Associate professor, Pittsburg State honored by Special Olympics Kansas 

A 41-year partnership between Pittsburg State University and Special Olympics Kansas has been strengthened in recent years, thanks to the efforts of an associate professor and her students in the Health, Human Performance, and Recreation Department. 

Their efforts prompted Special Olympics Kansas to choose Pittsburg State and Laura Covert-Miller for its 2021 Southeast Kansas Organization of the Year Award.  

Special Olympics Kansas CEO John Lair and Director of Grants and Development Erin Fletcher presented Covert-Miller with the award in a ceremony held Tuesday at the Student Recreation Center, where the HHPR Department is based. 

“This is very well deserved,” Fletcher said. “Laura was nominated for her dedication and commitment to improving the lives of those with intellectual disabilities.” 

Among Covert-Miller's accomplishments: assisting with multiple events each year including the Special Olympics North America Move Challenge, founding and continuing the TR-iffic Day (Therapeutic Recreation) at Pittsburg State, and a fitness evaluation program for Special Olympics athletes. 

Special Olympics

The partnership has helped not just those served by Special Olympics Kansas, but Pittsburg State students majoring in exercise science and therapeutic recreation. 

“The opportunity to collaborate on programs, events, and research has helped strengthen our program, too,” Covert-Miller said. “At the heart of this are two groups: Special Olympics athletes and our PSU students, and it has provided a way to learn from and with each other while at the same time building lifelong relationships. I hope these experiences help these students to become advocates for the health and wellness of those with intellectual disabilities." 

Among her students is Libby Van Rheen, Covert-Miller's graduate assistant from Gardner, Kansas, majoring in therapeutic recreation, who said the program has impacted her education and her outlook.

She worked with Special Olympics Kansas for her practicum her senior year, has done research with Covert-Miller involving the fitness of Special Olympics athletes, and created a printed resource booklet for them featuring nutritional information and exercises and activities that they could do at home. 

“Because of Dr. Laura Covert-Miller, I have been able to do so much and learn so much...and it’s been an incredible experience,” Van Rheen said. 

Lair said he was excited to give Covert-Miller the award because of the impact she has had on the community, her students, and Special Olympics Kansas. He noted that in the Move Challenge, Kansas came in first place, beating out large states like Texas and New York. 

“I wanted to come here today to personally congratulate her for helping to foster that partnership between Special Olympics and Pittsburg State,” he said.

Caption ID: 

From left, John Opplinger (Chair, PSU Department of Health, Human Performance, & Recreation), John Lair (Special Olympics Kansas CEO), Libby Van Rheen (graduate assistant), Laura Covert-Miller (associate professor), Erin Fletcher (Special Olympics Kansas director of grants and development), Duayne Vaughn (Special Olympic local program coordinator at New Hope Services), and James Truelove (dean of the College of Education).

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Therapeutic Recreation