For most of her youth, it was the sport of soccer that roused Kathleen Quillian’s passion in life. But in the fall of 2011, during a Flagler soccer team practice drill, she badly injured her left knee — derailing a future in soccer and crushing her dreams in the sport.
Times were tough. It was her first year, she had just moved away from home and now she was navigating an unfamiliar campus — on crutches. But in her quieter moments, she realized she was at Flagler to earn a degree, and found she still yearned to channel her passion — if not into soccer — into something else.
“I took all that time that I had put into soccer, and put it into journalism,” the communication major said. “I knew if I were going to be successful, I’d have to put the same amount of love into something else.”
Pursuing journalism was never a hard sell. As a child, Quillian said, “my mother would make me listen to NPR news stories during long car rides to soccer practice.” Her life became filled with storytelling, and storytelling, as she matured, would become her life: she wrote articles for her high school newspaper, interned at NPR affiliates in Georgia and just after her freshman year, interned at CNN in her hometown of Atlanta in 2013.
“That was the hardest summer of my life,” she said. Quillian recounted being told that her desk would be located in the main newsroom, featured in public tours.
“My heart just dropped,” she said. “I couldn’t believe I would actually be in the newsroom. I thought they were kidding; the whole thing was overwhelming to me.”
Quillian worked on what’s known as “The Row,” or with a team of researchers (who are physically positioned in a row) that fact-check and screen the content of journalists, some of them veteran.
“They didn’t exactly like handing over their script to a 19-year-old to check,” she said.
But the experience proved to be formative, developing her research skills and debunking the myth that seasoned journalists’ work is impeccable. She often caught mistakes, in name spellings, statistics and video “jump cuts.”
Her passion didn’t stop there. The following summer, she vowed to do more work in the field, but this time, outdoors. Quillian loved to travel, so when she came across a poster advertising a film production crew position in Kenya outside Professor and Communication Department Chair Dr. Tracy Halcomb’s office, she immediately applied.
Months later in August of 2014, she began her position as producer of a short documentary titled “Living Positive,” which highlighted the story of Rose, an HIV-positive Kenyan woman whose quality of life had been improved through the non-profit organization Safe Water and AIDS Project (SWAP). SWAP aims to improve the health and economic status of Kenyan people through disease prevention and economic empowerment.
As part of her role, Quillian organized the production schedule and budget and was in charge of the film’s screening at the Kenyan National Library. The summer gig satiated her desire to be outdoors, but came with its challenges.
“I was completely mesmerized by Rose’s story…but the job was mentally exhausting,” she said. “You put yourself in these people’s lives…there’s not a lot of time to build trust and relationships in just one month. And Rose lived 30 minutes from where we stayed, and the gear…”
She sighed and reflected, as a senior might, on the days when she would complain about carrying production gear around the Flagler campus: “And now I’m like, ‘I had to carry gear up a mountain and wake up at 3 a.m. for a sunrise shoot.’ When you get into the real world, nothing compares to the small assignments you have here.”
Quillian is well aware of Flagler’s impact on her education, noting that projects often include learning pre-production and production techniques — an approach that supplants “busy work” other students might experience at larger colleges.
“I am not an academic,” she said. “I am dyslexic and am one of those people that spends weeks and weeks preparing for a test. I’m also not a standardized test person and used to cry when someone put a ‘Scantron’ in front of me. At Flagler, I finally felt like I could prove my intelligence, through my work.”
And that, she has unequivocally done. Recently, Quillian was named the Grand Award winner of the fifth edition of Anthology, a print publication produced by the college's online newspaper, The Gargoyle. Her winning piece, “Title IX Flagler,” was a video for the Communication Department’s newscast, FCTV Newscenter. She was the creator and executive producer of the newscast.
"Kathleen is one of the best students I have had the pleasure of teaching at Flagler College,” Associate Professor of Communication Helena Sarkio said. “She is inquisitive and hardworking, but most of all she is passionate about her work. What sets Kathleen apart perhaps the most is her drive to do work that truly matters."
The graduate's next chapter in her own life story will begin this summer, when she returns to Atlanta to work on production projects.
“I know it sounds ironic, but you don’t have to go to Kenya to produce a compelling story,” she said. “You should be able to find those who don’t have a voice right in your own backyard.”
Beyond those projects, Quillian would like to start her own production company, with a colleague from her Kenya-based assignment.
“Journalism is the only thing I feel I’m called to do,” she said. “Nothing makes me happier than producing a story and building a relationship with a person I didn’t know.”
Quillian’s website is http://www.kathleennquillian.com.