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%.

Last Friday brought a flash flood to central Illinois. In some areas traffic was impossible, as the water was too high - and at the fairgrounds in Springfield, many had to leave the campers and trailers they were staying in after they filled with flood water.

Patti Thompson of the state's emergency management agency, IEMA, joined us to talk more about the flood last weekend, and how to stay safe in extreme weather:

This week Scott and Rachel are joined by Our Lady, one of the most well known and active bands out of Springfield. They are part of the Black Sheep scene and it brought them together. On Friday their new full-length comes out, a release show will go down at Black Sheep.

Earlier this year Illinois Issues reported on the transgender community in Illinois and whether advocates say there are enough anti-discrimination and supportive policies in place.

A study released earlier this month by the National Partnership for Women & Families gave each state a letter grade based on its implementation of the federal Family and Medical Leave Act. Illinois received a B letter grade, one of 11 states to do so.

The Scene Meets The Absurdist People's Theatre

Aug 12, 2016
Rachel Otwell

This week we head to Black Sheep venue to meet two of the cast members of a play opening Friday and running thru the weekend. We speak with Julia Mitchell & Keegan Otwell (who yea, full disclaimer, is Rachel's brother) and director Alex Martin of Edward Albee's 1962 play 'Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf.' 

BrettLevinPhotography / Flickr

Illinois is already well into its medical marijuana pilot program, and the list of conditions it can prescribed for is being debated, as some wish to add ailments like IBS and migraines. Meanwhile, the governor recently signed a measure that decriminalizes the possession of up to 10 grams of marijuana or less.


Ryan Held will be competing in Rio for the USA men's swim team, as part of the 4 x 100m freestyle relay team. The 21 year old is a Springfield native and both his parents, Randy and Cheryl Held, are longtime employees of St. John's Hospital. 

The Scene Speaks With DEMO Artists

Aug 4, 2016

This week Scott and Rachel speak with two artists who will have their work on display at the DEMO Project Gallery this Friday from 5:30 - 8:30. Tune in to hear Bloomington artist Erin Furimsky and Pennsylvania-based Ron Lambert discuss their unique works: 

c/o Planned Parenthood

Planned Parenthood has clinics all over the state that provide services like discounted birth control, STD testing, and abortion medication. Springfield’s facility switched locations this spring, and it was just announced surgical abortions will also be provided there, making it the only Planned Parenthood in

central Illinois to do so – and only the third in the state. 

govst.edu / wiley.com

Today from the Education Desk, we have a book review from the president of Governors State University. Elaine Maimon tells us about "The Undergraduate Experience: Focusing Institutions on What Matters Most."


This week Scott and Rachel are joined by the co-stars (John Love & Jim Yale) and the writer (Ken Bradbury) of a new musical called 'The Boys From Nantucket' - which you can see this weekend.


This week Scott and Rachel talk with Sean Burns. He's been booking roots and Americana music in the area for nearly 20 years and founded the Bedrock 66 Live! concert series which has been sponsored by NPR Illinois. He tells us about the very first Bedrock music festival happening this weekend in conjunction with DSI's Downtown Bacon Throwdown in downtown Springfield.

Black Lives Matter Champaign-Urbana

Black Lives Matter is one of the largest activist movements since the civil rights era of the 1960s. The organization has garnered more attention in recent weeks due to protests over the fatal police shootings of Philando Castile and Alton Sterling. Meanwhile, attacks on police and the presidential election have shifted the conversation since Black Lives Matter got its start in 2012 after the death of Trayvon Martin. 

katebornstein.com/ Santiago Felipe (L) + Rachel Otwell (R)

On today's episode we talk with Sister Simon Campbell, a nun who leads by example when it comes to social justice. She stopped by the statehouse with a bus load of other nuns last week for their 'Mend the Gaps' tour. Also, Kate Bornstein visited Springfield a few years ago and stopped by the NPR Illinois station to discuss her memoir, a Queer & Pleasant Danger. She's on an epic spiritual journey, weaving her way through Judaism, Scientology, Buddhism and Taoism. She talks to us about that, and much, much more. Tune in!

c/o APL

There's good news for shelter dogs in the central Illinois region thanks to the latest trend in virtual gaming. Pokémon Go seems to have become an obsession for thousands of people – regardless of their age or background. It's been downloaded over 7 million times. The game works on smart-phones and users are able to find the colorful, animated figures in actual, real-life locations around the world.


