Rachel Otwell

Journalist / Illinois Edition Producer / Host: The Scene, Heartland

Rachel's reports focus on the arts, community & diverse culture. She reports for and produces NPR Illinois' original program, Illinois Edition. She founded and co-hosts The Scene, which airs on Thursdays and features cultural happenings in the central Illinois region. Heartland is another podcast she started and co-hosts, which considers spirituality from a variety of perspectives.

She's a 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 NPR Illinois 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%.


President-elect, Donald Trump, ran a campaign that many considered harsh toward immigrants - especially those without legal citizenship. This week, Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced Chicago will remain a “sanctuary city” regardless of immigration related mandates that may come from the Trump administration. The Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights is asking Governor Bruce Rauner and the legislature for further protections.

AJWF Photography

August Francis is a photographer based in central Illinois, many of his photos come from Springfield and Decatur but he also travels for his shots. Many of his photographs come from events that involve subcultures. A project called 'Now, See Me..." combines photos and interviews in a nuanced way that depict people who are LGBT and/or Queer as well as other aspects of their personality. 

Late last month a bus carrying about 25 Texan students, mostly Latino, rolled into Springfield. The group was on a mission concerning the legacy of Santa Anna, who led many battles during the Mexican American War. Springfield is home to something that was once very close to the Mexican General, and the students say it belongs back in his home country, all these decades later.

Cody Duncum

U of I student and 22 year old singer/songwriter Emily Blue believes music has the power to heal and to educate. Herself a survivor of sexual assault - she devoted her new album, Another Angry Woman, to feminist issues and causes. The work includes interviews she did with friends about street harassment and other forms of sexism they face as females on a regular basis. What she earns from the record will be donated to the organization RACES, which stands for Rape Advocacy Counseling & Education Services,  in Champaign.

Rachel Otwell

As of about 9:30 Tuesday night, many who had gathered at the Corner Pub & Grill in Springfield seemed to believe Hillary Clinton could still pull ahead by gaining more electoral votes than Donald Trump was racking up. For those hoping for that outcome, it was wishful thinking.


Lily Hoang says she's grappled with multiple failures in order to find her true calling. As a teen she assumed she'd go to conservatory for classical music. But, it turns out she was a good musician, just "not great." So when she noticed her college roommate getting positive attention for her poetry, Hoang decided she'd give it a  go too. No dice. "As things so happen, I'm a terrible poet ... it was just a failed attempt at everything. And then I found non-fiction and the essay form, and I fell in love."


It's well known that with the increased popularity and domination of big-box stores came the decrease in demand for mom & pop shops. Many across the country have struggled to stay afloat, and many have closed down. That's certainly what photographer Rich Saal found when earlier this year, he revisited the locations of independent stores he had photographed as a college student in southern Illinois in the early eighties.

Rachel Otwell

This week Rachel & Scott are joined by two locals who are heavily immersed in the community theater scene. Phil Funkenbusch and Reggie Guyton come by the studios to talk about A Raisin in The Sun - the classic play opens at the Hoogland in Springfield this weekend - more info here.


Forensic pathology is the branch of medicine that focuses on finding a legal cause of death. It's a field that's been glorified by shows like Bones and CSI. For Illinois native Dr. Gary Cumberland - it's been his life's work. His book about his three decades-long career is called 'My Life With Death.' We caught up with him, and Dr. Cumberland begins the conversation talking about why he thinks forensic pathology is the most interesting, yet least understood field in medicine:


Anna Fermin has been called "the voice of Chicago" by one writer. Greg Kot of The Chicago Tribune and Sound Opinions calls her: "One of Chicago's most treasured voices." One of her band's first shows was opening for none other than Johnny Cash!

Heartland Ep. 7: Tarot & Energy Healing

Oct 29, 2016
Rachel Otwell / NPR Illinois | 91.9 UIS

In this episode, Rachel & Keil spend a day visiting a "magical penthouse" -- a top-floor apartment in Springfield where Teri Freesmeyer performs various types of healing energy work. They later climbed a steep staircase into Rachel's attic where Keil did a tarot reading for Jenny - who wanted to know how to better address symptoms of anxiety.

The Scene On Tacos & Hobgoblinspookadelic

Oct 27, 2016
Facebook / Rachel Otwell

This week we hear about Springfield's annual Halloween punk/rock n' roll show, hosted and performed in part by the areas's longest running punk band, NIL8 (pronounced "annihilate".) We hear their song named after the event as our Song of the Week.

