Rachel Otwell

Reporter/ The Scene Blog


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%.

First Night Springfield,  Springfield's most-attended public event to celebrate New Year's Eve, will host a 5K race this year. The run and walk will take place around the Scheels store off of MacArthur Boulevard. It's a new addition to the roster of activities that include various arts performances. The race will take place on December 29th.


Zach Baliva says it's become the norm for students to attend college with the help of hefty loans, and all that debt is becoming a serious obstacle for students and graduates. With the film 'Deferred' Baliva, a local documentarian, hopes to explore these issues. He recently joined us to talk about what inspired the movie and plans to get it off the ground: 


District 186 says it's working hard to hire more minority teachers and administrators. Still, the percentage of minorities in those roles is only half of what it should be according to a decades old desegregation order. And the Springfield branch of the NAACP says it's preparing for a potential lawsuit. 


The University Of Illinois Springfield continues to kick around the idea of a new school mascot. The Chancellor's office paid for a consultant whose suggestions include the Springers, Sabers, Mammoths and the Stampede. Aaron Mulvey is the president of the Student Government Association at UIS. He says some students are confused by the Prairie Star nickname and the mascot, a masked boy named Cozmo. Others say they just don't like either.


The Kidzeum has been collecting money since 2009 in order to build a science museum for kids. The ongoing goal of raising enough funds seems to finally be near. The museum's board is kicking off its final fund raising phase, 2 million dollars is still needed. We recently caught up with board president, Rachael Thompson, about where the museum is headed, where it will be located, and what it will feature: 

Springfield-area residents have a chance to get a taste of all things international on Friday. UIS hosts its annual International Festival with food, booths from area groups, entertainment and more. Erica Suzuki and Sarah Jome with UIS's International Student Services joined us for this interview about it: 

Audrey Edmunds' case is one of the first of its kind taken on by the Innocence Project. Shaken Baby Syndrome affects infants who have been abused, though they often show no external injuries. Medical experts are becoming increasingly wary of the diagnosis - and some say thousands of cases have been misdiagnosed.

Benjamin Gardner has a fitting last name. The Illinois native, Iowa art professor, and abstract artist is also an urban gardener who draws inspiration for his work from the natural world. On Friday, The DEMO Project gallery in Springfield (1732 N. 4th St.) will welcome Gardner for an opening and reception of his installation, Evensong 15 (caudex). Gardner recently joined us to talk about his work and inspirations:

About five hundred Springfield students were forced out of the public schools last month for failing to have required physicals and immunizations. The number has since dropped to 87 kids missing classes. The deadline was October 15th. School board member Mike Zimmers says the policy should be changed for next year to have the deadline before school gets underway.

"Parents just need to plan, you know when they start thinking about ... we need to get school clothes or school supplies -- in your mindset just think, we need to get physicals, we need to get shots,” said Zimmers.


Friday marks the kick off of the Route 66 Film Festival in Springfield. We bring you a conversation with Hugh Moore & Lana Wildman about that and a look at a couple of the films from Illinois that will be featured there:

CLICK HERE for more information about the fest, which runs Friday, November 1st to Saturday, November 2nd. You can also email Route66FilmFestival@gmail.com to get tickets for both days at a reduced price.

You may be queuing up some scary movies on Netflix to get into the spirit of Halloween this week. But for some, interests in ghosts lasts all year 'round. Carl Jones started the Prairieland Paranormal Consortium and teaches classes at Lincoln Land Community College in Springfield about the paranormal.

Greg Manfroi

The Springfield-area is home to numerous ghost-hunting groups that investigate hauntings year round. As you might imagine, after going on hundreds of paranormal explorations - investigators start to acquire a few scary stories. WUIS recently caught up with two area paranormal investigators who were on site at one of Springfield's most notoriously haunted locations. If the evidence captured from that night doesn't scare you, perhaps their tales of their own run-ins with ghosts will. 

 Stella Cole and Kevin Purcell join us to talk about a play that runs this weekend at the Hoogland Center for the Arts. Called 'The Little Years' it explores the trials of a female math prodigy. Following her over the course of over 40 years, from the time she was a teen during the 1950s, the Canadian play explores what happens when a brilliant young mind goes to relative waste: 

You've probably heard of Black Friday - but what about "Green Saturday"? No? Well that's a day the Illinois Stewardship Alliance and genHkids, non-profits aimed at promoting agriculture, nutrition and the buy-local movement, have recently come up with. And this Saturday marks the kick-off - with the group urging Illinois residents to support the state's farmers by purchasing their produce.

You might not know it, but Springfield is home to a cultural center specializing in Africa. Run by a man known for his permanent smile, Roosevelt Pratt has unrelenting enthusiasm for his mission - to teach those in the Springfield-area about different aspects of African culture - from food, to language, to music... and more. But his path to Springfield was not an easy one, and he still struggles to do what he loves most, educate: 


A search firm hired by district 186 to help in the hunt for a new Springfield public schools superintendent recently shared its findings after turning to parents, teachers, and the community at large for feedback. Board member Scott McFarland joins us to discuss some of the findings, and talk about the profile of qualities being sought after in a superintendent candidate: 

A group of parents who have students in Springfield public schools took their push for a property tax increase before the District 186 board last night. They’re pursuing the issue - despite the fact the school board vice president recently proposed the idea of a 1% county-wide sales tax increase. Supporters of the property tax idea say it would benefit the general education fund while the sales tax hike, by law, would be used for building needs.

