Public Affairs

Big Ten Media Days kicks off with Fitzgerald, Harbuagh & more

By Nick Mantas
Medill Reports

Big Ten conference head football coaches stepped up to the microphone to face the media and talk about their upcoming seasons. The Medill Reports sports team was at the 2018 Big Ten Media Days as well.

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Cherry Bombe Jubilee cultivates community for women changemakers in the food world

By Maia Welbel
Medill Reports

Between sips of Direct Trade coffee and hard kombucha, women at Cherry Bombe Jubilee this April in New York City talked food, business, and how they are making a difference in a male-dominated industry.

The Cherry Bombe Jubilee conference brings together and celebrates women in the food industry. Created by the founders of the indie magazine, Cherry Bombe, the Jubilee turns the tables on the lack of female attendance at the world’s most prestigious food conferences. Founders Kerry Diamond and Claudia Wu host the event and curate a lineup of chefs, bakers, restaurant owners, food writers, and more to speak and socialize. Continue reading

The pressure for success in Chicago sports

By: Nick Mantas and Aaron Rose
Medill Reports

The Chicago Bears and Bulls haven’t won a championship in this century. ESPN and Sun Times reporters weigh in on the reasons for what has led to their unsuccessful seasons and what next season could bring for both organizations. During  the second segment,  we talk about the challenges of raising a young Chicago basketball star.

PHOTO AT TOP: Chicago Bears practice drills in the off-season. (Nicholas Mantas/MEDILL)

Stop The Violence

By Richard Foster-Shelton
Medill Reports

In recent years, Chicago has made international headlines for the sky-high murder rates in the city. Unfortunately, this problem has cast a shadow on the people that are doing their part to reverse the trend. During this episode of Medill Newsmakers, Richard Foster-Shelton highlights the people in Chicago that are making a positive impact – from 1st District Commissioner Richard Boykin to Jenesis Scullark of the Jeremy Scullark Foundation.

Photo at top: Chicago’s iconic skyline masks the truth about the city. (Richard Foster-Shelton/MEDILL)


Scientists follow clues in Alaska to illnesses moving from animals to humans

By Samantha Yadron
Medill Reports

Medill News Service journalist Samantha Yadron is an embedded journalist with scientists from the University of Anchorage, Alaska, reporting on the dangers of micro-plastics to wildlife consuming it. In this blog, she follows scientists with the One Health initiative on a multinational research tour gathering clues about the  transfer of illnesses from animals to humans .

Portage Valley, Alaska, Thursday, May 24—It’s around 10:30 am and the sunny, warm day near Anchorage feels far away from the Arctic research at the Begich Boggs Visitor Center,  an intricate but severe -looking building erected with windowed tunnels and walls  to display the view of Portage Lake and Valley. The heavy rain typical of this valley seems to be falling sideways.

the Begich Boggs Visitor Center, an intricate but severe -looking building erected with windowed tunnels and walls to display the view of Portage Lake and Valley. (Samantha Yadron/Medill)

A large, white tour bus sits in the parking lot. It’s passengers, more than 10 ecologists, veterinarians, biologists, public health specialists, and state representatives from Canada, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Russia, and the United States—six of the eight countries on the Arctic Council—have de-boarded and now stand atop a small hill looking at the few icebergs speckling the water. They take  pictures with their phones.

The scientists have spent the last seven days traveling across Minnesota and Alaska, attending meetings with government agencies such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, talking with other scientists, and visiting what some call “the real Alaska,” near Denali and Fairbanks., This refers to the more rural, more indigenous, subsistence-based communities compared to  heavily-populated Anchorage.

Brought to the U.S. through a State Department initiative called the International Visitor Leadership Program, these current and emerging foreign leaders from multiple disciplines  came to collaborate on a concept called One Health, a way of looking at public health through human, animal, and environmental lenses.

In Anchorage, they were guided by Thomas Hennessey, director of Arctic Investigations Program at the CDC, in the Anchorage Division of Preparedness and Emerging Infections. They are researching the potential threats of disease transfer between animals and people, a threat that increases with the warming temperatures of climate change. Doug Causey, a professor of biological sciences at the University of Alaska, Anchorage, and who does fieldwork in this valley, had the idea to bring them to Portage Glacier Valley and this center.

Located just under 55 miles southeast of Anchorage, the center resides within Chugach National Forest, the second largest forest within the U.S. Forest Service.  At 6 million acres, it is roughly the size of New Hampshire. The center, when built in 1986, offered visitors the rare opportunity to see a glacier in-person, even while standing where Thursday’s visitors stood. Now, to see the shrinking glacier, visitors need to take a cruise on Portage Lake.

A photo of Portage Lake, filled with icebergs and the glacier in the mid-1980s, on a PowerPoint for one of Doug Causey’s classes.
The Portage Valley Glacier is rapidly melting. This May 24 photograph shows it has receded a half-mile since the image above was photographed in the mid-1980s. (Samantha Yadron/Medill)

“People get really excited about seeing a glacier,” says Tim Charnon, having gathered the group indoors around a large, circular, topographical map of the forest. Containing the largest ice field in Alaska, Chugach is really “on the frontlines of Arctic studies,” says Charnon, which becomes evident when you consider the glacier’s history.

In just over 20 years, the glacier has receded a half mile. “It’s around the corner, but it’s a long way around the corner,” Charnon says. In another 20 years, Charnon says the glacier will transform into a “hanging glacier,” which, according the National Snow and Ice Data Center, happens when former glaciers recede to the point that all that’s left are smaller, tributary glaciers high above the surface.

