Rachel Otwell

Journalist / 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%.

Ways To Connect

 Kevin Veara’s interests and passions may seem a bit unrelated. From wildlife preservation, to tattoos, to bird-watching and painting. Lately he’s been working to restore the presence of wildlife – on his own property and through his art. His work is on display at the UIS Visual Arts Gallery and there’s an opening reception tonight there from 5:30 to 8. WUIS’ Rachel Otwell recently spoke with Veara:

Governor Quinn spent much of his State of the State address on Wednesday addressing education. He says investing in education is a sure way to grow jobs as well as the economy. It's a sentiment that's hard to argue with. His focus on early education was an echo of President Obama's own emphasis on the subject in his last two State of the Union addresses, and Quinn has also previously pushed the idea of making pre-K more widely available. New this year though, Quinn says he wants to double the amount of MAP scholarships offered, which help low-income students attend state universities.

The UIS team name will remain the same, after over a year of discussions on whether or not to change it. A consultant group hired by the university came up with suggestions like  the Springers, Sabers, and Mammoths. The consultant group cost the university nearly $20,000. After putting together a task force and soliciting the opinions of students, alumni, and faculty, a decision has been made. UIS Chancellor Susan Koch told WUIS, "Prairie Stars may not be the perfect name, but it's our name. And it's been our name since the 1970s ...


 Ask any teacher, superintendent, or government official about it and many would say education funding is in need of some serious change. Local districts are struggling to make ends meet as state and federal appropriations drop - and that means layoffs, school closures, and even shortening the school day in some cases. Some education reform activists say the answer to fixing this problem and others within the system is something called "school choice."

 Four extra days of class have been added to the calendar for Springfield public schools, pushing the last day to June 4th. WUIS took a look at how it's decided that school should be canceled ...


Newly approved tuition increases at the University of Illinois mean that four years of college on the flagship campus will top $100,000 for many students. Trustees voted Thursday to raise tuition by 1.7 %. They also increased fees and housing costs. Vice President for Academic Affairs Christopher Pierre says the increases sticks to a university plan to keep increases in line with inflation.

The story of The Odd Couple is one that's been told not only on stage, but as a movie, TV series - even a cartoon. The story is a classic one full of comedic one-liners, but also a lot of heart. Starring in a new local production is radio personality Johnny Molson, and the head of the Hoogland Center for the Arts, Gus Gordon. They recently joined us for this interview, which begins with Gordon explaining why he thinks it's a good fit for local audiences: 

Rachel Otwell/WUIS

Mulligan Munro is a folk band consisting of Mark Butler, Maureen Douglas, Don Wright, and Mark Hudson. The group brings an eclectic set of influences to the table, resulting in a repertoire of pub-friendly songs that sound uniquely their own. Mulligan Munro recently joined WUIS in the Suggs Studio for this performance and interview: 


A new record store is opening in Springfield this weekend. Making a profit off vinyl records may sound risky, but the four co-owners have a lot experience building a following in the punk music scene especially. Kevin Bradford recently joined us to talk about it. He owns Black Sheep Cafe, a music venue, and will be one of the co-owners of the record store at 1107 South Grand, called Dumb Records: 

Jennifer Gill was chosen as the new superintendent for Springfield District 186 after a months-long search. But negotiations have yet to be finalized.   Gill, who currently works for McLean County schools, says the holidays slowed talks, but expects a contract will get done.

Ted Morrissey teaches English to high school and college students in Williamsville and Springfield. He manages to write plenty of his own material in his free time. He joined us recently to talk about his unique writing style, what writings he has in the works - and his recently published novella titled 'Figures in Blue':    

Photo by Dan LoGrasso / A Feral Gentleman Productions

December visitors to downtown Springfield's Café Andiamo will be greeted by the photography of artist and Springfield native Dan LoGrasso. A veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom, LoGrasso has honed his camera skills as a military journalist on multiple international and domestic deployments.

Local band Epsom is Steven Sgro on vocals and guitar, Scott Faingold on vocals, Timothy Harte on drums, and Kristopher Zander on guitar. The group describes their music as "gratuitous shock rock." They joined us recently in the Suggs Studio for this set of performances and an interview: 


The UIS Visual Arts Gallery hosts multiple exhibits throughout the year that highlight the work of contemporary artists from all over the country. But once annually, the gallery walls are filled with mostly local art - and it's all for sale to the highest bidder. Jeff Robinson heads the UIS gallery - he recently told us all about plans for this year's silent auction,  December 2nd through the 12th: 

Rachel Otwell

When high school students in district 186 are expelled they're left with few options to obtain a diploma or GED. Over a decade ago, the Springfield NAACP started an initiative to address the number of black students being expelled. Since the year 2000, expelled high schoolers have been provided an alternative through those efforts - thanks in large part to retired teachers.

Zach Ayappa  is a 23 year old with a lot of passion for two things in particular: hip hop and God. The rapper goes by 'Momma's Boy' - it's a name that lends to starting conversation about his adoption, a topic he raps about along with Christianity. Ayappa hails from Sherman and brings his performances to churches around central Illinois. We caught up with him for an interview and performance at  a baptist church on Springfield's east side: 

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.