Rachel Otwell

Journalist / The Scene Blog

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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 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%.

Rachel Otwell/WUIS

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:

CLICK HERE for a piece about the event in the Illinois Times.

Javier Ortega // hankandcupcakes.com

The story behind the combo that goes by Hank and Cupcakes is a global one - one that brought a couple together through their mutual love of music and a stint in the Israeli army band. They are now based in Brooklyn and are on tour for their newest album, 'Cash 4 Gold'. Their music is hard to define - but it is heavily anchored in pop and electro sounds - though they manage to play without synthesizers or guitar.

Rachel Otwell/WUIS

It's not all that often that a play begins at the end - but that's exactly the case for a new work by Illinois author Ken Bradbury. In the one-act, one-man play, titled The Last Full Measure - Bradbury explores what Lincoln may have been thinking near the end of the his life. The play premieres at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum on Thursday and runs through the weekend. It will be performed by actor Fritz Klein - one of the foremost Lincoln impersonators.

Rachel Otwell/WUIS

The conflict between Russia and Ukraine has fallen out of the media spotlight here in the US to some extent, but not for one local man named Mike Mheidze. He grew up in the former Soviet Union and has lived in Springfield for 20 years now.

https://www2.illinois.gov

Niurca Torres was born in Puerto Rico and lived in Miami where she worked as a real estate agent and ran a catering business. In 1995 she took the invitation to go on a road-trip with some new friends in an R.V. They were stopped by police in Henry County, and 1,100 pounds of cocaine were found to be along for the ride. The woman was convicted of trafficking a controlled substance and was ultimately given a 20 year sentence to serve. She's always claimed innocence, saying she did not know about the drugs

Rachel Otwell/WUIS

Brighton Beach Memoirs is a play set in 1937 in Brooklyn, New York. It follows the inner-workings of a middle-class family. And it's a coming-of-age tale that mixes drama and humor, and focuses on a teen who is going through growing pains while also dealing with family conflicts.  We were joined by a few members of that production, director Missy Thibodeaux-Thompson, and actors Liza Torrence & Diamond Dixon:

   

JoAnn Verburg

A Decatur native and poet is making his way to Springfield this weekend to share his writings. Jim Moore now lives in between Minneapolis and Italy, which makes for a unique perspective in his writing. He recently joined us for this chat:

On  Sunday, November 9 at 2 p.m. Moore will read his poems as part of the “Poets in the Parlor” series at The Vachel Lindsay Home in Springfield (603 South 5th St.).

Rachel Otwell/WUIS

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.

WUIS/Rachel Otwell

Today, we wrap our series of spooky stories by local authors in honor of Halloween. Listen to Springfield writer Jessica Hagemann read an excerpt from her story titled, 'To Have & To Hold':

You can read the entire story HERE. This story contains adult language and themes that could offend some readers.

Matthew Penning

Amazon has announced it will open facilities in Illinois, saying it will bring 1,000 jobs to the state. That announcement was made Tuesday. But what does it really mean for the state when it comes to jobs, as well as taxes for consumers? Illinois Issues' Jamey Dunn has been following the online retailer and its relationship with the state for years now (read a past report here). She joins us for this interview:

courtesy of Jill Barth

WUIS is wrapping up its series of scary stories, written by local authors and presented in honor of Halloween season. This second-to-last story comes to us from Jill Barth:

CLICK HERE to read the story.

courtesy of H.W. Devlin

H.W. Devlin sent us this story, which he recorded himself. Devlin says he, "...is a lifelong resident of Virginia, Illinois with three children, a dog and five sisters. He enjoys running, fishing, carpentry, gardening and coffee -- not necessarily in that order."

CLICK HERE to read the story.

WUIS/Rachel Otwell

Here's our latest in the scary story series, listen to Ted Morrissey read his piece titled, "Planes":

 

You can read the story, HERE.

WUIS/Rachel Otwell

Here's our latest in the scary story series, listen to Susan Vondrak read her piece titled, "The Diviner":

You can read the story, HERE.

Ferran Salat Coll/TNC

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:

Rachel Otwell/WUIS

Tom Irwin is one of Springfield's most successful, and certainly most visible, musicians. His songs have a timeless quality, often with a folksiness about them. On Sunday, he celebrates 20 years of playing once a week at Brewhaus bar in Springfield (617 E Washington St).  That event is from 7 to 10 pm, 10/25.

