Rachel Otwell

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Read Rachel's "The Scene" blog.

Rachel's reports focus on the arts, community, and diverse culture. She produces WUIS' original program, Illinois Edition. She also hosts Art Beat, which airs on Fridays and features cultural happenings in the central Illinois region.

 She's a 2012 graduate of the Public Affairs Reporting Program at the University of Illinois Springfield. While working toward that degree she spent a session covering the state legislature for WUIS and Illinois Public Radio with a focus on fracking. Rachel also holds degrees from UIS in Liberal & Integrative Studies, Women & Gender Studies, and African-American Studies. She's tutored Rwandan refugees in Ohio, volunteered at a Kenyan orphanage,  served as an activities assistant at a nursing home, and volunteered at an elephant sanctuary in Thailand. 

Rachel started a career in public media in 2011 when she interned for the National Public Radio program Tell Me More with Michel Martin in Washington, DC. Her reports have also appeared on NPR's Weekend Edition, NPR's All Things Considered, NPR's Morning Edition, WorkingNow.org, and 51%.

Black mold, crumbling plaster, leaking ceilings, broken stairs... A home with these problems probably doesn't sound like the ideal residence for a multimillionaire like Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner. But that's exactly the issues that have cropped up after years of neglect at the Executive Mansion, aka the Governor's Mansion, in Springfield, which is 160 years old. 

artsalliance.org

Illinois advocates for the arts say Governor Bruce Rauner's plan for more budget cuts is bad policy. Since 2007, the budget for the Illinois Arts Council Agency has already been cut in half.  Under Rauner's guidance, it would drop another 20 percent, down to $8 million.Ra Joy heads an organization that represents hundreds of artists and cultural groups in the state.

Ra Joy  heads Arts Alliance Illinois, an advocacy group that represents hundreds of cultural groups and artists in the state. He was at the capitol this week with about 500 hundred other rally-goers, urging Governor Bruce Rauner and lawmakers to keep the Illinois State Museum open. Gov. Rauner wants to close it, saying the estimated $5 million per year in savings is needed because of a state budget that's billions in the red. Joy says that move is short-sighted and "bone-headed."

With the advent of the Affordable Care Act, and the insurance marketplace in Illinois - more contraceptives are available at no cost to women who are covered under the plans. But there is still confusion when it comes to just what methods are included. 

Taste of Downtown was a festival that Springfield had put on for 15 years. But it's gone. In its place is the Bacon Throwdown & Music Fest, also hosted by Downtown Springfield Inc. Victoria Ringer heads the non-profit group. She joined us to talk about the new fest - which will feature bacon as the key ingredient to the food being offered from Springfield-area resturants.

Almost 7,000 people on Facebook have "liked" a page titled 'Save the Illinois State Museum.' Supporters have planned a rally for July 21st. 

Union members have long been at odds with government in Illinois. They have come out attacking both Democrats and Republicans alike for measures to cut or freeze benefits as the state grapples with its billions of dollars of debt. One historical figurehead in the movement for workers' rights is still highly lauded - Mary Harris Jones, aka Mother Jones

ILLINOIS ISSUES - Emma Todd, then a 19-year-old freshman at the University of Tulsa, found herself seriously contemplating suicide, again. This time, the Springfield native had made her way to the top of a building.

In this day and age when people put a lot of effort into making their videos or news stories viral,  there's one sure-fire way to garner some extra attention - put a cat in it. Instagram is full of pictures of cats, and your Facebook news feed likely sees a cat video from time to time. Grumpy Cat is a household name, and face. But what implication does this have with the quality of news we receive?
Steve Myers

Betsy Dollar’s office at the Springfield Art Association, which she heads, is a hodgepodge of computers used for digital art classes, important files, various books and pieces of art. Her dog, Jake, who tends to accompany her to work, is napping under the desk. Dollar is in the middle of a messy project, using clay to restore a historic ceiling medallion that was damaged at Edwards Place, a home that is part of the Springfield Art Association campus and was the original center of artistic activity for the group some 100 years ago. This is the office of a person who does far more than push papers and handle bureaucratic duties; it’s headquarters for a woman who does a little bit of everything to keep the organization she loves running.

Each year, hundreds of thousands of children in the U.S. are the victims of domestic abuse. Some die at the hands of the people who are supposed to protect them. That's what happened to Maxwell, he was two when he died after a history of neglect and abuse that was never adequately addressed. He left behind a family who will never forget him, and a sister who has worked to cope with his passing. 

Chicago Singles Club probably sounds like a dating site - but it actually is an operation that records and releases free singles, of the musical variety. Chicago Singles Club is in its second year and features some of Chicago's best and most unique independent artists. We spoke with one of the founders, Jeff Kelley, to find out more: 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

University of Illinois officials say they will continue to convene meetings on the prevention of sexual assault on all three campuses. The group comprises about 20 people - including legal counsel, police, and women's rights advocates.

