Baldwin Nursing Program, School of Science
Rachel and her mom Lisa
Rachel and Lisa Bryk

Rachel Bryk '22 changed her major three times, dropped out of college, took up landscaping, then found her calling and her way home to Siena. The walk across the graduation stage is the same distance for every student, but no student's journey to the stage has ever been like this.

It was either randomness or fate that led Rachel to a secretarial position working for a nurse practitioner. She had dropped out of Siena midway through her junior year and took a paycheck working with her brother's landscaping business. She wasn't fulfilled in the job, but that wasn't new. She had been chasing fulfillment for years with no luck.

Rachel was four years old when her mom, Lisa Bryk, assistant director of operations, joined Siena. Rachel felt destined to be a Saint, in fact, it's the only college she applied to out of high school. She enrolled in 2011 as a biology major, but she slowly realized she wasn't in the right headspace for college. She thought a new major might do the trick (political science); when that didn't work, she tried another (business management). Her situation didn't improve. 

"December of my senior year of high school, my grandmother, who I was very close with, passed away. It took awhile for the grief to hit. When it did, I was at Siena, and I developed a mental block. I tried to motivate myself, but I couldn't, and then I'd get down on myself, and the cycle perpetuated. Eventually I gave up, tried one semester at Hudson Valley Community College, and when that didn't take, I took my leave from education."

 That was in 2014, and it led to her brief employment in landscaping. A family friend worked for St. Peter's in human resources, and connected Rachel with an opportunity as a secretary to a nurse practitioner. It was a job, not a first step toward a career, or at least that's what Rachel had assumed.  

 "I worked on a team with the nurse practitioner and the RN. The nurse practitioner would put her laptop on the ledge, right next to my workspace, and would talk with the RN about the patients and their care. At first, I just listened, then I started asking questions, 'Why can't we do this, why can't we try that?' They answered my questions, and then they inspired me to go for it."

Rachel says she felt lost and defeated after dropping out of college, but working in the primary care office restored her confidence. She always had the desire to help others; she just wasn't sure how or where to apply herself. Now she knew. Rachel started taking prerequisite courses for nursing school at night. Eventually, she returned to HVCC, got her degree, and started the career she was meant for. Rachel's an ER nurse at Memorial Hospital. That could have been enough, but, "The Siena monkey was on my back."

While Rachel was back at HVCC, Siena launched its RN to BS program. The focus on caring science was particularly appealing, so Rachel started working on her Siena degree, again, class by class, while working full-time as a nurse, during COVID. She wasn't just in the right headspace this time, she was fiercely motivated to fulfill an "emotional accomplishment, a dream." On May 15, 11 years after her Siena story began, she'll walk across the stage. 

"I can't even think about that moment of walking across the stage at Commencement because it will make me cry. I still can't believe it, or maybe I haven't allowed myself to believe it yet. I'm so grateful for everything Siena has given me. I've met so many wonderful people throughout my journey here. I've just always wanted to close this chapter the right way and be able to say 'I mother !$%@*$! did it!"

Rachel Bryk '22

"Rachel's journey was not short or easy, but she never took her eye off of the prize. She has wanted a Siena degree most of her life, but it's this degree at this point in her life that she wants more than anything. It means so much to her on many levels. I cannot wait to see her walk across the stage. It's going to be one of the most important and best walks she's ever taken!  And I feel like she will be taking her first steps all over again."

Lisa Bryk, assistant director of operations 

When Rachel was 12 years old she was sexually assaulted. She doesn't consider herself a victim – instead, she's a survivor. There's power in that distinction, and Rachel found the power in her voice. She first spoke up in advocacy her senior year of high school. She continues to speak for survivors, and has been recognized by the Walk A Mile in Her Shoes international march against men's sexualized violence. Some day, Rachel would like to work as a sexual assault examiner. 

"I need to speak out for people who are struggling with this. It's not okay that it happened, but it's okay to talk about it. We need to talk about it. What doesn't kill you makes you stronger. I've been through the trauma, and I survived. Other survivors need to hear that message; why shouldn't I be the one to deliver it?"