This week Scott and Rachel talk with Betsy Dollar of the Springfield Art Association about the recent change the organization went through when they merged with the former Prairie Art Alliance (now considered the Springfield Art Association Collective.)

Rachel Otwell

Earlier this year, I reported on how Black Lives Matter is "more than just a hash-tag." That is obviously evident across the country as thousands of protestors have engaged in events and rallies meant to further the cause of bringing an end to police brutality and systemic racism in recent days.

c/o Kadeem Fuller

Kadeem Fuller organizes community engagement for the Black Lives Matter chapter located in Champaign-Urbana. He says the time for educating white people on the cause has passed - now is time for action.

Hoogland Center for the Arts

On today's episode we are visited by two big names in Springfield's theater world. 

facebook.com/LPIllinois & facebook.com/IllinoisGreenParty

Last week, both the Green Party and the Libertarian Party handed in over 50,000 signatures to the State Board of Elections in efforts to get their presidential nominees and other candidates on the ballot - each filing was over two feet tall when stacked. 

c/o Marvin Lindsey

In an open letter dated June 23rd, Marvin Lindsey writes to Governor Bruce Rauner that the budget impasse has, "...crippled Illinois' behavioral healthcare system." Lindsey is CEO of a non-profit called Community Behavioral Healthcare Association of Illinois.

c/o Fill in the Blank

This week on The Scene Rachel and Scott are joined by two members of the band Fill in the Blank - they have a show coming up at the Black Sheep on Saturday and will release a new album there. 

Across the state, thousands of newspaper subscribers were met with a single word as the headline on the front page Wednesday: "Enough." 


This week, Scott and Rachel speak with Brandon Cummings. He's a singer/songwriter from northern Illinois. We also hear about events like the Blues, Brews & BBQ fest in Champaign this weekend, some jazz music sung by Katie Flynn on Lake Huron on Sunday, and a collaborative art show in Springfield, called Natural Forms. Tune in!

NPR Illinois

Welcome to Heartland, the place where we explore the multitude of ways various people practice spirituality or strive to become more grounded in the world around them and connected to others. 


This week we hear an update from George Sinclair. The godfather of Southtown gave the area new life in the eighties when he built a skate ramp - now one of the premiere indoor mini-ramp complexes in the country. A year ago he got the nonprofit Project Southtown up and running. Its purpose is a mix of archiving history unique to the area, and keeping it vibrant with efforts like art classes, community gardening and more.

NPR Illinois

About 300 people stood on Lawrence Avenue outside of Springfield's LGBTQ community resource facility, The Phoenix Center

Rachel Otwell

On Friday I headed over with a friend to the small white house on the campus of the Springfield Art Association. The Edwards Place is just across the parking lot - a huge pale pink house with green shutters, it's the oldest in Springfield and has much historical significance - Abraham Lincoln and Mary Todd were married there. 

c/o Ann Farrar

Ann Farrar is an editorial assistant at the Illinois Times. She is also the mother of a four year old girl. Her recent essay was titled 'Raising kids with grit.' You can read it here. She came to our studios to discuss more:

Money is coming to all 50 states from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development & the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to help combat homelessness among veterans. The $1.5 million coming to Illinois is allocated mostly to Chicago. NPR Illinois spoke with Christine Haley about what it means for homeless vets in the state overall, she's the associate director of the Illinois branch of the Corporation for Supportive Housing: