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WKU students build resumes, make connections at Special Olympics USA Games

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For 22 Western Kentucky University students, a trip to Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida, wasn’t a summer vacation, but another example of the applied learning experiences offered by WKU through White Squirrel Weather and the Emergency Management Disaster Science program.

Students in Meteorology, Emergency Management Disaster Science, Homeland Security Sciences and Recreation & Sport Administration provided weather and support services for the 2022 Special Olympics USA Games June 5-12 at several venues in Orlando.

Graduate student John Bowen of Louisville called the experience “the biggest resume builder of my academic career.”

Bowen, a second-year master’s student in the Homeland Security Sciences program with a concentration in EMDS, served as deputy to University Meteorologist Josh Durkee on the weather desk in the USA Games main operations center.

“Essentially our job was to monitor the weather, pay attention to lightning, heat stress, different variables that they were looking for in order to protect athletes. Everything that we looked at had a direct impact on the rest of the Games,” Bowen said.

About 10 WKU students, faculty and staff were among the group of 40 people from around the country who worked together in the main operations center each day during the June 5-12 event in Orlando. Others in the WKU group conducted field observations at event venues or provided additional services like sports communication, crisis communication, transportation and safety services.

“Having the opportunity to go and serve in this role and being able to work for and provide assistance to the Special Olympics, Walt Disney World and the state of Florida was huge for us,” said Casey Archey of Almo, a first-year graduate student in Homeland Security Sciences who served as a sports communication coordinator. “I think this will really allow us to make some further connections and work some different events down the road. This has boosted my resume and has given me experience that will set me apart from other candidates for future job offerings.”

Archey helped manage the communication with the operations center when events ended, when they started, if events were delayed and if anyone needed medical services

“This is the second activated operations center I have worked in,” he said. “I served as weather liaison during the tornado and I worked in the operations center downtown. My ultimate goal is emergency management and to be an emergency manager. Working in an operations center in a leadership role was a huge help.”

Star Robertson, a second-year graduate student in Homeland Security Sciences with an EMDS concentration, said the experiences in WKU’s program have changed her career plans.

“When I first entered the program, I definitely wanted to do counterterrorism, counterintelligence, things like that,” said Robertson, who earned a bachelor’s in homeland security with a minor in emergency management and a bachelor’s in geographic information science from Eastern Kentucky University. “But as my experience grows, I think I want to transition more to event management or maybe the FEMA side of disaster management.”

Josh Doyle of Glasgow, a second-year graduate student in Recreation & Sport Administration, had an opportunity to work with the ESPN production crew at track and field events. “It was definitely a great experience,” he said. “The hands-on experience that I have received through this opportunity is going to be useful throughout my career.”

And that’s the goal for the Meteorology, White Squirrel Weather, Emergency Management Disaster Science and Homeland Security Sciences programs.

“We had freshmen who went to Florida. How many freshmen got to work the weather desk and emergency operations for the Special Olympics in this country? Employers always ask ‘What makes you unique? What makes you different from all the rest?’ We are the answer to that question,” Dr. Durkee said.

Contact: Josh Durkee, (270) 745-8777 or


Western Kentucky University prides itself on positioning its students, faculty and staff for long term success. As a student-centered, applied research university, WKU helps students expand on classroom learning by integrating education with real-world applications in the communities we serve. Our hilltop campus is located in Bowling Green, Kentucky, which was recently named by Reader’s Digest as one of the nicest towns in America, just an hour’s drive from Nashville, Tennessee.

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