Dedra Williams is the Assistant VP for Academic Affairs at the University of Illinois, she says the goal is to ultimately shape effective policies: "If we need to make improvements, we want to be a leader and work with the legislators, with our campuses, and make a safe place for our students."

A panel that considered whether to separate Springfield's Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum from the state's historic preservation agency released its findings on Wednesday. Convened at the request of both entities, the study recommends keeping the same oversight. Legislation has been proposed to split them apart. The report also suggests a reorganization of the state agency to improve what it calls the cultures of "politics" and "research."

The Chicago Tribune has been taking a look at the rampant problems that appear to be taking place at residential treatment centers for teens run by the state. David Jackson has been one of the reporters who has been looking at the issue over a long period of time.

The Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in Springfield will host new exhibits, features, and events this coming year. The facility's 10th anniversary will coincide with the 150th observance of Lincoln's assassination. 

The holidays can bring out the compassionate side of people. Some might be inspired to donate to charities or take on volunteer work. For one local man, helping the less fortunate is something he does on a daily basis. But it wasn't always that way.

Same sex marriage took effect in Illinois earlier this year, and while our state has joined the ranks of others that offer an increased amount of rights and protections to the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community, cities differ in laws and policies that promote equality. A report that was released a few weeks ago looked at cities from around the country - seven of which are in Illinois.

It's veto session this week at the statehouse and talks of the state's budget problems aren't going away any time soon. 

The group "Africans in Central Illinois" and  Grace United Methodist Church  are hosting an event on Saturday night at 5 at Southeast High School. It will raise funds for Doctors Without Borders  in the fight against Ebola and include dance, a fashion show, music, and a silent auction. We spoke with Munah Jallah and Braimah Kanu about it:

For some people, paying to watch one Power Point presentation after another might sound insane. But with interesting topics covered at a brisk pace, plenty of refreshments and a snazzy name - such events are becoming popular around the globe.

It’s been a long time since you could say there were bison roaming the prairie in Illinois. The last ones were thought to have died off here or moved to other places in the 1800s. And while bison have still been raised here on farms, there haven’t been efforts for bison conservation in the state. That is, until now.

Cody Considine is an ecologist for the The Nature Conservancy at the Nachusa Grasslands. He joined us for this interview:

Former president Jimmy Carter made a stop in Jacksonville Tuesday and spoke to over 2,000 people about his quest for peace and human rights. He spoke in a crowded gymnasium at Illinois College. 

His appearance coincided with the school's new initiative called 'Pathways to Peace' in which students and faculty will study the Middle East, and have participants travel to Dubai and the West Bank.

Hydraulic fracturing, commonly called "fracking" - is an extraction method of natural gas that has many environmentalists concerned. It also has energy business booming in towns across the nation, and those towns will soon include ones in southern Illinois.

 

But in states where fracking is already underway, some say public health is at risk and pollution is happening. A recent study in Texas has looked at the liquid byproduct left over from fracking - and how it could be safely handled. Jamey Dunn joins us to talk about her recent column on the topic:

A new four-year nursing program is coming to the University of Illinois Springfield.  It will be the first medical major the campus is offering. 

A Practice In Poverty

Sep 15, 2014

It’s been 50 years since the “War on Poverty” was launched. Around 15% of Illinois residents currently live in poverty, the same percentage of a half century ago. Universities, non-profits, and other organizations are teaming up to draw attention to the unrelenting problem. The University of Illinois Springfield is hosting a series of poverty-related events in the coming year. The first was a “poverty simulation.”

Racial tension and profiling by police were among the topics discussed at a community meeting held at Southeast High School in Springfield on Thursday. Over 300 people were in attendance for the meeting put on by the local chapter of the NAACP. It was organized as a response to the situation in Ferguson, Missouri where an unarmed black teen was shot and killed by a police officer. One common refrain was that blacks in Springfield often feel targeted by police simply because of their skin color.

Over 300 people met in Springfield last night to talk about racial profiling and its effect on African American youth. 

Putting on older theater productions can be a dilemma for those who want to preserve the art in its original form. Some production groups may decide to reinvent pieces that could be seen as problematic in modern times. An operetta currently being performed in Springfield by local actors has sparked controversy for what many consider to be racist qualities.

There will be heightened security at Lanphier High School Wednesday after a student brought a gun to class on Tuesday afternoon. The weapon was apprehended without incident and the 16 year old male student was arrested. Police say he allegedly had the gun for protection and at no point displayed or threatened to use it. Superintendent Jennifer Gill says there will be more police officers at the high school in the coming few days: