Occupational Therapy Department at UTHSC to Award Posthumous Degree to Student Who Died in 2015

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Rachel Kay Stevens dreamed of being an occupational therapist. Almost two years after her death, she will be awarded a posthumous OT degree from the UTHSC College of Health Professions. (Photo courtesy of Katrina Stevens)

In life, Rachel Kay Stevens wanted to help children as an occupational therapist. After her death, her teachers and classmates are ensuring her wish is fulfilled.

Stevens, who died in January 2015 shortly after starting occupational therapy training at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center (UTHSC), will receive a posthumous OT degree from the UTHSC College of Health Professions during the college’s spring commencement ceremony on May 26.  Her parents, Randy and Katrina Stevens of Batesville, Arkansas, will accept the degree.

The ceremony is set for 1:30 p.m. at the Cook Convention Center Ballroom. Among the graduates will be occupational therapy students who started their training with Stevens.

“Because she did not have the opportunity to fulfill her dream of earning a master’s degree in occupational therapy, Rachel will be recognized through the awarding of a master of occupational therapy degree on graduation day,” said Anne Zachry, PhD, OTR/L, chair and assistant professor in the UTHSC Department of Occupational Therapy. The awarding of a posthumous degree is a rare occurrence.

This will not be the first time students and faculty have honored her memory. In 2016, The Rachel Kay Stevens Therapy Center opened its doors in the Boling Center for Developmental Disabilities on campus. The center is the only student-run, pro bono pediatric occupational therapy center in the country. Open the first and third Tuesday of every month, it offers OT services to children of families, who are uninsured or underinsured.

Managed and staffed primarily by OT student volunteers under the supervision of UTHSC faculty, the center provides developmental screenings, evaluations and therapy for children, as well as education for parents. This year’s chair of the student board that runs the clinic is Shani Henley, a childhood friend of Stevens.

“Rachel’s legacy lives on through The Rachel Kay Stevens Therapy Center,” Dr. Zachry said. “Because of Rachel, underserved children and their families in the Mid-South are receiving much-needed OT services.” The clinic has served more than 270 children and families since it opened.

Katrina Stevens said she and her husband are honored and humbled to accept the degree in their daughter’s memory, and are blessed by the support from faculty, staff, and students at UTHSC. “Rachel will forever have her official presence in the MOT Class of 2017,” she said. “For that, we are so grateful. We feel 100 percent supported and loved by the UT family, who have all had a part in remembering Rachel.”