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Graduating Upstate student learned to study for degree in medical imaging around family’s busy schedule

Upstate student Zetsie Sayarath sits with her son, Jeremiah, 4, outside of a building on the downtown campus.

Upstate student Zetsie Sayarath can study just about anywhere – in bleachers of an arena, the passenger seat of a moving car and even at kid birthday parties. She’s learned to cram readings, quizzes and study sessions into precious pockets of time: during her daughter’s ice-skating lessons, family road trips and while her family slept.

Her key to success? “Organization and sticking to a plan,” said the mom of two: Jadelyn, 8 and Jeremiah, 4.

Come Sunday, all of Sayarath’s planning, studying and pre-made dinners in a backpack will be worth it when she graduates from Upstate Medical University with a bachelor of science degree in medical imaging: radiography/MRI. She joins 24 graduates from the BS medical imaging program and 478 total Upstate graduates. And just a day after graduation, Sayarath will begin her clinical hours for MRI and X-ray, which she will finish in August – capping her studies at Upstate.

Before pursuing her degree, Sayarath served in the Air Force for six and a half years. It’s where she met her husband, who is an Air Force recruiter. That job brought the family to the Syracuse area four years ago, which Sayarath describes as a “blessing in disguise” because it was a position that did not include deployments. The Syracuse job allowed him more flexibility in his schedule while she pursued her degree full-time.

She started at Upstate in 2017 and that’s when the organizing, juggling and scheduling began. It’s been two straight years of that and she said she’s ready to be done with school. Her husband has received orders to return to Beale Air Force Base in California so the family will move west after she takes her board exams in the fall.

Sayarath, 33, hopes to land a job at a hospital, doing either X-ray or MRI work – or both.

“I love the diversity of it,” she said. “You don’t have to sit around. If you get tired of doing X-ray, you can go to fluoro (fluoroscopy), CT or MRI. I’m not the type of person to sit around. It never gets boring. It’s always interesting and there are always new cases.”

Sayarath has worked in several facilities during her studies, including the Syracuse VA Medical Center and Upstate. She’s fascinated with the pathology she has encountered at Upstate, which is why she wants to work in a hospital.

Her studies and clinical work have paid off. Sayarath said she has a 3.77 GPA and admits that she’s tough on herself.

“When I get a 98 I think about how I could have studied more,” she said. Her self-discipline may be rooted in her upbringing. Sayarath and her two siblings were born in the United States but were raised by their grandparents in the Philippines. She lived there from six months of age until she was five years old, when she and her younger sister moved back to the United States. At the time, the girls did not speak English. Their parents would only reply to them if they spoke to them in English, she said. It was a good learning experience as she can now speak English, Tagalog (one of eight languages spoken in the Philippines) and after living in Japan for a year, Japanese. Her children also speak English, some Tagalog and some Laotian as her husband’s family is from Laos.

But this lifelong student is ready to graduate. She’s thankful for her Upstate education and experience but she’s eager to begin her career and spend more time with her family – time not spent taking quizzes on her phone in the bleachers of a chilly ice rink.

“It was really a great opportunity and a great experience,” she said. “All of the professors are willing to work with you to get you through the program as long as you’re willing to put in the effort.”

Clinical Coordinator and Radiography Program Instructor Dominick DeMichele, MSEd, RT(R)(CT), said Sayarath was a “class favorite of both classmates and instructors.”

“Zetsie was always positive, upbeat, willing to learn and motivated,” DeMichele said. “In the clinical setting, her motivation and positive attitude transferred to positive reports from hospital clinical staff, and providing excellent patient care. 

“She was always great to have in class and I wish her and her family all the best as they move to California at the end of the summer.”

Caption: Zetsie Sayarath, pictured here with her son Jeremiah, 4 -- served more than six years in the Air Force before moving to the Syracuse area. For the last two years Sayarath has juggled family obligations – her children are 8 and 4 – with her studies. On Sunday she graduates from Upstate Medical University with a bachelor of science degree in medical imaging/radiography.