Feb 05, 2013


Ashley Czajka and Michael Do Graduate from Columbia State and East Tennessee State University in the same week

(Columbia, Tenn. - May 10, 2011) - - - - Most young couples have just a handful things in common, but Ashley Czajka and Michael Do are far more alike than even they realize. Not only were they each born in the same state about 500 miles away from Tennessee, but their families each moved from Michigan to Tennessee due to the boom in the automotive industry in the 1990s when they were each in early elementary school (kindergarten for Michael and first grade for Ashley). Fast forward their educational careers to May 2011, when Ashley and Michael each accomplished something extremely rare - but very cool - at the same time.

Czajka (left) and Do (right) graduated from Columbia State on Tuesday, May 10 (above), after graduating from ETSU on Saturday, May 7 (below).

On Saturday, May 7, Czajka and Do graduated East Tennessee State University in Johnson City with a Bachelor's of Science in Radiography. They walked across the stage knowing that, just three days later, in Columbia, they'd collect another diploma, for an Associate of Applied Science in Radiologic Technology.

Getting the tassel has always been important to Do and Czajka, who have been dating for more than eight years, but how did this happen? Did they ever expect to collect two diplomas in one week?

"Well, we knew we wanted to go to PA School to open up our own practice as Physician's Assistants, and you have to have a bachelor's degree to get into PA School, and you can only apply once a year…" said Do. "…so we just applied for both at the same time," finished Czajka.

Both at the same time meaning, Columbia State's Radiologic Technology program in Columbia, and ETSU's Radiography program in Johnson City. You see, for the couple who began dating after high school (Do went to Spring Hill High and Czajka to Culleoka), it was all about timing.

"We wanted to accelerate the process, to get out into the working world as quickly as possible," added Do. So they started at Columbia State in 2005, knocking out the required courses in order to pursue a bachelor's degree, and moved to Johnson City in 2006 and began taking credits at both schools simultaneously, making the 300-plus mile trek from school to school, while doing clinicals just about everywhere in Columbia State's nine-county service area in between. "Starting at Columbia State allowed us to save money on our pre-requisites, as well as have great real life experiences in clinical settings," added Do.

Why Radiology when choosing a career? "Well, there are many different options in the field, from mammography, ultrasound and nuclear medicine, to radiation therapy, but our dream is to open up our own practice together," said Czajka. "PA school is competitive, with only a few in the state of Tennessee and around 300 applicants for every 50 or so open spots." Although it's competitive and yields a substantial financial investment to get an advanced degree, PA salaries can range from $87,000 - $150,000 a year. Plus, it's close to each of their hearts, as Michael grew up in the emergency room as a patient, after breaking bones riding BMX bikes and snowboarding, while many in Ashley's family are actually in the healthcare field (her aunt is a Radiologic Technologist at Williamson Medical Center, and her mom, Karen Czajka - also a Columbia State graduate - is an RN through Maury Regional). Michael adds "many in my family were engineers, and although very intelligent, they lost their jobs due to their company's eventual downsizing. We've never seen that happen in the healthcare field, so we know there's job security."

What's ironic about their story is that even though after eight years the couple has stayed side-by-side literally through walking across two stages to accept a total of four diplomas together, they may have to split up. But they're both willing to go to separate schools if that's what it takes to achieve their dream.

"It's competitive. We both know that it's unlikely that we each get into the same PA school. We have to get moving and take our GRE exam (one that any person pursuing an advanced degree must complete) after taking a few more classes this summer, and finish the application process by this fall," said Do. "Thanks to our instructors at Columbia State, Brenda Coleman, Kae Fleming, Nancy Hopper and Marissa Brewer, we're prepared, and we have great letters of recommendation, along with two very valuable degrees already."

Columbia State is a two-year college, serving a nine-county area in southern Middle Tennessee with locations in Columbia, Franklin, Lawrenceburg, Lewisburg, and Clifton. As Tennessee's first community college, Columbia State is committed to increasing access and enhancing diversity at all five campuses. Columbia State is a member of the Tennessee Board of Regents, the sixth largest education system in the nation. For more information, please visit www.columbiastate.edu.