Rachel Otwell


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%.

Human rights groups in Illinois say they'll continue programs for Syrian refugees. That’s despite the governor's calls to suspend accepting them.

As of 2010, Illinois has welcomed about 170 Syrian refugees. That's according to Sam Tuttle, policy director for Heartland Alliance.

"We hope that the governor and his staff and the people of Illinois will learn more about the resettlement program and that we can all be welcoming refugees who have oftentimes witnessed some great horrors, so that they can start their lives again," Tuttle said.

Flickr user Celeste Lindell / "Art supplies" (CC BY 2.0)

Teachers and administrators are working on new guidelines for art education in Illinois. Some schools have no art programs, while others have limited time to teach it.

New federal standards were released last year, though they came with no mandate. The State Board of Education has been organizing meetings for teachers to make the guidelines fit for them.

Jonathan VanderBrug is with Arts Alliance Illinois, an advocacy group that is also helping plan meetings. He says the process is meant to show schools why education in the arts is important.


A civil rights icon made a stop in Springfield this week to talk about activism and his new books. 

John Lewis, a Congressman from Georgia, is the last living member of a group of civil rights leaders known as the "Big Six." Martin Luther King Jr. was also in that group, and mentored Lewis.


Hundreds of artists and administrators met last week to discuss the state of the arts in Illinois.

Politics dominated the discussion, with a focus on ever-shrinking budgets for many arts groups. That includes the Illinois Arts Council Agency, which is the state department that oversees government spending on the arts.

Funding for the council has diminished from about $20 million dollars in 2007 to less than $9 million in 2012.

Ra Joy heads Arts Alliance Illinois, which is the state's largest such advocacy and membership group.


A new law will require schools to install carbon monoxide detectors.

The law comes after an incident last year, where about 150 students and staff members became ill at the North Mac Intermediate School in Girard. The cause was a faulty exhaust pipe in the heating system.

A carbon monoxide detector would have alerted those in the building. While the detectors are required for many structures, schools were left out. 


Illinois advocates for the arts say Gov. Bruce Rauner's plan for more budget cuts is bad policy. 

Since 2007, the budget for the Illinois Arts Council was already cut in half. Under Rauner, it would drop to $8 million.

Ra Joy heads an organization that represents hundreds of artists and cultural groups in the state. He says another cut would hurt education and tourism:

"If we're really going to be serious about making Illinois more competitive and more compassionate, we need to be serious about investment in the arts and our broader creative sector," Joy said.


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.

She wanted to jump, but someone stopped her.

“I have been extremely lucky,” Todd said. “A lot of people aren’t; a lot of people kill themselves.” 

A committee of state lawmakers will meet in Chicago today to discuss problems, such as prostitution, happening at state-run residential facilities for teens.

The hearing is in response to an ongoing investigative series by The Chicago Tribune.

At least 14 teenagers who lived at the centers were found to have engaged in prostitution since 2011. Other problems include extreme discipline, lack of staff, and abuse.

Flickr user Todd / "You buys your ticket" (CC BY 2.0)

If you like to attend shows, chances are you've bought tickets online. Problem is, if you're doing a search and buying from the first site that pops up, there's a chance you're getting ripped off. 

These brokers have crafted legitimate looking websites, and often sell tickets at inflated prices, adding "service" fees. It's nothing new, but Carly Shank who works with Sangamon Auditorium in Springfield says 2014 has been the worst year for it yet:

"We've had a lot of high-profile events, and those are events that kind of help egg that problem along."

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: