Thursday, December 31, 2020

Springfield firefighters to soon get access to U of I's saliva-based, rapid COVID-19 testing program

The Springfield Fire Department, nearly two months after a COVID-19 outbreak sidelined more than one-third of its force, will soon have access to once-a-week rapid virus testing through the University of Illinois.

The city is authorized to spend up to $100,000 on the testing program, though most expect the actual number to be far below that. The program will likely be covered with either federal or state COVID-19 relief funds.

It comes about two months after the department was hit with a COVID-19 outbreak that, at its height, quarantined 73 firefighters, including 19 who tested positive for the virus.

The rapid, saliva-based test was developed by the University of Illinois, which has been administering them with emergency approval from the Food and Drug Administration since mid-August.

University officials say the rapid testing has allowed them to keep classrooms open for students while keeping the virus at bay. Positivity rates on all three campuses have been much lower than that of their surrounding communities.

This article appeared in The State Journal-Register on December 30, 2020.

Thursday, December 17, 2020

Cross Country: Throne Gets Extra Year With Prairie Stars

Most college athletes do not know if they are going to take advantage of the extra year of eligibility because of the coronavirus.

But, University of Illinois-Springfield cross country and track and field runner Lexi Throne, who did her prep work at Litchfield, is far from undecided. She has already decided her future athletically and academically.

“It is a fifth year for me, for sure,” said the former Purple Panther. “I have also had some injury problems, which has contributed to me wanting to run the extra time. I have been doing my running and lifting training plans that my coaches provided. In addition to the workouts my coaches give us, I like to do a ton of stretching and foam rolling to help my muscles recover. I also like to lift and do core workout on my own.”

But this cross country season was one of the best for the UIS junior. It was due to her being healthy for one complete season.

“Lexi raced with a great deal of confidence this fall,” said UIS head coach Tyler Pence. “This was her best season at UIS. She was a major factor for us at the Great Lakes Valley Conference Meet. It has been awesome to see Lexi develop into the young woman she is today. She has faced obstacle after obstacle during her time with us, but has been continuously resilient in coming back.”

This article appeared in The Journal-News on December 17, 2020.

Springfield dreams, Visions of 2021 and beyond

A pandemic, a civil rights uprising, economic turmoil, an historic election – this year has brought many hardships. It has made the inequalities and divisions in our society more clear. It's also been a time for reflection and change.

Social service providers and community activists, already making due with a lack of resources, have been forced to find new solutions for increasingly complex problems. Illinois Times and NPR Illinois asked various community leaders about lessons learned and hopes for the future.

Allison Lacher heads exhibitions for the University of Illinois Springfield Visual Arts Gallery. An artist herself, she's a co-founder of the DEMO project. It was an alternative art space on the Springfield Art Association campus, in an old house that was demolished in 2018.

The social component of art has been largely lost, though creativity abounds with virtual art tours and auctions, and socially distant exhibitions. Springfield has a robust arts scene, though groups often work in silos. "I keep wondering about what would happen if the visual artists in Springfield organized en masse," said Lacher.

"It's not always the artists who are carving out the structures and opportunities that we work within, or the objectives of those structures and opportunities. So what do we all need, as an arts community in Springfield? What do we prioritize? And how do we advocate for that together?" Looking ahead, Lacher envisions organization among the arts community to start answering those questions collectively.

This article appeared in the Illinois Times on December 17, 2020..

Wednesday, December 16, 2020

Award-winning documentary draws attention to race riot, larger racial issues

Dr. Wesley Robinson-McNeese recalled a scene where he was swimming with some Air Force buddies in the waters off Biloxi Beach in Mississippi in the late 1960s.

A stranger pulled up in a pickup truck and, producing a shotgun and hurling epithets, promised that he was going to "blow away" McNeese, who is Black, if he didn't get out of the water.

"My friends said, 'Wes, you’re a soldier, you don’t have to do that,'" McNeese remembered. "I said, 'He’s not aiming the shotgun at you guys. He’s aiming it at me.'"

That is one of several personal episodes McNeese recounted in his scathing poem "Face to Face," which was inspired by an event commemorating the centennial of the 1908 Race Riot in Springfield. It was originally published in Quiddity, a literary journal published by then-Benedictine University Springfield, later in 2008.

McNeese, 72, a retired emergency room physician and executive director of diversity initiatives for the Southern Illinois University System, has periodically given readings of the poem in the area.

Now, thanks to The Storyteller Studios in Springfield, the poem has new life as a three-and-half-minute film narrated by McNeese from inside the remains of Black-owned homes that were burned in Springfield's Race Riot.

University of Illinois Springfield assistant history professor Devin Hunter said he heard McNeese recite the poem on a couple of occasions, including once when he drew a standing ovation at the Springfield and Central Illinois African American History Museum.

"It really made an impression on me, both the words and how it resonated with people," Hunter recalled.

Hunter was working on a project funded by the University of Illinois President's Office collaborating with artists, performers and writers in how they might capture and interpret the Race Riot in their various forms.

This story appeared in The State Journal-Register on December 14, 2020.

UIS star party will observe great conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn

The University of Illinois Springfield Observatory will hold a virtual star party for the great conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn from 5 to 6:30 p.m. Dec. 21.

The conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn is an infrequent event occurring when the "apparent" positions of the planets converge in the sky. Although they appear close together, Saturn will be at a distance of nearly 460 million miles behind Jupiter.

Normally, just one planet is visible through the telescope at a time, but for a few nights, both will be visible simultaneously in the same telescope field of view with their closest approach on Dec. 21.

This story appeared in The State Journal-Register on December 14, 2020.

Monday, December 14, 2020

Elijah Jones: It takes hard work to bring people together

My name is Elijah Jones and I am a 22-year-old senior at the University of Illinois Springfield studying communication. I plan on finishing my education at UIS on Dec. 16. I am a first-generation college student and the oldest of eight siblings.

I have been in Springfield since 2016 and the growth I have experienced is like nothing I could have ever imagined. I helped establish my university’s first modeling organization which I was president of for two of the three years since its foundation. Our organization was built on uplifting and pushing college men to succeed plus offering a support system of brotherhood. After college I plan to stay in Springfield to save up some money in order to move to Nevada and begin working with Habitat for Humanity while working toward my goal of becoming an event planner.

During this fall semester, I have worked as an intern for the Faith Coalition for the Common Good. I have learned a lot about what goes into community organizing to bring about systemic change. I have also learned that organizing an event is more than just “event planning.” It takes hard work to bring people together and for them to understand why it is in their self-interest to work together to build power for change. These are skills I will be able to use in the future."

This profile was published in The State Journal-Register on December 13, 2020.

Friday, December 11, 2020

UIS men's basketball postpones next three GLVC games

The University of Illinois Springfield men's basketball program has postponed its next three Great Lakes Valley Conference games and canceled its Tuesday exhibition matchup against NCAA Division I Big Ten Conference opponent Northwestern due to COVID-19 issues.

The women's basketball team also postponed its next three conference games earlier in the week due to "protocols in the (GLVC) Return to Competition policies." A university spokesman could not say whether anyone in the men's and women's programs had tested positive or whether it was due to contact tracing.

This story appeared in The State Journal-Register on December 10, 2020.

Thursday, December 10, 2020

Amanda Knox On Access To Justice Ahead Of Headlining Innocence Project Event

The Illinois Innocence Project will host Amanda Knox at a virtual fundraiser for the organization on Thursday evening in an event billed as “Guilty Until Proven Innocent.”

The Illinois Innocence Project, based at the University of Illinois Springfield, is part of a larger network of Innocence Project organizations throughout the U.S., which aims to free the wrongfully incarcerated and prevent wrongful convictions in the first place. The Illinois Innocence Project has helped release 17 innocent men and women in Illinois, including five in 2020.

