Follow Amber's journey at NIU with updates posted here each month
“I can do.”
In her final year at NIU, Amber Sayles of Sycamore lives by these three words in the many roles she’s taken on. University Honors student. Single mother. Scholarship recipient. Firefighter. Paramedic. CPR instructor. Volunteer. Model.
“Just keep trying and working hard, and everything will fall into place,” she tells herself.
A transfer student from Kishwaukee Community College, 26-year-old Sayles aims to graduate this December with a degree in chemistry and pursue a career as a physician’s assistant. She’s already proven what she can do. And then some.
Amber Sayles of Sycamore has become a pro at time management, juggling school, work, volunteering and her 4-year-old daughter, Riley, who’s gone to the NIU Child Development and Family Center since she was a baby.
“I just try to squeeze every little thing in my day to be productive,” she says. “I’m a huge planner so I’m not overwhelmed. I’m very determined, and I try to do the best I can.”
For Sayles, a single mother, it’s all about her daughter and bettering both of their lives.
Graduating in December with a degree in chemistry after transferring from Kishwaukee College, she’s waiting to hear back from several graduate schools. Now working as a paramedic and CPR instructor, as well as a volunteer firefighter, she wants to be a physician assistant or a pathologists’ assistant.
“I’m crossing my fingers, hoping I get in,” says Sayles, a University Honors student and scholarship recipient recently nominated for the Lincoln Laureate award. “I’m already 26, and I kind of just want to get my career established. It’s really stressful because I really want to get into a program.”
Whether dressed in paramedic gear or a lab coat, Amber Sayles of Sycamore, Illinois wants to help people.
The 26-year-old heads to the fire department on the weekends and the chemistry lab three to four times a week. In both roles, she has the potential to save lives.
“It sparked an interest I didn’t know I had before,” she says.
With Sayles focusing on the organic chemistry side of things, Hagen’s team is developing a series of chemical compounds that essentially could work as alternative antibiotics at a time when known antibiotics have become less effective.
“Chemistry is a very fascinating subject in itself, but how it can be applied to everything we do, especially medicine and biology, is incredible,” Sayles says.
Incredible, but also somewhat painstaking. “You never quite get what you want,” she says on a break at the lab. “It’s a long process trying to figure things out.”
A University Honors student, Sayles is writing about the research as her capstone project. It helps to have that to focus on as she eagerly awaits word from several graduate schools in her pursuit of a career as physician assistant or pathologists’ assistant.
With a hard-earned bachelor’s degree in chemistry in her hands, Amber Sayles has her sights on the next challenge — another degree.
In pursuit of a career as a physician assistant, Sayles awaits word on her application to graduate school programs in the Chicago area. She looked into master’s degree programs at NIU focusing on physics or biological sciences, but ultimately opted for a physician assistant or pathologists’ assistant route offered at other schools.
“I decided I wanted to do more with hands-on treating patients,” she said.
With only a limited number of physician assistant programs throughout the country, they’re competitive. But Sayles remains optimistic, empowered by her experience at NIU.
In the meantime, the Sycamore resident will take on more hours as a firefighter and paramedic. The University Honors student, scholarship recipient and Lincoln Laureate award nominee leaves NIU proud and thankful for the “extremely passionate and intelligent” professors who supported her along the way.
“NIU has been great to me,” she said.
Not one to sit back and relax, Amber Sayles is determined to prove she has what it takes for graduate school.
Sayles has yet to gain acceptance into the physician assistant programs she’s applied to so far, but is preparing for an upcoming four-hour interview at the Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences. She’s researched the school and quizzed physician assistants on what to expect.
Physician assistant graduate programs are limited and competitive. “Just getting an interview is a good thing,” said 26-year-old Sayles of Sycamore.
To stand out, Sayles has been shadowing area physician assistants, taking more paramedic and CPR instructor shifts and studying for the GRE. She'll soon start another part-time job at Northwestern Medicine’s Delnor Hospital in Geneva as a transporter.
If need be, she’ll send out another round of applications, likely not starting any graduate program until the summer of 2020.
“I’m just trying to keep myself busy and save money and continue on in the medical field,” said Sayles, full of a grit she’s carried with her from Kishwaukee Community College to NIU and beyond.