Alumni Spotlight: Saint Mary's College and 2011 ESTEEM Graduate Michelle Kappes

Author: Notre Dame ESTEEM

Surgical intervention is often necessary for people suffering from severe back pain. Interbody spinal fusion is a common practice used to alleviate pain caused when a bulging or herniated disc impinges on the spinal cord or nerve root. Polyetherertherketone (PEEK) cages are commonly used in such instances, because they contain similar weight-bearing properties to bone and are sufficiently transparent to X-ray to allow radiographic assessment of the bony fusion desired within a cavity in the cage. However, PEEK fusion cages are dense and bioinert, which prevents the cage from fusing and fully integrating with the spine without the addition of additional bone-inducing agents. Michelle Kappes (far right in photo below), a Saint Mary’s College alum and 2011 graduate of the ESTEEM program worked closely with Dr. Ryan K. Roeder to explore a business plan for a novel porous and bioactive PEEK implant designed to better integrate in the spine. Michelle designed a company, Corepaedics, for her capstone thesis in the ESTEEM program. Through the unique ESTEEM curriculum, Michelle stated, “I learned how to tap into the medical device industry with a theoretical company to deliver an innovative, efficient, and stable product to the customer”. In addition to working with Dr. Roeder on a commercialization plan for detailed intellectual property, Michelle considers the relationships she built to be the most valuable asset of the ESTEEM program, “never thought I would learn the depth of technical engineering and business acumen while building the relationships I now have in such a short amount of time”.

Upon graduation, Michelle was able to directly apply her ESTEEM experience at her job with Zimmer Holdings, a world-leading orthopaedic company. Michelle is currently in the process of completing training in the Zimmer Sales Academy.  "The Zimmer Sales Academy (ZSA) is a unique opportunity for successful and motivated college graduates. The program is specifically designed to take students from highly technical academic disciplines into a successful sales career. The ZSA is a six to eight month program (depending on the business unit track) that provides accelerated learning in all aspects of clinical, competitive and consultative selling. The program combines classroom and laboratory training with field-based observation and assignments that allow for the rapid integration of theory and practice. Through the program, participants gain access to mentors who are committed to helping propel their career growth."


After completion of her intense on-the-job training, as a technical sales representative Michelle will be assisting surgeons with Zimmer products used in reconstructive surgeries. Her work with Dr. Roeder provided a framework for Michelle to learn about technology used in reconstructive surgeries. With a great capstone thesis project and a little help from the knowledge she attained through the ESTEEM program, Michelle developed the skills needed to find success with Zimmer.

Congratulations Michelle!