In the nine years since Amanda Knox was acquitted on appeal after being wrongfully convicted and imprisoned for the murder of her roommate in 2007, Knox has cleared her name and now works as a journalist and speaker.

Knox’s 2013 memoir, Waiting to be Heard, details her experience with the Italian criminal justice system, including early missteps and eventually abuse in police and prosecutor conduct in the investigation into the brutal murder of Knox’s study abroad roommate Meredith Kercher.

This story aired appeared on NPR Illinois on December 9, 2020.

Read the entire article online.

Being able to keep running is truly a gift

It was a year of competition for University of Illinois-Springfield freshman Ryan Jones, but as far as eligibility purposes, it did not count.

The Marian Central Catholic High School graduate, a freshman cross-country runner for UIS, was one of the lucky few who had a chance to have a cross-country season during the fall months.

“I was very appreciative of the opportunity to safely compete this fall,” the former Hurricane runner said. “I think the fact that we were able to still compete and have a season is a testament not only to our coaches, but the coaches in the Great Lakes Valley Conference overall. Every runner on the UIS team stayed healthy throughout the entire season. As far as my eligibility, I will make that decision in the future based on where I am with my education. But at this point, I still have four years of eligibility in cross-country.”

Since Thanksgiving, the Marengo resident has been home learning remotely exclusively.

“I prefer to learn in the classroom,” Jones said. “Athletically, many steps have been made to ensure that everything is safe as possible when training. The cross-country team has grown very close, very quickly. We work as one so that we can all get better.”

This article appeared in the Woodstock Independent on December 9, 2020.

Wednesday, December 9, 2020

UIS women postpone next three basketball games

The University of Illinois Springfield women’s basketball program will postpone its next three games.

The university couldn’t provide specifics but a press release from the athletic department said the postponed are due to COVID-19 “protocols in the (Great Lakes Valley Conference’s) Return to Competition policies.” A university spokesperson could not say whether anyone in the program had tested positive or whether it was due to contact tracing.

The next game on the UIS women’s schedule, now, is Jan. 3 at Missouri S&T in Rolla, Missouri.

This story appeared in The State Journal-Register on December 8, 2020.

Tuesday, December 8, 2020

UIS Perspectives: Promoting equity through digital inclusion

The following is an excerpt from a column by Vickie Cook, UIS executive director of online, professional and engaged learning. This column appeared in The State Journal-Register on December 6, 2020.

The University of Illinois Springfield has worked with students and their families to help them find ways to connect to the internet since the pandemic began disrupting education in March. The issue of inequitable access for our students and their families became significantly apparent as students returned to their homes in urban, suburban and rural areas both in Illinois and beyond our state borders.

To promote equity across Illinois, UIS is committed to continue our support of digital inclusion. Digital inclusion is the ability of all individuals to access and use digital information regardless of geographical location or annual income. In 2019 about 63% of rural families reported access to broadband internet services, which was up from only 35% in 2007.

Unfortunately, too many digital deserts still exist in the United States. In 2017, it was predicted 260 million devices would be connected to the internet in our country by 2020. We know that the pandemic has created the necessity of many more devices to have reliable internet connectivity. 

Income disparity also significantly impacts the access to and use of digital technologies. Adults who earned less than $30,000 per year reported that only a third owned smartphones in 2019 and more than 40% reported not having broadband access. School districts around the state — including those in Sangamon County — have provided hotspots and as much help as possible to Pre-K through 12th-grade students.

University of Illinois Springfield has supported students with finding ways to connect, checking out devices, and helping access connections through community support. Schools, churches and local community groups have stepped up to help meet the needs of students trying to study from home by allowing WiFi access from their parking lots.

