Rachel Otwell

Reporter/ The Scene Blog

217-206-6407

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 The Scene, 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%.

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DEMO Project
12:32 pm
Wed August 13, 2014

Artist Lauren Turk's 'Communal Paradox' Opens At DEMO Project

The DEMO Project in Springfield showcases contemporary art, much of which is in the form of installations. The pieces come out of the walls, wind around the room and even jump out of the fireplace. Artist and Illinois native Lauren Turk's exhibit titled 'Communal Paradox' opens on Friday evening on the Springfield Art Association's campus. We recently spoke with her.

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Ferguson, MO
12:01 pm
Wed August 13, 2014

Updates From Ferguson Via St. Louis Public Radio's Rachel Lippmann

Demonstrators stand in front of the Quik Trip late Tuesday evening.
Credit Chris McDaniel/St. Louis Public Radio

18 year old Michael Brown was shot by police on Saturday in a St. Louis suburb called Ferguson, and what was originally a peaceful vigil and protest the next day became a night of arson, rioting, and theft. Since then police and the community continue to square off as tensions around the shooting of Brown, who was black and unarmed, continue to spread. St. Louis Public Radio's Rachel Lippmann updates us on where things stand as of Wednesday morning.

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Science
12:05 pm
Mon August 11, 2014

A History Of Native American Healing

Native American culture is known for being particularly in tune with the natural world. This has translated to a long tradition of treating ailments with plants and herbal remedies. A presentation on Tuesday afternoon at SIU’s Pearson Museum in Springfield will feature multicultural educator, Arloa Wheeler. She’ll talk about medicine and Native American culture, and recently joined WUIS to tell us about it. 

The presentation is Tuesday noon to 1.

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The Hoogland
12:25 pm
Fri August 8, 2014

'Greater Tuna' Brings Low-Brow Humor To Town

Rich McCoy and Darin Harms star in 'Greater Tuna'

The popular comedic play, Greater Tuna, takes two actors and thrusts them into the world of a fictional Texan town. The actors play a host of characters, who come together and create a world ripe with low-brow and politically incorrect humor. The play opens in Springfield at the Hoogland Center for the Arts Friday night. WUIS was recently joined by the cast members Rich McCoy and Darin Harms to talk about it: 

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Legal
12:19 pm
Thu May 1, 2014

Interview: Brian Banks, Former NFL Player & Exoneree

Brian Banks
Credit facebook.com/TheBrianBanksStory

 To date, over 300 people have been let out of prison before their sentences are up because of a group called The Innocence Project. Many of those people were exonerated because of advances in DNA evidence. In Springfield on Saturday, the Illinois Innocence Project hosts its 7th Defenders of the Innocent Awards Dinner. Brian Banks will be one of the key speakers. He knows first hand what it's like being in innocent and sent to prison anyway: 

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Arts
3:43 pm
Tue April 29, 2014

Springfield Choral Society Concerts Include Conducter's Poetry

Credit springfieldchoralsociety.org

Here in town, there's a chorus made up of professional singers, housewives, state workers, and other area residents who audition and make the cut to be part of The Springfield Choral Society. Marion van der Loo has been leading the charge for several years as the music director and conductor. Her poetry will part of the group's concerts this weekend. She recently stopped by WUIS to tell us more about it: The Springfield Choral Society performs twice this weekend - on Saturday night at the Immaculate Conception Cathedral in Springfield and on Sunday at St. Joseph’s Church in Chatham.

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Arts & Culture
11:00 am
Thu April 24, 2014

Marian Anderson Tribute - 'The Concert That Shook The Establishment'

Marian Anderson
Credit Carl Van Vechten

 75 years ago an African-American singer named Marian Anderson stood on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C and performed for tens of thousands of people. It's been called “The Concert that Shook the Establishment." During her lifetime - Anderson's unique voice was heard and praised around the world. She remains an important figure for music as well as civil rights.  Ollie Watts Davis, a professor of voice at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign is paying tribute to Anderson this weekend.

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Arts & Culture
8:00 am
Thu April 24, 2014

A Band Called Old Shoe Pays Tribute To 'The Band'

Matt Robinson of band, Old Shoe
Credit old-shoe.com

It's been twenty years since the roots-rock group called The Band was inducted into the Rock n' Roll Hall of Fame. And Illinois-based band will be paying tribute to them at Donnie's venue in Springfield on Saturday. Called Old Shoe -- the group's original music is heavily influenced by The Band and The Grateful Dead. Old Shoe's Matt Robinson tells us more in this piece produced by Rachel Otwell:

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Education Desk
3:13 pm
Tue April 22, 2014

Referendum Won't Be On Next Ballot Says School Board Pres.

Chuck Flamini
Credit sps186.org

The board president of the Springfield School District says there's no chance a tax referendum will get on the November ballot. 

