From the Ukraine to Upstate, a decade of hard work pays off

Upstate student Andriy Heryak will always remember the date his life changed.

On January 29, 2008, he and his family arrived from the Ukraine to settle with relatives in America.

“We didn’t know any English,” Andriy said. “All we knew was what we saw on TV.”

A decade later, Andriy will graduate from Upstate Medical University’s College of Health Professions.

At Commencement May 20—the day his daughter, Kathalina, turns 6 months old—Andriy will receive the 2018 Outstanding Academic Performance Award in the Medical Imaging Sciences bachelor’s degree program.

The Heryaks left the Ukraine for economic reasons, he said. Jobs were scarce, and the cost of living kept rising. In 2000, when Andriy was 9, his mother took a job in Greece and stayed there a year to bring in money.

Andriy’s parents were determined that he and his older sister advance their education beyond high school. The family decided they needed to come to America, and spent years navigating that process.

“We wanted to find a better life,” Andriy said.

A month after moving in with his aunt and cousins in Camillus, Andriy, then 16, entered West Genesee High School as a 10th grader.

“I was excited, and I wanted to learn English, absorb things and see how other people lived,” he said. “The first couple of years were not easy.”

The transition was helped by the school’s English as a Second Language teacher, Stacy Gunnip, and a couple of students of Ukrainian heritage at the school.

Andriy’s cousins helped the new arrivals acclimate—driving them to appointments and to the grocery store, teaching them American customs and day-to-day life in Central New York. “They showed us everything,” he said.

With the extended family living in one house, Andriy’s parents both worked two jobs, including custodial positions in the school district and at Wegmans. Andriy continued at West Genesee High School, played varsity soccer and graduated in 2010.

He also worked nights on the cleaning crew at Wegmans and enrolled in Onondaga Community College, taking science and other courses that would eventually lead him to the College of Health Professions in 2016.

As Andriy worked toward his associate’s degree at OCC, he volunteered regularly at Upstate’s Community Campus – sometimes after finishing his overnight shift at Wegmans. In Community’s Post Anesthesia Care Unit, Andriy helped transport patients, stocked supplies, cleaned rooms and performed other tasks.

He made such a positive impression that he was recommended for a position downtown at Upstate University Hospital, as a housekeeper in Environmental Services.

Susan Murphy, MBA, director of Environmental Services, said Andriy is polite, honest, unassuming and committed to patient care and quality.

“He is mentioned to us by staff and patients on a regular basis,” Murphy said. One patient last week noted that Andriy went “above and beyond when cleaning. … He is exceptional!”

That applies to academics as well.

“Andriy is an outstanding student both academically and clinically,” said David Clemente, MS, chair of Upstate’s Radiologic Sciences Department. “He has diligently and consistently applied himself to his studies and professional development (even through his first child’s expectancy, birth, and infancy) and has achieved great success.”

Andriy doesn’t have much time for socializing, and he works extra hours on school breaks. “I have a car to pay for, and a baby,” he said. “My parents are working hard, too. I don’t want to ask them for money.”

In addition to his weekday clinical requirements for the bachelor’s degree in Radiography/CT, Andriy’s been working 16 hours on weekends cleaning patients’ rooms. He will continue doing that as he waits for official confirmation on a job offer as a CT technologist.

“Last semester it was kind of funny,” he said. “I was here seven days a week, and people would ask me, ‘What are you today?’”

Sunday’s Commencement will be special for the entire Heryak family.

Andriy’s parents and sister will be there. His wife, Liudmyla, whom he met in the Ukraine on a return visit in 2013, and their daughter will be there.

“I will be proud,” Andriy said. “It took a long time. My parents will be proud, too. They always wanted me and my sister to become something.”

Their wishes are coming true.

Andriy’s sister, Kateryna, graduated last year from SUNY Oswego with a bachelor’s degree in finance.

Now it’s Andriy’s turn to walk across a stage. He’ll do that in the Crouse-Hinds Theater at the OnCenter Sunday morning, wearing an Upstate cap and gown.

“I have this chance and want to use it,” he said. “I want 100 percent of it, to get the maximum out of it.”

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