Third annual walk honors fallen student

In support of deceased alumnus Steven Kovacs, more than 150 people participated in the third annual Steven Kovacs Walk Your Heart Out 5K on Sunday to help raise drug abuse awareness and recovery.

Kovacs, who was an active member of Phi Kappa Psi fraternity, graduated from Binghamton University in 2009. He was going to pursue his doctorate in psychology at the University of Tennessee; however, he passed away from mixed drug toxitity and bronchial pneumonia in the summer of 2009.

Kovacs’ mother Joni and the Binghamton chapter of Phi Kappa Psi established the 5k in 2010 to honor Kovacs’ life.

“It’s really great because originally it was only going to be one year but then they decided to do it annually for him,” said Allison Kovacs, Steven’s 16-year-old sister.

Daniel Garf, the philanthropy chair of Phi Kappa Psi, said the fraternity was inspired by Kovacs’ livelihood as an individual, his persistence as a student and his commitment to Phi Kappa Psi.

“Steve had energy and a smile that could brighten an entire lecture hall,” said Garf, a junior majoring in industrial systems engineering.

This year, the event raised $3,200 for the Fairview Recovery Center, a substance abuse center in Binghamton, and the Steven W. Kovacs Memorial Scholarship Fund.

The brothers from Phi Kappa Psi hoped the walk would raise drug awareness on campus.

“We hope that his legacy and memory could be a testament to others to seek help for someone before its too late and to raise drug awareness especially in the college setting,” said Alexander Isacc, a member of Phi Kappa Psi and a senior majoring in philosophy.

The Kovacs family created the Steven W. Kovacs Memorial award, a scholarship for students pursuing a doctorate in psychology, following his death.

“When Steve passed away, we knew we had to do something to create some kind of scholarship fund because he always had a passion for learning,” Joni Kovacs said. “We’ve given out three awards already and that scholarship is fully endowed so now we’re looking to start up a new endowment.”

Several of Kovacs’ former professors who attended the event remembered Steven fondly, including Stephen Lisman, a psychology professor.

“He was a very outgoing, very effervescent guy,” Lisman said.

Lisman admired the dedication of Steven’s friends and family to honor his memory.

“I don’t know of other people who have done such a thing,” he said. “Not too many people have had to have the horrible experience that the Kovacs family has had to deal with. But to think about his memory by creating an opportunity for fundraising and in addition they have endowed an award in his memory in the psychology department.”

Psychology professor Celia Klin, who worked with Steven in her lab and nominated him for a research award he received, said events like the 5k help keep memories of Steven alive.

“It’s a lovely tribute, keeping his name active in people’s minds, remembering him and also it’s provided money for some really wonderful causes,” she said. “We’re able to give a scholarship, an award every year at graduation for one of our graduating seniors. It’s a generous amount of money and a nice tribute to our research active students.”

Thirty members of Phi Kappa Psi and several alumni attended the walk, along with members from several other Greek organizations.

Mitchell Melikhov-Sosin, a member of Tau Alpha Epsilon who participated in the 5k, said he came to demonstrate the good that fraternities can do in the community.

“Fraternities truly are about building men and about doing community service — about engaging yourself and the community around you socially,” he said.

Joni Kovacs said her family is grateful for the efforts by Phi Kappa Psi and BU to honor Steven.

“The support has been unwavering to say the least,” she said.

Clarification: Oct. 4, 2012

An article in the Oct. 2, 2012 edition of Pipe Dream about the Steven Kovacs Walk Your Heart Out 5K stated that Kovacs had died of a prescription drug overdose. While members of Phi Kappa Psi maintain that the cause of death was a drug overdose, Kovacs’ family pointed out that the autopsy report states that the cause of death was “mixed drug toxitity and bronchial pneumonia.”