A community group is pushing an idea to raise property taxes,  and the board's vice president is pushing for a county-wide sales tax hike. Both would benefit district 186, though the county sales-tax hike would help all schools in the county and most the money would have to go to facility costs.

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Education Desk
9:27 am
Tue April 22, 2014

Springfield Schools Consider Weekly Late Start Or Early Dismissal

District 186 Headquarters
Credit Rachel Otwell/WUIS

Springfield public schools may start classes later once per week, beginning next school year. But the district is going to garner more public feedback before making a final decision. After district officials spoke with a group of parents, it was clear some are against the original plan of pushing back the start of the school day. Now another option is on the table: early dismissal. Either way - it'd be a redistribution of hours slated for professional development.

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Education Desk
10:46 am
Thu April 17, 2014

Interview: John Tinker & The Landmark Case On Students' Right To Free Speech

John Tinker
Credit Rachel Otwell/WUIS

Public schools are not allowed to forbid students' right to freedom of speech, unless it disrupts education. But that wasn't necessarily true until a court case from Iowa made its way to the Supreme Court back in the 60s. John Tinker was behind the case, known as Tinker v. Des Moines. He and other students went to school wearing black arm bands to protest the Vietnam War. They were kicked out and told not to come back to class unless they removed the bands and the rest as they say, is history.

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Education Desk
6:57 am
Fri April 11, 2014

Charter Schools: What Does The Future Hold?

Teacher Mr. Gilbert at Roberston Charter School in Decatur
Rachel Otwell/WUIS

Charter schools have long been a divisive issue. Supporters say they allow schools to teach kids free of burdensome regulations.  Opponents say they take money away from traditional schools.  In Illinois this year, those views are colliding.  In the final installment of our series, we find out about the fight at the statehouse and what it might mean for charters:

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Charter Schools
8:55 am
Thu April 10, 2014

Charter Schools: The Fix Ailing Districts Need?

Students at Ball Charter
Rachel Otwell/WUIS

Nearly two decades ago when the state legislature paved the way for charter schools, Republicans were in control and touted them as an innovative way to improve education by removing many rules and regulations. Now there are about 145 charter school campuses across the state, the vast majority in Chicago. Supporters say they are the change an ailing education system needs, but it's a contentious topic. In this report, the first of a two-part series, we visit a charter school and explore the differing opinions about them:

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UIS Theatre
6:00 am
Mon April 7, 2014

'How I Learned To Drive' At UIS

Missy Thibodeaux-Thompson

The theater department at University of Illinois Springfield is known for putting on thought-provoking and modern plays. The one premiering this weekend is no exception, called 'How I Learned to Drive' it follows the tale of a woman looking back at her adolescence, a time wrought with some pretty heavy issues. Rachel Otwell recently spoke with the director, Missy Thibodeaux-Thompson and actor and co-dramaturg Christina Craig: 

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DEMO Project
1:39 pm
Thu April 3, 2014

Local Professor Combines Art, Lincoln & Drones

Erica Holst, curator of collections at SAA and artist Mike Miller
Credit Rachel Otwell/WUIS

This weekend two openings will take place on the campus of the Springfield Art Association. One will combine the artworks of University of Illinois Springfield faculty in an exhibit called, Trigger: New Work by UIS Art Faculty. That will be in the new M.G. Nelson Family Gallery. The reception is on Friday, 5:30-7:30pm. The exhibit will run through April 25.  

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The Hoogland
7:00 am
Tue April 1, 2014

'Enchanted April' Play At The Hoogland

Carly Shank (L) and Leigh Steiner
Credit Rachel Otwell/WUIS

Enchanted April is a play set nearly a decade ago about two English women who go off to Italy together for a vacation in an empty castle. They advertise for traveling companions, and the result is a story rich in self-awakenings that combine the unique personalities and life-experiences of four women. We recently spoke with two actors in the play which opens this weekend in Springfield, Carly Shank and Leigh Steiner.

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ALPLM
8:00 am
Tue March 25, 2014

"Women & The Right To Vote: Does It Matter?" - Event Thursday

Angela Winand (left) & Eileen Mackevich

It's been nearly a century since women gained the right to vote through a federal amendment. But there are still lessons to be learned from the suffrage movement, and many women still face inequality. Female lawmakers, historians, and political scientists will convene at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum's Union Theatre in Springfield on Thursday night to discuss the lasting impact of women's suffrage. Issues discussed will include the fight for equal pay and representation in government.

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District 186
8:00 am
Wed March 19, 2014

District 186 Identifies Individuals Who Could Lose Jobs

 The Springfield school board had earlier approved the reduction of over 40 positions for next school year. On Monday the board identified which specific workers may be without a job as a result. Dave Heinzel is one of them. The board voted to give him what's called a reduction in force notice. He oversees media production - and helps keep the district website up and running.