Irwin stopped by the WUIS studios to share these tunes and have a chat with us:

You can hear all the songs Tom Irwin performed for us in their entirety: 

americanwinterfilm.com

It’s been 50 years since the war on poverty was declared by President Lyndon B. Johnson, but Illinois still has about 15% of residents living in it – the same percentage living in poverty that half century ago. American Winter is a documentary made about families facing poverty, especially after the most recent recession. It’s being presented on the UIS campus Monday night, and a discussion will follow. It’s part of the university’s series on poverty.

ronnycox.com

His first big acting gig had him playing in a banjo duel (even though he's really playing guitar.) He went on to star in movies like Total Recall and Robocop, often playing the villain. But Ronny Cox says his greatest love is for music. He's bringing that passion to Springfield on Saturday, when he'll play a solo show at The Hoogland. Cox took some time to talk to us about his acting career, his greatest influences, and more:

Rachel Otwell/WUIS

We have the latest from our series of scary stories by local writers. Millicent Bliesener tells us a bit about her background, and reads her entire story for us:

    

CLICK HERE to read the story.

Rachel Otwell/WUIS

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.

Rachel Otwell/WUIS

Shawna Mayer got a Masters in English from UIS, with a focus on creative writing. The life-long Springfield native submitted the following story, it kicks off a series we have collected from local writers for this Halloween season:

Hand in Glove by Shawna Mayer

Preview Of 'Beethoven Meets the Silk Road'

Oct 10, 2014
Rachel Otwell/WUIS

A tabla virtuoso is in Springfield. Sandeep Das has worked with greats like Yo-Yo Ma and Ravi Shankar. He will play with the Illinois Symphony Orchestra, headed by Alastair Willis, on Saturday (CLICK HERE for more info.)

In this interview, UIS ethnomusicology professor Yona Stamatis speaks with Maestro Willis about the concert, called 'Beethoven Meets the Silk Road': 

Rachel Otwell/WUIS

If you think an art show needs the confines of white walls, like in a museum or other formal setting, think again. Warehouses, apartments, and storefronts are also display places for art. Alternative art spaces, as they are known, began gaining attention in the late sixties. To this day, they draw in audiences who desire art that’s challenging and cutting edge. While cities like New York and L.A. are known for them, you don’t have to go to a big city to check one out.

WSIU

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:

 

Courtesy of Illinois State Museum

First Friday is an event hosted by the Illinois State Museum in Springfield. It's from 5 to 8 pm (10/3) and will focus on local food, beer, entertainment, arts & crafts. The event is an attempt of the museum to draw in a crowd it might usually miss - young professionals. Families and children are also invited, and it's free to get in. Jennifer Snopko is with the museum and joined us for this interview about it:

CLICK HERE for more info about events at the museum.

One state university and four Illinois community colleges are kicking off new agricultural and environmental programs. That includes Lincoln Land Community College in Springfield.

Do you have a scary or spooky original story or original piece of writing: fiction or non-fiction? Would you like to hear it on the radio? WUIS is looking for Springfield area writers to share their frightening tales with us for the coming Halloween season. Maybe it’s a ghost story, or a remembrance of the time you forgot your kid at the grocery store. If it’s scary, send it our way! Email your writing to rotwe2@uis.edu, and we may be in touch to have you voice your story for our air.

A national movement is asking people to be more compassionate and empathetic. The cause has come to Decatur – where a forum on compassion is planned for Tuesday. We spoke with one of the group’s members, Macy Barnett, about the event and its message:

Sean Crawford/WUIS

The University of Illinois Springfield is branching out into the health field. Starting next fall, a new nursing program will start accepting students. About 30 are expected to enroll in the first year of the four-year program. Memorial Health System is donating $2 million, which includes scholarships and the hospital will provide facilities for teaching. 

UIS Chancellor, Susan Koch says she's often heard from students, parents, and others in the community that the university needs to provide medical training.

Saturday will be the Kilimanjaro Rumble: An African Drum Jamboree at Southwind Park in Springfield. There will be various genres of drum and dance. Roosevelt Pratt owns Fashion Afrique boutique and cultural center in Springfield, he is hosting the event and says its a way to foster unity in the capital city. He joined us for this interview about the event:

CLICK HERE for more info about the event. 5 to 8pm on Saturday September 20th at Southwind Park in Springfield. 

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