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Undergraduate student finds joys in French major, career in prosthetics

June 9, 2023

Undergraduate student finds joys in French major, career in prosthetics

Alyssa Walsh in Uganda

Throughout her life, Alyssa Walsh has gone above and beyond to exhibit empathy and caring.

When Walsh was in high school in Rochester, New York, after a classmate died by suicide, she helped start a benefit concert that aims to raise awareness of mental health in youth.

When she began at Ohio State, she joined MEDLIFE — a club dedicated to medicine, education and development for low-income families — and traveled to Peru to set up temporary clinics for people without access to health care. She has been a member of Best Buddies, which provides one-to-one friendships for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

During her sophomore year at Ohio State, she co-founded a chapter of Empower Through Health and traveled to Uganda to research and influence how the east African nation treats mental health.

And when she got back from Uganda, unsure where her pre-med path was taking her, a conversation with a prosthetics student showed her how to bring her empathetic nature into a career in prosthetics.

Alyssa Walsh at graduation
Alyssa Walsh at Ohio State commencement

“I pestered her with more and more questions,” said Walsh, who graduated from Ohio State in May 2023. “Then I went home and started researching and I was like, ‘This is it. This is what I want to change to.’”

Focusing her career on prosthetics also enabled her to fully delight in her actual major: French. Walsh took French in high school and began her time at Ohio State as a double major in biology and romance studies. She realized after a short time that she was getting her true enjoyment from academics through French courses and switched to a full-time French major through the Department of French and Italian. She also minored in chemistry.

Making that switch into a major that she knows won’t play a large, immediate role in her career has been liberating. That indirect path is an unusual one for many students, who often focus their coursework in a way that will have clear-cut benefits to their careers.

“With French, it just felt more comfortable and I don't know, just, just something I wanted to be spending my time with,” Walsh said. “But once I really knew [my path], my attitude totally changed without having to do anything. I saw everything as an opportunity instead of a task.”

Walsh describes her French courses as “wonderfully joyful” and says she approached all her classes with an attitude of really wanting to be there. With her French professors, she had deep, meaningful conversations about life beyond campus. Some of her favorite experiences included trying on chain mail in a Medieval French course taught by department chair Sarah-Grace Heller and involving lecturer Gloria Torrini-Roblin in a discussion about her future career in prosthetics.

During her time in Columbus, she was able to shadow prosthetist Mick Crawford at a local company called Capital Prosthetic and Orthotic Center Inc. Crawford has shown her how to treat patients throughout the prosthetics process, including checking sockets, trying on new limbs and even proper bedside manner.

When Walsh leaves Ohio State this summer, she’ll be heading to graduate school for prosthetics and orthotics at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston. There, she’ll obtain her Master of Orthotics and Prosthetics through an accelerated program and follow that with a residency.

After that, she’ll be able to begin practicing full-time. Where that might be, Walsh isn’t quite sure yet. She’d love to continue some of her work with underserved populations overseas. Maybe that work brings her back to Uganda to set up a prosthetics division with Empower Through Health. Or maybe she winds up using her major courses to help people in a French-speaking nation.

Looking back, she knows her varied experiences at Ohio State — whether it’s clubs, chemistry courses, French courses, or the faculty and friends she met over her four years — have built a strong foundation for the future.

“Ohio State had a very good way of not making you feel like one of 60,000,” Walsh said. “There are more opportunities than you could even read about. … I thought I knew what I wanted to do, but I definitely wanted to explore a lot and wanted inspiration from other people and other sources.”

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