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District 186
6:00 am
Mon March 17, 2014

Lopez & Eastvold Lay Out Opposing Tax Referendum Ideas To Help Schools

Katharine Eastvold and Adam Lopez
Credit Rachel Otwell

School districts across the state are facing increasingly desperate budget situations, and the future doesn't look much better if things continue down the some path.

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Local Artists
11:58 am
Wed March 12, 2014

Artist Adam Perschbacher Has "Disillusions"

Adam Perschbacher at WUIS
Rachel Otwell

Adam Perschbacher's artwork is edgy - quite literally. His geometric, 3D works range from black and white simplicity, to the jagged and colorful. The local artist's work is currently on display at the Madden Arts Center in Decatur and runs through March 29th. The solo-exhibition is called, "DISILLUSION: The Objects of Adam G.

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Education
2:36 pm
Tue March 11, 2014

School Officials Call Potential Cuts 'Devastating'

As the state legislature threatens additional cuts to local schools, education officials are firing back. Some say taking more money away from students would be morally reprehensible.

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DEMO Project/Springfield Art Association
10:05 am
Fri March 7, 2014

New Media Art Exhibits On The SAA Campus

Brian Charles Patterson is an artist from Utah who creates unique video and audio compilations. His exhibit that addresses climate change is called, 'As Long As There Is No Tomorrow.' It will be at the at DEMO Project (732 N. 4th St.) now through March 29th. The opening is Friday night from 6 to 9 at the Springfield Art Association.

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District 186
2:24 pm
Thu March 6, 2014

Budget Talk: Bob Hill On Challenges Facing District 186

Bob Hill
Credit sps186.org

Dozens of District 186 employees will be without a job come the end of the school year. A week ago the interim superintendent, Bob Hill, suggested cutting teaching jobs at all levels. On Tuesday he came to the board with further cuts, including in technology and special education. 

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Local Bands
11:03 am
Wed February 26, 2014

Local Group War Magic Plays Unique Neo-Folk

Mark Reynolds (left, on keys) & Alistair Reynolds (on guitar) of War Magic
Credit Rachel Otwell

War Magic is a local folk band that you probably haven't heart of. The group's been called "dream-folk" and "neo-folk" - and they've only played a handful of shows in town. Alistair Reynolds and Mark Reynolds recently joined us to talk about their project and share some of their unique music: 

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District 186
4:31 pm
Tue February 25, 2014

Dist. 186 Will Look At Additional Cuts To Budget

The original list of proposed cuts as presented to the School board on 2/24/14
Credit provided by District 186

As Springfield public schools look to save around $5 million dollars, jobs and programs are on the chopping block. And yet, some say even those cuts would not save enough. 

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The Arts
11:22 am
Tue February 25, 2014

Students Compete With 'Poetry Out Loud'

Area high school students who competed in the 2014 Central Illinois 'Poetry Out Loud' Regional Contest
Credit Rachel Otwell/WUIS

Most teenagers spend more time on the internet chatting with friends than reading books - let alone poetry. However, the art form has seen a recent resurgence, and in some circles is even considered "hip." In Springfield, 14 area high school students recently competed in the regional version of the Poetry Out Loud contest to recite a wide variety of poems from memory.

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District 186
8:00 am
Thu February 20, 2014

Conference Explores Host Of Disabilities, From ADHD to Autism

Often times, the strongest advocates for students with disabilities are their parents. Dr. Holly Novak is a member of the group Springfield Parents For Students with Disabilities. On Saturday the group hosts its "6th Annual Disability to Possibility Conference" from 8:30 am to 1:30 pm at Southeast High School.

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District 186
9:30 am
Wed February 19, 2014

District 186 Moves Up Vaccination Deadline

Springfield District 186 plans to give parents and students a shorter deadline for immunizations and physicals next school year. They'll have to be completed by the 10th day of school, which means around the end of August. That's much sooner than this year's mid-October deadline. Around 500 students failed to comply and some were out of school for up to 3 weeks.

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District 186
9:24 am
Tue February 18, 2014

Parents Angry School Stayed Open, District 186 Responds

Credit Ingrid Taylar/Flickr

Monday's ice storm didn’t stop Springfield public schools from holding classes. But it also meant many school buses were late to pick up students. Parents complained of students waiting up to 45 minutes in the cold and freezing rain as buses maneuvered the slick roads. Many took to the district’s Facebook page to hurl insults about the decision to keep school open.

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Education Desk Features
8:00 am
Tue February 18, 2014

Illinois Lottery: A Shell Game For School Funding?

Lottery ads at the Hometown Pantry
Rachel Otwell/WUIS

Many people are aware that the Illinois Lottery helps fund schools. But just how much do the proceeds actually help? Well, that's what we aimed to find out:

    

Most of the money for the state's public schools K-12 come from local sources, like property taxes. The state contributes a large portion as well, and the lottery profits are part of that, but just how much? To find that out, our first stop is the Hometown Pantry at the intersection of Edwards and MacArthur in Springfield.

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