Friday a 100th birthday bash is taking place for the Lincoln Square Theatre in Decatur. We hear about its storied past and plans for the future, in this spoooooky episode of The Scene. We also hear about a Halloween themed show at the Black Sheep venue in Springfield on Saturday, plus much more... Tune in!

Rachel Otwell

"I was shot, my car was stolen, it was not a good night." So says Kathryn Harris while explaining her try at being a police officer. Tonight she got in a patrol car and pulled over an officer/instructor who went through a couple of challenging scenarios, like the ones police face regularly.

rickspringfield.com / Netflix

Tune in to The Scene! This week we tell you about shows happening at Bar None and Black Sheep in Springfield. Also - Rick Springfield is playing in Springfield Friday - and as such the PCCC is changing its name to the Rick Springfield Convention Center. Wow!

Late last month, the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture was officially opened in Washington, D.C. Did you know that Springfield has had its own version for about five years?

Across the country, many people are increasingly wary of creepy clowns. Media reports say they have been scaring unwitting citizens, though it's unclear if any actual harm has been perpetrated by the costumed menaces. This all sounds familiar to Jason Lee Brown, he's the author of the book Prowler: The Mad Gasser of Mattoon.


You've probably noticed by now, there's a bit of hysteria that's circulating about creepy clowns. Apparently, much to the chagrin of people like, uhm, me ... it's not dying down. Media reports say there have been multiple people in the scary costumes acting out in violent ways, and copy-cats seem to be fueled by social media. For an in-depth roundup of such reports and what is likely behind them - check out this story from NPR.

Rachel Otwell

This week The Scene is out on the scene, coming to you "LIVE" from The Pharmacy art gallery in Springfield. This weekend the 'Cute Creep' art show will be on display complete with treats, and maybe a few tricks. More info for hours and location here.

Emily Raw

Thursday kicks off a new season of the Shelterbelt Creative Writing and Publishing series at the University of Illinois Springfield. NPR Illinois hosts and records the visiting poets in the Suggs Performance Studio, on the UIS campus. This Thursday (10/6) at 7pm Natalie Eilbert reads from her forth-coming, already awarded book - IndictusThe reading is free and open to the public, details here.

Rachel Otwell // bloodsworthaninnocentman.com

Tomorrow, October 4th, marks Wrongful Conviction Day. According to the creators - the purpose of the day is "to bring awareness to the need to prevent and remedy wrongful convictions around the world." It's being commemorated by the Illinois Innocence Project, based at the University of Illinois Springfield, with a documentary screening


Tune in to The Scene - this week we hear from area musician and artist Clare Frachey who set up a benefit show to help out Springfield's community radio station, WQNA:


On The Scene this week, we touch base with Dave Adams - his band Food and Money was active in Springfield in the eighties. He returns to town to play new tunes this weekend, we'll hear about his past and present.


John Borling is known nationally for his poetry. He was a fighter pilot, and retired as a Major General. He also spent over six years as a prisoner of war, persevering through torture and isolation during the conflict in Vietnam.

Kelsey Greene

The Pygmalion Festival in Champaign brings together artists, musicians and intellectuals from across the country. It wraps up this weekend. Last year, it helped bring together two local rappers - and resulted in their collaboration.

govst.edu / press.princeton.edu

Today from the Education Desk, we have a book review from the president of Governors State University, a state school in northern Illinois. Elaine Maimon tells us about Lesson Plan: An Agenda For Change in American Higher Education by William G. Bowen & Michael S. McPherson.


This week Rachel and Scott preview central Illinois' premiere music fest - the Pygmalion Festival which celebrates music, art, technology, literature - and new this year, food. A whole extra weekend has been added to this year's roster, and it runs from the 16th thru the 24th. 

c/o California State University, San Bernardino

Jane Elliott was a teacher in Riceville, Iowa in the late sixties. She says she was disturbed by the way much of white America reacted to the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. in 1968. She had been teaching her third graders about him, presenting him as a hero for his work to end racism. But she didn't think it was enough, and she was afraid of what the parents of her students were saying about race at home.

Rachel Otwell

Lyndon Barrois Jr. is interested in identity, culture and intersection. He's named after his father, who was also an artist. He's lived in Southern Cali and New Orleans and now works as an educator at the Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis, where his work has also been displayed.

commons.wikimedia.org / author: Soberconnections

Earlier this month it was announced the state has received two federal grants from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration to combat the heroin and opioid addiction crisis. Illinois is getting $8 million in all. Money will be used to supply more of the opioid over-dose reversal drug Naloxone to first responders, and  to expand outpatient methadone treatment services.