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Wednesday, 30 June 2021

Succeeding against the odds

Following a diagnosis of chronic stress towards the end of August 2016, Uchenna Okwuosa was advised to find a job with his bachelor’s degree instead of pursuing his academic dreams.

The Nigerian-born Okwuosa, who graduated with his Master’s degree in Mechanical Engineering on June 29, says after six years outside the academic environment, he came to CPUT in January 2016 with high hopes of finishing his Masters’ degree within two years. He was hoping to enrol for his doctorate immediately after. Everything started on a high note with “What I will call the first personal draft of my research proposal ready within three months”. With that, he was so optimistic that he would meet his target of completing in record time.

However, his high hopes began to take a U-turn in July 2016 when his health began to deteriorate amidst serious financial challenges. “This threw me into chronic stress coupled with the academic stress and the stress of trying to adapt to the new environment,” he recalls. All of these took a toll on his health and on 4 August 2016 he was “forced” to the hospital by Sharon Du Plessis, a Postgraduate Residence Coordinator, and his friends.

Okwuosa was discharged a month later with medication to keep him going. After his occupational therapist advised him that he couldn’t cope with academics, he left the consultation room.  He took out the piece of paper on which the occupational therapist had written the nature of his illness and lifted it up against the rising sun and sought divine intervention: “God, this is what the medical world calls it, but I do not believe in what they call it but what you, my God calls it? I will go by what you call it, and I will continue my studies without interruption.” Okwuosa continues.

“I insisted that I must complete the purpose which brought me to South Africa. Due to that, I was kept longer in the hospital for further monitoring and numerous nurses, came to convince me to quit studies while some put me to (the) test to ascertain if they can put me on special medication.” His studies suffered for that period because he could not study after 8 pm and after taking the medication because it made him weak, dizzy, and sleepy.

“Thanks to the South African health system, my residence mums, supervisor, Prof Oscar Philander and friends who assisted and supported me through the period, I became stable to continue with my Master’s studies in full force again. Okwuosa continued with his medication and studies and “here I am graduating on the graduation list for the second edition of CPUT SMART graduation and have registered for my doctorate”.

Okwuosa is currently the administrator and mentor for the ongoing CPUT-UCT merSETA project which is focused on developing medical products (devices) to support the health system in the war against Covid-19 and other life-threatening diseases. He was part of the team that formed and pioneered the currently existing Ubuntu Postgraduate forum, and he is currently the chairperson of the forum.

Written by Aphiwe Boyce