremony was overtaken by the politicians who came there, to campaign, I guess. It was not just me but also two other best graduating students, from other sessions. It was not my personal decision to keep it silent.
DT: What next from here?
Emelife: Right now, so much is going on in my life. Career-wise, I am currently working with a private university in Delta State, which I am grateful to God for. Meanwhile, I am looking forward to getting even better opportunities. I have my application with the Federal University of Petroleum Resources, Effurun, still hanging.
I also recently sat for the computer-based test by NNPC, where I applied as a graduate trainee and I look forward to being shortlisted for the next stage.
In all of these, I have God alone, but we know very well that man is an instrument of God. So, I’m praying for God to raise men who will lend their voices on my behalf to these organisations, that I can be recommended accordingly. I am also making efforts to start sending in applications for scholarship opportunities for PhD in Europe, America and other continents too. So, there is a lot. I’m just hoping for the best.