A few years ago, Emily Kochanski found herself in nursing school. She even had a full-time job at an assisted living facility. But halfway through her nursing education, she quickly realized this path just wasn't exactly for her.

"I knew I wanted to get back into acting," she says. "A co-worker told me about Saint Leo University. So, I came to campus for a visit, fell in love with it, and the rest is history."

Making Her Mark at Saint Leo

The 25-year-old native of Dade City, Fla. is now a soon-to-be graduate of Saint Leo. She is majoring in English with a specialization in theater.

"Going back to school has been the best decision I've ever made," she says. "I was able to get educated in a few different areas, and I don't think I could've gotten that mix anywhere else. I've also made so many close friends and amazing connections for my future."

She has many fond memories of her classes and professors.

"I've really loved all of my classes," she says. "All of my theater classes with Dr. Alicia Corts have really helped me further my acting skills. Dr. Elizabeth Aiken, Dr. Kathryn Duncan and several others have also been very helpful." 

Finding Happiness on Stage

According to Kochanski, the performance stage has always been one of her favorite places to be.

"I have been interested in theater since elementary school," she explains. "As I got older, I walked away from it for a while. After things kind of died down and I had some time to look at my life, I realized I was missing out on things, and I immediately knew that theater was one of those things that made me happy."

She has been in four performances on campus and has also been an assistant director for one.

"Return to the Forbidden Planet was one of my favorites. It was really nice having a lead role, and it made me feel good about myself. That show combines music, acting, cheesy sci-fi and Shakespeare, which makes for an interesting story. I had so many friends in that show. It was kind of a nice last hurrah with them."

To get in the right frame of mind before performing, Kochanski and her fellow stage mates use various strategies.

"Dr. Corts has taught us different warm-up exercises to relax before going on stage. One of them is to think of a character and a song, and then just lose yourself in that song and don't think about anything else."

The good news for her is that she's learned to tame her nerves in front of an audience.

"I really don't get nervous on stage because I'm just being myself, no matter what character I am. I like entertaining others and hearing them laugh or seeing them smile. I'd like to know I've influenced others in a positive way."

Life on Campus

Kochanski serves as the campus news editor for The Lion's Pride, the Saint Leo student newspaper. While she does cover regular stories herself, she has more of a managerial position.

"My role is mostly about overseeing some of our writers and keeping them on track," she explains. "I try to make sure they submit their articles on time, make sure they are capable of covering different stories and events and then sit down with them and teach them about writing for journalism. I want to give them this knowledge I've learned so that some day, they can teach other writers as well."

In addition to her editorial work, she is president of the English honor society Sigma Tau Delta and secretary of Alpha Psi Omega, a theater honor society.

"Becoming president of Sigma Tau Delta was pretty special, and it was my first time being president of anything," she says. "I admit this was a little nerve-racking at first."

The theater honor society's chapter is attempting to raise awareness about all the cool things students are doing in drama.

"The goal of Alpha Psi Omega is to educate and entertain our community on theater and the arts. What we do doesn't always get a lot of attention on campus, so we're trying to attract more interest in our program and what we offer."

Her Path Forward

While in school at Saint Leo, Kochanski has had the opportunity to work for Pasco News Publications, which produces news stories about Pasco County, Fla. She has a job lined up with the news outlet upon collecting her diploma, but acting remains in her heart.

"Journalism is like my keep-myself-afloat career," she says. "My goal is to go to Georgia where the acting industry is growing."

READ MORE: Check out Kochanski's article on an award-winning Saint Leo poet in The Lion's Pride. Emily is also a reporter for the Pasco county publication of Dade City News.

Photo credit: The photograph of Emily Kochanski in Return to the Forbidden Planet was taken by Tisse Mallon and is used with permission. The other photo, provided by Emily Kochanski, is also used with permission.

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