June 2, 2023

Lending a Hand

When University of Mary Washington senior Rebecca Kalinich was in the hospital last spring for surgery, career planning was not on her agenda.

Yet a newspaper article about the issues associated with prosthetic limbs in underdeveloped countries caught her attention – and planted a seed that changed her future.

A year later, Kalinich is graduating from UMW with a bachelor’s degree in biology and a future in artificial limb design. This fall, she will volunteer with Walter Reed military hospital in Bethesda, Md., designing and assembling prosthetic arms and legs to gain experience for graduate school.

Rebecca Kalinich shares her limb diagrams.
Rebecca Kalinich shares her limb diagrams.

After her time in the hospital, Kalinich continued to hear stories about issues with artificial limbs and develop her desire to design them. She was especially moved by accounts of runners whose prosthetic legs would frequently break, keeping them from being able to compete.

“That just shouldn’t happen,” said Kalinich, who is an avid runner. “They’re trying this hard to have a normal life again and that should be possible.”

When she returned to UMW for her senior year, she had a new focus for her studies. Luckily, though, her newfound career goal didn’t leave her scrambling to change her academic course.

“I’ve always wanted to be in the health sciences because I’ve been around sports my whole life,” said Kalinich, who already was majoring in biology. Since she was 5, she’d been involved in gymnastics, soccer and diving, while her parents, who are both scientists, have influenced her to combine her passions for sports and science.

With a father who worked on a military base and a grandfather who served in the Army, working with veterans was a natural fit for her first job out of college.

“It’s a good way to help them out when they return from duty,” said Kalinich, whose dream job is with the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs, helping veteran amputees learn to maneuver their new limbs and move on with their lives.

One day, she’d like to see active duty military members using prosthetic limbs that she designed.

“You see what military members can go through after serving our country, and I just want to help them,” said Kalinich.

“What better way than to use my career for their benefit.”