NPR reporter speaks for Journalism Day

Cheryl Corley, NPR News, Chicago.” Millions of radio listeners hear those words at the closing of certain national news reports. And on Thursday (March 31), WIU students got to hear them in person, as Corley delivered the keynote speech for Journalism Day at WIU.

With a laptop onstage in the University Union Sandburg Lounge, Corley, a national desk reporter for NPR’s Chicago bureau, played for the audience one of her recent pieces, from the series of seven stories called Youths And Gun Violence: Chicago’s Challenge, that aired and was featured on NPR.org last week.

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photo of Cheryl Corley speaking at podium


After playing the feature about the young men in Chicago who participated in a program called BAM (Becoming a Man), Corley explained that, in order to develop the series, the reporters who worked on it had to develop a sense of trust with the subjects who were interviewed. The series took several weeks to report, she said, and over the process of her interviews, at least one young man admitted to her that he had shot at, but never hit, another person.

In her reportage on “Getting To Chicago’s Boys Before Gangs Do,” Corley noted that

The 13- and 14-year-old BAM members know many their age that have joined gangs.

At least 15 students who attend Chicago Public Schools have died by gunfire during this school year. The number is higher for kids who are either dropouts or go to other types of schools.

Chicago police report that the number of school-aged children shot to death in 2010 was 70. More than half of those were gang-related.

Each year, WIU’s Journalism Day, co-sponsored by the English and journalism department and Western’s Society of Professional Journalists, features noted members of the profession who speak about their careers. Corley, who began her career in nearby Peoria, Ill., described the current state of journalism as “a world of turmoil, but also innovation.” She delivered an overview of how NPR member stations and the overall nonprofit news organization brings news to listeners via bureaus around the country and the world. She explained that even though she is based in Chicago, she covers news in as many as 12 states.

“That means that I get up at 5 a.m. and I read 12 newspapers,” she said. “It might not be fun,” she said with a laugh, “but I can tell you what’s happening in Missouri.”

Corley also briefly addressed criticism of NPR for being “elitist” or having a liberal bias, as well as recent controversy surrounding the recent firing of NPR’s CEO, stressing that the values of public journalism are to be accurate and balanced, and to “provide a voice for “voices that don’t always get to be heard in a wider medium.”

Corley talked about the importance of the intimacy of the human voice and the rich use of sound in public radio. But even as NPR.org continues to grown into a multimedia organization with streaming sound, offering podcasts and other rich archives via the web, Corley stressed that in that changing face of journalism, the public radio journalist’s duties remain the same: “…being fair, taking rigorous steps to be accurate, … proving diverse perspectives in a narrative way.”

MAPPING new directions for small communities

Recent studies have shown that rural populations are declining. But citizens of some small towns across the state are taking community development into their own hands, with the help of a group of experts from the Illinois Institute for Rural Affairs (IIRA), which is housed at Western Illinois University. A recent article from the Herald-Review.com (Decatur, Ill.), describes how, in the community of Shelbyville, residents are working together–and with the IIRA–to help sustain and improve their town.

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screen shot of IIRA MAPPING image

Just what does the IIRA do? Find out more on their website, or read about IIRA staff member Fred Iutzi’s recent appointment to the Alternative Fuels Commission board by Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn.

Award-winning research: a family tradition

One of the high school students featured in a story on WSIL-TV yesterday (March 28) is pretty lucky when it comes to having a dad who can help with homework, so to speak.

WSIL, a TV station in southern Illinois, profiled some of best high school students in the state, who had gathered at Southern Illinois University over the past weekend for the 33rd Annual Junior Science and Humanities Symposium. One of those students was Macomb High School senior Prem Thottumkara. As the story explains, students delivered presentations based on their summer research projects and a written thesis, and one rule for the symposium was that “students must conduct their experiments and research under the watchful eye of a mentor.” This student didn’t have to look too far to find a scientist who could guide his work. Prem happens to be the son of WIU chemistry professor Vinod Thottumkara (who goes by T.K. Vinod). As the story says,

Thottumkara said he is glad that his mentor is his father because it makes asking questions an easy task, even if the answer is not what he wants to hear. “I can say, “hey dad, how does this work?” and he’s quick to give me a response and even when there’s something he knows I should know yet, he’ll say “this is advanced organic chemistry, you don’t need to know this yet” Thottumkara said.

And Prem’s participation in the Junior Science and Humanities Symposium is just another chapter in the family history of father-son collaboration. Professor T.K. Vinod even earned a patent on a project that was initially sparked by his elder son during a junior high school project. Learn more about Professor Vinod here.

picture of Professor T.K. Vinod with his son and other students

Professor T.K. Vinod with his son Arun and other students (2005)

 

OMG in the OED? Look it up!

Attention, professors, college students, and high schoolers: texting language might not be appropriate for academic papers, but…it’s now got a bit of an official blessing. Some of the most popular abbreviations, like “LOL” for “laugh out loud,” are now in the Oxford English Dictionary, as explained in this article from the LA Times:

“FYI, OMG enters Oxford English Dictionary. LOL.”

It’s official: OMG and LOL are no longer just time-saving shorthands. They’re real English.

Interestingly, the article points out that OED researchers have found that “LOL” had a life long before texting. Extra credit for Bell Tower readers who find the answer and post below. (However, likely no extra credit for actually using “OMG” in any of your papers!)

stock image for texting abbreviations

Scottish singer has impressive academic cred

Recently we told you about talented music alumna Aly Jados trying to get on the Road to Hollywood on the latest season of American Idol.

