Boise State is home to many unique and talented individuals who make up the fabric of our university. Each student has a varied path that led them here – from rural Idaho or across the globe – each call Boise, and Boise State home.
Idaho, and Boise have a long history of resettlement of individuals and families that have come to our local community as refugees. Boise is the home of the Agency for New Americans which is a nonprofit that has resettled over 3300 refugees from 33 countries as well as an office of the International Rescue Committee. Boise State currently has 128 undergraduate refugee students enrolled for Spring 2022.
Three of these refugee students, Irena Sisic, Fatima Alicehajic, and Darmin Hadzic, are alumni or current students in the department of radiologic sciences. Together with their families they braved the unthinkable – making a journey across the globe to escape war – all in search of a better, safer life.
Irena Sisic was born in a country formerly known as Yugoslavia. Yugoslavia once consisted of seven Republics that now, post-war, are all independent countries. Sisic’s immediate family consists of her parents and two older brothers. Before the war, they lived in Bosnia in a small-town bordering Croatia. When Sisic was in fourth grade the war broke out and her family had to leave Bosnia. They ended up running towards Serbia where they lived until her parents heard that you could apply for an immigration visa to come and live in the United States.
The immigration process consisted of multiple interviews and the last question they asked was if they had somewhere specific they would like to go. Sisic and her family had hopes of living in a similar climate as where they once called home. No hurricanes, tornadoes, and most importantly somewhere where their children could go to school, and they could work to provide their family with a normal life and opportunities to succeed.
Once Sisic and her family arrived in Boise, her parents and oldest brother went straight to work while her other brother finished high school and went on to get his degree from Boise State. Once Sisic graduated high school, she completed a medical administrative assistant course and took a job working in the insurance industry. In 2009 Sisic’s mom had a hemorrhagic stroke, and it was the first time Sisic experienced the world of imaging sciences.
“I was blown away, the mix of working with technology and patients and other medical personnel and how in this field it all meshed together I was amazed and wanted to know more,” Sisic said.
“My personal journey at Boise State has been somewhat colorful, and undecided but once I discovered this program for Radiology Technologist, I knew that this is the career that I wanted to pursue, because I took on care for my mom, it took a bit for me to get all of the pre-req courses out of the way and once I did I applied, I was put on the waitlist and unfortunately ended up not getting into the program,” Sisic said.
Sisic is married and has two kids who saw her work and study hard and she wanted them to see her achieve this accomplishment. It was devastating to have to tell them that she didn’t get accepted.
“I told my husband first and as we talked he told me not to lose faith in myself and to not give up and just wait for the next round and apply again, and our kids know how hard I work and will now know that even when things don’t go as planned to keep working hard and to keep pushing forward, which is exactly what my parents taught me when they decided to move to a whole new country without speaking the language, working any jobs possible and still pushing forward,” Sisic said.
Sisic applied again, did her interview, and was once again put on the waitlist, but was told she was the first one on the list. Sisic was heartbroken but she decided to keep taking classes to try to get a general degree in health science, and to enjoy the summer with her family. Towards the end of summer, she received a phone call from Catherine Masters, program director, who told Sisic there was one spot left and if she still wanted to join the program it was hers. Of course, Sisic said yes and that following Monday she started her journey.
“Once I am done with this program I would like to keep working in the field and gain as much experience as possible, whether it is working for a large hospital or one of the smaller urgent care places. It will give me time to get even more knowledgeable and comfortable with all things x-ray. I do know that Boise State does have an MRI and CT programs which is great because it could provide me with even more opportunities to succeed in this field outside of school,” Sisic said.
Armstrong believes that students bring to bear their unique life experiences to their training and future work as healthcare professionals.
“As the clinical coordinator in the diagnostic radiology program it is my hope and view that we train a future healthcare workforce that is reflective of and sensitive to the community that we serve,” Armstrong said. “I believe students such as Fatima, Darmin, and Irena have a deep understanding of the unique needs of the members of our community that arrived as refugees. I believe that this will naturally enhance the health care experience and outcomes for all involved.”