Amber Sayles of Sycamore is a single mother and works as a paramedic, CPR instructor and volunteer.
When she’s not working multiple jobs, Sayles is in the top 7 percent of senior students at Northern Illinois University and in the University Honors Program.
On Nov. 17, Sayles and 10 other students were recognized at the 15th annual Red and Black Gala at the Renaissance Schaumburg Convention Center Hotel. They were awarded the NIU Foundation Impact Scholarship for their achievements in and out of the classroom.
The scholarship criteria is based on academic excellence, commitment to family and community, outstanding work ethic, generosity of spirit and commitment to the mission of NIU.
MidWeek reporter Katrina Milton spoke to Sayles over the phone to discuss the scholarship and how her hard work ethic transfers to all aspects of her life.
Milton: Tell me about yourself.
Sayles: I am a senior at NIU with a chemistry major for pre-professionals and a minor in biology. I live in Sycamore, and I graduated from Sycamore High School in 2010.
Milton: What is the NIU Foundation Impact Scholarship?
Sayles: The impact scholarship chooses students who are within the top of their class, and who show commitment and dedication inside and outside the classroom. To receive the award, you must be nominated for it by a staff or faculty member. Then you apply by filling out an application online and answering essay questions. After the spring semester, I was notified that I received the scholarship for the 2018/2019 school year.
Milton: How has the scholarship helped?
Sayles: The scholarship was really helpful because I am a single mom and I work and attend school. It’s often difficult because I have childcare expenses, living expenses and tuition. I don’t know how or if I would be able to go to school without a scholarship. I want to advance further in my career and have a better life for both [my daughter and me.] I want to be the best mom that I can be. It’s great to be awarded, not just with the scholarship, but with acknowledgement. For others to know that I’ve had to overcome struggles, it’s nice to be recognized and supported.
Milton: What is your part-time job?
Sayles: I work as a paramedic, CPR instructor and volunteer in Maple Park. After I graduate, I am hoping to be a physician’s or pathologist’s assistant and get my graduate degree. I like to help people and would love to have more time with my patients.
Milton: Do you often think of your daughter when you work so hard?
Sayles: I want to be a role model for my daughter. Her name is Rylee and she’s 4 years old. She’s the reason I continue to work hard, why hard work and dedication is so important. I want to show her that you can succeed if you put in the effort and continue on. With faith in yourself, shoot for the stars and your dreams. and you can do anything.
Milton: Did you have any inspiration to succeed?
Sayles: My whole family inspired me with their work effort and success in their careers. My older sister always did well and just purchased her first house. She has a successful career and owns half a company. The success of my sister and my family always pushed me to be the best I can be, too.
Milton: Was there anyone at NIU who inspired you?
Sayles: I also want to thank two professors I’ve had: Dr. [Timothy J.] Hagen and Dr. [Lee S.] Sunderlin. I’ve really appreciated their help along the way. They both helped me through the years, with research and letters of recommendation. I’ve had many classes with both of them and want to thank them for everything.
Milton: Do you have advice for other single moms?
Sayles: Every day is a day, there’s always a tomorrow. Take every day one step at a time, don’t get too overwhelmed. There’s always a way to figure things out, and there’s resources available. Reach out and grab those resources, ask for help if you need it. If you’re a single mom, too, you know that your kid is the most important thing there is. … Seeing my daughter continue to learn and grow reminds me that I want the best life for the both of us. I want to give her everything I can because I love her and she’s the best.
Milton: Why do you think you chosen for the scholarship?
Sayles: I was chosen because of my commitment to school earning good grades and being within the top 7 percent of my class. … I am a very goal-oriented person and strive to achieve in anything, so the acknowledgement and generous scholarship is more than an honor. I am so grateful for these donors and for my university in believing in me. ... I want to tell people to never give up on their hopes and dreams, there is always a way. With hard work and dedication, anything is possible.