Isma’il Abdurashid is a professor, researcher and lecturer at Collins College of Business, University of Tulsa USA. In a virtual interview with Daily Trust, he disclosed how he became a professor at the age of 32, and also talked about how the Nigerian education system can be improved to give access to the younger generation to harness their skills and talents.
Daily Trust: Tell us a little about yourself?
Isma’il Abdurashid: My name is Ismail Abdulrashid. I was born in Funtua, Katsina State, on November 29, 1988. My father was originally from a village called Gangara in Jibia Local Government Area of Katsina State while my mother was originally from a village called Mairua in Faskari Local Government Area of Katsina State. We later moved to Katsina city where I was raised and attended both primary and secondary schools.
I attended Muhammad Dodo Ibrahim Primary School (formally known as Layout Science Model Primary School) and Government Secondary School Mani, both in Katsina State. I then went to Bayero University Kano where I obtained my Bachelors degree in Mathematics and emerged as best graduating Mathematics student of the year 2006/2011 class.
With the help of my mentors – Professor Bashir Ali and Dr Ma’aruf Shehu Minjibir, I later wrote and passed an examination for admission into the African University of Science and Technology, in Abuja, where I got partial scholarship and completed my Masters degree in Pure and Applied Mathematics. I also emerged as the best graduating student from Mathematics category and I completed the masters in 2013. I thereafter obtained a full scholarship from UNESCO/IAEA to attend The Abdus Salam International Centre for Theoretical Physics in Trieste, Italy, where I obtained a diploma in Mathematics in 2015. I then immediately proceeded with my PhD study in Applied Mathematics. While at Auburn University, I pursued and obtained another Masters degree in Data Science in addition to my PhD degree in Applied Mathematics in 2020.
After completing Auburn University, in Alabama, I was offered an Assistant professor position at the Jack Welch College of Business and Technology in Sacred Heart University where I worked for one year before joining The Collins College of Business at the University of Tulsa as an Assistant Professor of Data Analytics in July 2021.
DT: In Nigeria, there’s this perception that professorship is attained at old age but you attained yours at 32, did you plan it?
Isma’il: Honestly, I also had the same mindset before leaving Nigeria for Italy. While I was in Italy, I met with very young scientists at the International Centre for Theoretical Physics (ICTP) who have excelled in their different fields. I later realize that the reason people are very successful at their young age is because they have access to information and resources at an early age, and their educational system supports that as well. I met people who obtained their PhDs in their mid 20s while at ICTP, Italy. So, you can understand that if someone can complete his/her PhD before reaching the age of 26, then anything is possible for that person. Their system really supports and helps people achieve those goals.
So, I believe it is also possible to achieve these in Nigeria as well. We have the potential and capacity to get there. We need a little push and support to have more access to world class educational resources right from primary to tertiary institutions. We will need to make available the resources that our students need. I believe we will get there, God willing.
DT: Can you shed light on the access to information and resources you are referring to?
Isma’il: Yes, let me tell you one story. When I was about to finish my secondary school education, there was a time, during the morning assembly session, that our principal asked the entire students of the school to tell him the meaning of JAMB, and no one responded except me. So, first of all, we need proper mentoring of our students right from primary schools by employing more qualified teachers and equipping them with the resources that they need to train our students.
Now, you can understand if the final year students of a secondary school have little information about the exam that they need to write to get admitted into university, how would you expect them to even write and pass that exam? I believe that things have improved compared to the time I completed my secondary school in 2005. There’s a lot more awareness among our secondary school students. What we need now is to provide the teachers with more teaching resources to help our students.
DT: Is your study abroad the reason behind your success story?
Isma’il: With total submission to Allah, it’s the will of God. I believe one of the primary catalysts for these achievements is the help I got from my mentors in Bayero University who provided me with the information about applying to the African University of Science and Technology and the ICTP. Without their guidance, it would have been very difficult to get to know these opportunities exist. So, to a great extent, they had shaped my academic experience, tutored and guided me throughout my undergraduate study at BUK and I am very grateful to them.
DT: How can you compare the education system abroad with what we have in Nigeria?
Isma’il: In terms of easy access to educational services and opportunities, the education system abroad is much better, however, in terms of standard and quality, I believe that Nigerian educational system is good and can compete with most of Western European countries. What we need to improve on is how we can make it easier for our citizens to have access to quality education and opportunities.
DT: So, how can we have easy access to quality education and opportunities in Nigeria?
Isma’il: It starts with infrastructure; building enough schools that will meet our demands and equipping those schools with enough qualified teachers and teaching resources. One of the problems we’re facing today in the north is infrastructure in our schools. We need to improve that, then we need to really address the issue of welfare of our teachers. We need to make the profession more attractive to people that are qualified to be there.
In terms of duration of study in our university system, it has to do with student advising. There is a need to improve student advising conducted by each department. As you are aware, each student when admitted into a degree program will be assigned an adviser (level coordinator). So, the adviser needs to work hard in helping the student to meet his requirement for that particular academic year by providing him with proper guidance and information. This is why over here (abroad), student advising is crucial and it’s what is making the difference, especially among undergraduate students. And my advice to students is to be focused and set their goals and pursue them. They should always consult people that are associated with areas of their interest and seek information. God willing, they will achieve their goals.
I believe our younger ones need to be guided and mentored at the beginning. This will definitely help them achieve their goals.
DT: Do you have any plan to help Nigerian students while you are lecturing and doing your research abroad?
Isma’il: Yes, I am looking at ways that I will collaborate with my home university in Nigeria to be training our students, especially those students that are interested. I’m planning on working with the department of Mathematical Science, Bayero University Kano and the department of Mathematics, Federal University Dutse Jigawa State to be co-advising some of their graduate students who are working in areas related to Data Science. I will also see possibilities of how to help these departments develop courses and Data Science program in the nearest future.
DT: What about your family?
Isma’il: Alhamdulillah, I am getting married on Saturday, September 4 insha Allah. I will come back home to Katsina for the wedding Fatiha and spend some weeks but will continue to lecture my students virtually while I’m away from the United States.