 Riverton Elementary School is going without art classes for students this year due to cuts in it the district's budget. But there's still hope students may have another option for a creative outlet. Chanell Bradbury's daughter is a student at the Elementary, when she found out that the art classes were being cut to save money, she was disappointed: "I was really, really mad at first. How can an elementary school - of all schools ... how could they drop an art class? These children, their brains, they're just so like sponges."

District 186 needs to warn superintendent candidates of the highly political atmosphere that’s become business-as-usual for the Springfield school board.

That’s what the search firm the board hired to help find a new superintendent is telling them, based on feedback the firm gathered from members of the community and staff. 

Michael Mayosky

A Springfield artist known for his murals is hoping to embark on a journey across the country, Illinois to LA - painting over 10 murals along the way. His rendering of a young Abe Lincoln adorns the side of a restaurant and bar in downtown Springfield, and Mike Mayosky hopes to share his work with cities along the rest of Route 66. Furthermore, he's hoping to try his hand at documentary film-making with a production about the journey. He joined us to talk about that proposal and what inspired it: 

Lincoln Memorial Garden & Nature Center may well be Springfield's most celebrated destination for nature-enthusiasts. With over 100 acres of wilderness and trails, it provides a serene landscape along Lake Springfield for residents and tourists to soak in some sun and fresh air, free of charge. 

Many people probably think of the YMCA as a place to work out, play sports games, and swim. But it's also an organization heavily invested in the arts - through community outreach programs, summer camps, classes and more. And this week Ys around the nation are celebrating "Arts Week". We recently spoke with Lisa Parfitt of the Springfield YMCA located at 701 South 4th Street about what the week's events include: 

 A property tax referendum may be posed to Springfield voters next year, if a group of parents gets its way. The group says it'll campaign on the issue from a grass roots angle, even though board members aren't convinced the timing is right to raise taxes. School board vice president, Adam Lopez, is one who says the board needs to work on other issues first. 

The project, founded by Ann Libri, started simple by collected clothing and school supplies for students growing up in unstable environments. This year, the project is kicking off a pilot program with ten students that will teach life skills and provide meals, tutoring, school supplies, and clothing. Libri says she hopes the project will continue to grow and assist the hundreds of homeless children in Springfield's district 186.

We recently interviewed Libri, and the Springfield city treasurer, Jim Langfedler, who is also an advisor to the project: 

Vachel Lindsay is one of Springfield's most well known historical figures, considered the father of "singing poetry" - he was known as the Prairie Troubadour and was one of the most celebrated poets of his time. But a lesser known aspect of the writer is the utopian vision he had for the future - influenced by his own political brand of socialism. These ideas became a novel called 'The Golden Book of Springfield.' 

The Today Show

A Jacksonville native will have a cameo performance on one of the hottest television shows in the country: NBC's 'Chicago Fire'. She's 4 years old, has dark hair, and her name is Smokey. Smokey the black lab is a resident of the Jacksonville fire house, where she helps out by assisting fire-safety classes for children. She won a national contest that had people vote for the country's best fire-house dog. Todd Warrick who works for the fire department and trains Smokey recently told us all about it:  

A mix of established and emerging poets and writers will make their way to Springfield this month for the UIS Creative Writing and Publishing Series. The series, free and open to the public, kicks off on Thursday at 7pm with a reading from an author whose poetry explores feelings about his own brother's suicide. Meagan Cass is with the English department at the university and helps organize the series, she joined us for this interview: 

The Springfield Art Association, located in the Enos Park neighborhood, turns a century old this year, and is using the milestone to publicly outline plans for updates and renovations. The organization, which boasts an art gallery, learning and teaching center, and Edwards Place - a historic home once visited by the Lincolns, is marking its century anniversary this year.

A new local non-profit is using art, music, and comedy to help raise funds for local students. The Illinois Independent Arts Association hosts what's called a 'Springfield Renaissance' show this Saturday at Donnie's Homespun restaurant and venue in Springfield. Local musicians include Carrie Jo Stucki aka CJ Thunder Stucki, and band Lowder featuring Josie Loweder. Proceeds will benefit the band program at Washington Middle School. Rachel Otwell recently spoke with Eric Heyen and Jaimie Kelly of the group about it: 


Over 1,000 classic cars will be on display in Springfield this weekend. It's time again for the International Route 66 Mother Road Festival - on its 12th year. We recently spoke with the president of the festival, Kim Rosendahl about it. She tells us the event is about more than just cars, it's about the lifestyle the iconic highway represents:  

CLICK HERE for more about the International Route 66 Mother Road Festival which kicks off in Springfield this weekend with a city night cruise on Friday.