Low-income students enrolled in higher education may also be unable to keep up with their counterparts in various geographical or higher salary demographics, putting their college opportunities and future career aspirations at risk. UIS has committed to providing as much support as possible to our students. The UIS Information Technology Services staff provide troubleshooting and help desk support, loan out devices, and provide connections to resources that may help students find better connectivity in their areas.

Read the entire column online.

Contract For UIS Interim Chancellor To Be Extended

The interim chancellor at the University of Illinois Springfield will stay in that role for a longer period.

The university announced Monday that Karen Whitney will have her contract extended until June 2022.

The extension is pending a vote by the university's board of trustees in January.

Whitney was brought on last summer to replace Susan Koch, who retired. Whitney was originally hired for one year.

“I could not be more pleased to recommend that Interim Chancellor Whitney’s tenure be extended at UIS,” President Tim Killeen said. “She has guided the university with a deft hand through this challenging period of transition, creating stability while prioritizing efforts to provide high-quality education and doing so safely during a pandemic. I welcome the opportunity to continue to work with her.”

There is still a plan to hire a permanent chancellor, but the search process won’t begin until late summer or early fall.

This story appeared on NPR Illinois on December 7, 2020..

Monday, December 7, 2020

Local program looks to lessen Central Illinois nursing shortage

A shortage of nurses across Central Illinois is raising concerns about how hospitals will care for patients as COVID-19 cases rise.

The pandemic has only made this issue more apparent.

However, the nursing program at the University of Illinois Chicago (UIC) created a University of Illinois Springfield campus to help solve this problem, and it's stronger than ever amid the pandemic.

They're partnering with Memorial Health System to train Central Illinois students to become Central Illinois nurses.

UIC Professor Sara McPherson said she's seeing even more passion in her students during this pandemic.

"It's very rewarding to be a part of graduating nurses who stay local in the area and can help fulfill this shortage, and continue to take care of patients, families, in the community," McPherson said.

This story aired on WICS Newschannel 20 on December 4, 2020.

Thursday, December 3, 2020

UIS men find opponent for Thursday

After a COVID-19 outbreak within the University of Southern Indiana men’s basketball team forced the University of Illinois Springfield men to postpone its game with the Screaming Eagles for Thursday, the Prairie Stars found an opponent in the same boat.

UIS (1-0) will travel to fellow Great Lakes Valley Conference member Rockhurst, in Kansas City, Missouri, after the Hawks’ game Thursday against William Jewell was also postponed due to the coronavirus.

This article was published in The State Journal-Register on December 2, 2020.

Wednesday, December 2, 2020

Basketball: UIS men’s game postponed; women still on at S. Indiana

The University of Illinois Springfield men’s basketball game at Southern Indiana on Thursday has been postponed after several members of the Screaming Eagles program have undergone COVID-19 quarantine.

No rescheduled date has been announced yet.

The women’s game is still on and will tip in Evansville, Indiana at 5:15 p.m. All Great Lakes Valley Conference games are streamed online at for free during the 2020-21 season.

This story appeared in The State Journal-Register on December 1, 2020.

UIS music students to stream performances this weekend

Music has a magic all its own, and audiences can benefit from its charms this weekend with live streamed events.

According to Yona Stamatis, violinist with the Illinois Symphony Orchestra and an instructor and director of the University of Illinois Springfield Music Program, “Perhaps now, in the context of the current health crisis, one cannot overstate the power of music to bring comfort, joy, camaraderie and a sense of hope for the future. During this unprecedented time, the arts play a uniquely important role as both an outlet for emotional and creative expression and also as an opportunity to interact – if virtually – with others.”

“While the UIS Music Program offers a rich calendar of events every year,” said Stamatis, “in an effort to protect the health and safety of all in our community, we have changed to a virtual format for this year’s events. While the performance experience may not be precisely the same, we appreciate our ability to reach audiences on a far broader geographical spectrum. The more the merrier!” 

This article appeared in The State Journal-Register on December 2, 2020.