Back to Bay County: One young professional's journey to a career in her hometown

Family bonds, rewarding employment opportunities, and small-town perks are just some of the strings that reeled John Glenn High School graduate Tessa Leppek back to Bay County after time away in the Windy City.

Tessa Leppek graduated from John Glenn High School and Delta College before leaving the area to pursue her education. She says a job and family ties drew her back to the community. (Photo courtesy of Tessa Leppek)With talent retention and attraction being of major significance in the area, Route Bay City takes a look at what kept Leppek here.

Leppek, 25, grew up in Bangor Township with her parents and three sisters and graduated from John Glenn in 2014. After completing two years at Delta College, Leppek continued on to Eastern Michigan University to complete a Bachelor ‘s Degree in Exercise Science.

“I was advised that Exercise Science is the best gateway degree to get into any kind of medical field. That’s why I chose that, so I could get into the O & P (orthotics and prosthetics) field. That was my Plan A since high school, to go into prosthetics,” says Leppek.

It was during her time at Eastern that Leppek began to investigate options for internship in the Bay County area, eventually landing on Oakland Orthopedic Appliances Inc., 515 Mulholland St. It was during her four-month internship there that she began to realize that this was the place she would want to return for her career.

At Oakland Orthopedic, Leppek says she is able to use cutting-edge technology to help patients discover new normals. (Photo courtesy of Tessa Leppek)“I shadowed many other places while at Eastern, but I fell in love with this company.”

Though clinicians are not typically hired post-internship, Leppek was able to secure an assistant position after graduating from Eastern in 2018. Leppek says, “It’s a very nice family company. They take patient care seriously. Some companies only look at numbers, but here if something doesn’t fit, we make it right.”

Leppek fell in love with the business’s slogan, “Caring people changing lives,” and began to live out that mantra for the next year as she applied to schools for her graduate program to become a Masters Prosthetist Orthotist (MPO).

“There are only about 12 schools in the nation that offer this program. I was accepted at Northwestern University in Chicago, which is considered one of the Godfather schools for the MPO program.”

Oakland told her that a position would be waiting when she returned, so Leppek embarked on the two-year program, eventually graduating right in the midst of the pandemic.

Leppek works with patients of all ages. (Photo courtesy of Tessa Leppek)“I was able to go away for a bit and get it out of my system, but I always wanted to come home. It feels like you are in a big city here, but it’s nice that you aren’t.”

Upon return, Leppek signed a contract and began her two-year residency at Oakland in 2021. Corey Smith, one of the owners of Oakland Orthopedic as well as a certified prosthetist, saw many traits in Leppek that encouraged him to hire her.

“First and foremost, we are very strongly rooted in Bay City and Bay County. This is where our home office originated 50 years ago. When Tessa looked our company up to do an internship, through getting to know her and that she was local, that was a big advantage. We like to support our local professionals, so that was the first thing that drew us to her,” Smith said.

While the local roots gave her an edge, her skill and demeanor on the job sealed the deal, according to Smith. “She has a phenomenal personality. Anyone she comes in contact with, she is relatable to that person. She makes them feel comfortable.”

As Leppek nears the end of the first year of her residency, her enthusiasm for her profession hasn’t waned in the least.

“My favorite part is the opportunity to help patients and change their new normal. With prosthetics, you’ve lost a limb. It isn’t coming back. We have to adjust to what you have now. It’s always a great feeling to see the process and gain the trust of the patient and their family.”

Additionally, working with pediatric patients and being able to use some of the most cutting-edge technology in the field have been career highlights for Leppek.

Oakland partners with larger manufacturers, such as global orthopedics leader Ossur, headquartered in Iceland. That gives her the opportunity to pilot innovative techniques and equipment.
'When Tessa looked our company up to do an internship, through getting to know her and that she was local, that was a big advantage. We like to support our local professionals.'
- Corey Smith of Oakland Orthopedic
One piece of equipment is Power Knee, a motor-powered microprocessor knee that helps above-the-knee amputees regain and maintain mobility. This new knee offers an alternative to the mechanical or hydraulic knee.

Leppek says she likes working with the latest technology because it speeds up the process of helping patients find their new normal.

Leppek says these types of professional opportunities will keep her near her hometown. She lives in Kawkawlin with her boyfriend and two dogs, Titos and Miley.

“All of my family is here. I have never foreseen myself going anywhere else. Bay City is growing and thriving and becoming more of a tourist town. New restaurants and shops are opening, and I am seeing and learning new things everyday now. This is home. ”

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