Also in the ranks of Western alumnae setting their sites on pop stardom? Michaela Wright, who graduated with bachelor’s (2003) and master’s (2005) degrees in communication from WIU. According to one news article, tour producer Simon Ellis–who has worked with Britney Spears–calls her the “real deal.”

Originally from Scotland, Wright was a member of the swim team while at WIU, and was also inducted into the Phi Eta Sigma honorary society her freshman year. Since graduating from Western, Wright has been working hard to make a name for herself in pop music, which you can read about in an article from an online UK newspaper. And according to her Twitter feed, the swimmer-turned-singer is currently working with producers in the studio in London.

Screen shot of Michaela Wright's MySpace page

Check out some of her music on Michael’s MySpace page at or follow her on Twitter. In the meantime, we here at WIU hope she hits the big time–and, of course, comes back to perform at her alma mater!

‘Riding the wave of awareness’

‘Riding the wave of awareness’

Student helps organizes preventative screening for those in need

Kymberly Miller is excited about educating people on a topic that few like to talk about.

Miller, a non-traditional student who is taking courses at Western Illinois University-Quad Cities while working full-time for Trinity Regional Health System in Rock Island, Ill., organized a free colorectal cancer-screening event earlier this month for qualifying people in the Quad Cities region, the first event of its kind in the area. (Click here to see Miller receiving the Lujack’s Extra Mile Award on WQAD Channel 8).

Miller, who works in Trinity’s GI Lab, took on the additional responsibilities of an internship for the organization, through which she helped provide preventative screenings to the uninsured or to those would not have been able to afford the procedure otherwise. Since last fall, Miller has been working to coordinate donations, medical staff, and patients who meet the qualifications. Her efforts resulted in five doctors and 35 staff members volunteering their time on a Saturday (March 5, during Colon Cancer Awareness Month), providing preventative procedures to as many as 15 patients who could be at risk for the disease–which include factors such as family history and being over the age of 40.

“Our main goal with this has been to educate people, raise awareness, and provide the screening for people who’ve met the criteria,” she said. “Getting screened is the best way to diagnose cancer. There is no better way.”

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photo of Kymberly Miller
Kymberly Miller, WIU-QC student

In her position at Trinity, Miller is responsible for assisting with basic operations of the department. While she doesn’t have a history of colon cancer in her family, she has seen firsthand the benefits of early screening–and, at the same time, the devastating news that a cancer has been found too late, and could have been easily prevented.

“I’ve seen people who’ve put it off and put it off… and then it’s too late, and you just feel bad. It’s such a preventable cancer. If you get it early, there’s a 90 percent chance you’re going to be fine. You hear so much about breast cancer, and colon cancer actually kills more women, but you don’t hear about it as much because nobody wants to talk about colon cancer preparedness. But it’s not anything to be scared of. The screening is usually done in 15 minutes.”

A new kind of lab, a new direction

Not long after beginning her new life as a student and full-time worker, Miller took on an internship, which consisted of coordinating the free screening event. And though the event may have only been one day, it became a reality through Miller’s efforts to coordinate patient care technicians and secure donations from medical supply companies. She wrote proposals that resulted in a company providing all of the day’s pathology reports for free, to the scope provider donating extra scopes for the day.

Miller explained that she was a facilitator for an idea that had long been in the works in the community. Trinity has representatives on the Colon Cancer Free QCA Consortium, through which area doctors’ offices collaborate to raise awareness and educate the public, and general practitioners ensure that people are getting screenings if they meet the risk factors. Trinity and the consortium partnered with a free clinic in the area that offers services to the working uninsured to identify individuals who would qualify for the free screening.

Miller came to her job and her internship at Trinity after having worked for several years in quality control in a chemical plant. But a few years ago, she found herself unemployed. So she took an entry-level position as a technician in the GI Lab at Trinity, and at the same time decided to pursue a degree in general studies at WIU.

“I’ve taken several classes over the years, and with the job market the way it is, I definitely wanted to go back and finish that up,” she explained.

Now in her second year of studies at WIU, Miller has focused on management and communications courses, and her classes–particularly those with Mary Hogg, associate professor of communication at WIU-QC–have helped her with her with the internship, and vice versa.

“Mary Hogg had me speak about the screening event in class, and she ran off the flyer that I’d made up, offering extra credit to students who want to come and write something up about it.

“I’ve had to speak with doctors, with the president of Trinity, present my progress to the senior team, the CEO and COO,” she added. “It has helped me build confidence, definitely. A lot of doctors have been very supportive. When they tell you how proud they are and give you words of encouragement, it’s nice. And it all boils down to the fact that you’re helping people.”

One giant team

Miller explained that in addition to donations secured for the screening day, the Trinity Foundation provided funding for the event. But Miller got so involved in the cause, she decided to create her own fundraiser to help out even more–a Taco Tuesday at a local pub that donates proceeds to local causes.

“I just felt like this event was something worth growing and sustaining,” she said. “So I hit up local business to provide certificates and baskets for a silent auction. But it was also just a way for all the volunteers to blow off steam, have a good time, and kind of ride the wave of awareness we’ve been going on.

“What keeps me motivated is that I’m helping people, and the fact that this has never been done before,” she continued. “I’ve enjoyed the people-contact, too; I love to talk to people, and when I can get people to feel good about giving to the cause, when it becomes a giant team, that’s fulfilling, also. It’s a huge project, and I feel blessed that I got such a cool project to work on. And to be the first one to do it is pretty cool too.”

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