Paving Her Own path: Katie Kocan has Created a Unique Student Experience at Millikin University

Kocan is a junior Arts Technology and Theater and Performance Studies double major.

DECATUR, Ill. – As junior Katie Kocan was figuring out the focus of what her studies were going to be, she ended up doing something completely unique. 

Kocan, who is originally from Galva, Ill., decided to major in , but as she came to campus and got a taste of the other program options available, her interests also pushed her toward an with a concentration in Video Production and Cinema. Her double major is a unique path of study that no other student at Millikin is doing and speaks to the plethora of options open to Big Blue students. 

Katie Kocan
Katie Kocan has found a unique path at Millikin. 

“Millikin has been so far beyond what I thought I would get. I never dreamed of myself being where I am now,” Kocan said. “When I came in, I was originally just a Theater and Performance Studies student because I wasn't aware that Arts Technology was a thing until I met some people in it. Then I joined and met all of those people who were so passionate about filmmaking, and I wanted to go into it.”

Founded in 2020, the Millikin student-run venture 1901 Productions – which shares its name with the year of founding – is a video production company that provides Millikin students with Performance Learning opportunities with both creative and business elements. Students produce short and feature-length films, and membership has given Kocan a chance to gain experience in her field of interest: casting. 

Katie Kocan
Katie Kocan on the set of "Slayer."

When I was a kid, I was a big reader, but I was also a big movie buff. One of my favorite things to do was read books and imagine them in my head as a movie, and I would pick the faces that I thought represented the characters,” Kocan said. “It became something that I wanted to pursue professionally because I realized that's a job people actually do. I've worked on seven of the 1901 films, and except for one, I’ve cast each one. I've gotten a good amount of experience doing that on campus, and it’s been really fun and drives the fact that I want to keep doing it.”

This spring, Kocan is co-directing 1901’s next short film, "Slayer.” Slayer is the fourth of four short films completed by 1901 that will be edited into a feature-length anthology film that will eventually be given a worldwide premiere showing in Decatur. 

“Our current anthology theme is horror as a genre, and we are including an element of water in each film. I am co-directing with Blake Wiebe, and we wrote it together,” Kocan said. “It's a campy horror comedy and a satire of horror slashers. It follows six students who are locked in their dorm building, which we're going to film on the second floor of () Aston Hall.”

Katie Kocan
Katie Kocan is co-directing the 1901 Prodcuation's short film "Slayer."

Along with sitting in the director’s chair, Kocan fills her calendar with a wide variety of extracurriculars. In 1901, she has done a little bit of everything, serving as sound operator, costume designer and technical director. She is also the Promotions Manager for WJMU “The Quad,” on-campus radio station, and serves as a photographer and videographer for Millikin dance groups Physical Graffiti and Burlesque Underground. She hones her improvisation skills on The Math Club Improv Team and is a member of several sororities and honor societies, including Alpha Chi Omega, Alpha Psi Omega, and Alpha Lambda Delta. 

“At Millikin, I've learned that even if it is a challenge at the moment, it is best to always say yes because there's so much you don't know that you can learn until you learn it,” Kocan said. “There's a lot of things I've learned from working at WJMU that I wouldn't have known if I hadn't run for an exec position and I would have missed out on the entirety of this film if I hadn't joined 1901.”

This summer, Kocan will serve in the camera department for the filming of the independent horror film “The Baton Rouge Serial Killer: Derrick Todd Lee,” which will be filmed in Decatur and around Central Illinois. 

Katie Kocan

“I will be helping mostly with operating the camera, switching out lenses, and being the right-hand to the person working the camera,” Kocan said. “Millikin has so many opportunities, both through its programs and through student-led organizations, that if you come to this school and you don't find something you love, you must be doing something wrong.”