Even the icebergs in the lake have diminished. It’s unusual now to see any icebergs in the lake, when, in the 1980s, the lake would be filled with them. “You’re all lucky,” Charnon says. “There will be a few years remaining where you’ll see icebergs in the lake. But the calving events will get less common.”

Working through healthcare practitioners and veterinarians, One Health strategizes on global public health issues through interdisciplinary means as part of organizations such as the CDC. As an officially adopted concept, it dates back to 2008, when 120 countries and 26 international and regional organizations recognized it as a way to combat Avian Influenza. But the CDC’s timeline for One Health as an idea shows its origins as early as 1821, with Dr. Rudolph Virchow, who coined the term “zoonosis” to describe diseases that can be passed between humans and animals.

“It’s an approach that makes you take a step back and look at the broader picture of your study system,” says Emily Jenkins, a member of the group and an Associate Professor in the Department of Veterinary Microbiology, with a joint appointment in the School of Public Health at the University of Saskatchewan.

But the Portage Glacier isn’t the whole story of this valley, says Charnon; another part has to do with wildlife. “People like Doug Causey at the University of Alaska and his students are our boots on the ground to do some biology work.”

Doug Causey shows the group where he discovered bats are sleeping in the Portage Valley, which is in those globs of moss attached to the tree branches. (Samantha Yadron/Medill)

The visitors left the center and followed Causey in their tour bus to two of his field sites, just a short drive back North up the road.

Along a stream that, because of the way the water runs down from the glacier, stays warm enough to run year-round, a perennial ecosystem that includes otters, fish, birds, bugs, and bat thrives. As the group gathered around, Causey explained that where they all stood was the northernmost part of the temperate rainforest.

The inhabitance of bats in this valley, according to Causey, serves as one of his most interesting (and most recent) discoveries there. “Five years ago, no one knew Alaska even had bats,” Causey said. “There are no caves here,” says Causey. So where do the bats sleep?

By setting up microphones that record bats’ supersonic sound, Causey gradually moved the microphones closer and closer to where he heard them. Pointing to green balls of moss that form around the tree branches, Causey showed the group that he discovered this is where they rest during the day. “It took us four years to find this place,” Causey said.

Bats are important to One Health advocates because of the many pathogens they can carry, including the  Ebola virus. One-Health places emphasis on emergent zoonotic diseases. “Emergent disease is, ‘oh my god people are falling over dead with something we’ve never known before. We’d like to know about the disease before people are dead. That’s where One Health comes in,” says Causey.

Vigdis Tryggvadottir, group member and a veterinary officer of Zoonoses at Icelandic Food and Safety, agrees. “You realize quickly that we need to be talking. For example, the AMR issue, it’s not a human issue or a veterinary issue; it’s our issue. We need to be working together,” Tryggvadottir says, referring to the problem of antimicrobial resistance, which means bacteria, parasites, viruses and fungi becoming resistant to treatments like antibiotics.

One Health might seem like an intuitive idea, and, according to Jenkins, to First Nations, Inuit, and Indigenous peoples, it is. To them, “One Health is absolutely no big news. They get it that human and animal and environmental health is linked. It is not a surprise to them.” And yet, she says scientists “tend to get a little fixated on our pet parasites or pet species or pet locations. One Health makes you take a step back.”

After Causey finished showing the representatives his field sites, the international group re-boarded their bus for the next stop: Seward, Alaska, where they will visit the Alaska Sealife Center to study how veterinarians treat marine wildlife, a central theme of the One health mission.

Samantha Yadron


Former Athlete Helping Others Find Their Identity

By Nick Mantas
Medill Reports

High school athletes who don’t play sports in college all go through a transitional period of what life is like without a practice schedule.

Chloe Barnes went through that same transition and her experience, like that of thousands other athletes, wasn’t a smooth one.

So she created Elle Grace Consulting in order to help her fellow athletes find who they truly are underneath their jerseys.

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Getting to know sharks one tag at a time

Mollie McNeel
Medill Reports

Sharks. They’re everyone’s favorite underwater enemy. Between nerve-wracking drama’s like Jaws to stories about prehistoric mega-sharks, we have all but made the shark species a completely fictionalized being. But, scientists at the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center in Edgewater, Maryland, are changing that one tag at a time.

May 14, 2018—Our shark tagging adventure began with an eight-hour car ride from the SERC campus outside of Baltimore, down the East Coast of the United States to Morehead City, North Carolina. While others had planned on joining us, I was the only team member making the journey with Chuck Bangley, a SERC marine ecologist at SERC. So, we loaded our government issued mini-van, stopped at Dunkin Donuts and hit the road.

May 15, 2018, 7:00 am— “If you start feeling sea sick just remember, feed the fish not the birds,” instructed a crew member on the R/V Capricorn as he addressed the 10 passengers that would be heading out on today’s trip.

Chuck and I are among other researchers from the University of North Carolina’s Institute of Marine Science. Some of them are interested in sharks, just like Chuck, while some are looking for squid or eels.

Captain Joe stops for gas, filling up the 200-gallon tank before we head out to sea. “I don’t see many white caps out there yet, but storms are in the forecast, so it might get rough,” he says, clearly excited as he steers the vessel towards the open ocean.

Fisherman on the R/V Capricorn brings in a large net of fish.Photo: Mollie McNeel

First item on today’s agenda is to “trawl” for about 15 minutes. To do this, the deckhands lower a large net with wooden and metal pallets at the ends to drag along the seafloor, collecting bait for the rest of the journey. As we float along, our net following behind, we catch the attention of a pod of dolphins that trail the net closely, making an easy meal out of the fish that narrowly avoid the net and an exciting spectacle for all on the boat.

As we reel in the net and dump its contents on deck I hear Chuck call out with excitement, “Dogfish!” That’s the shark he was searching for.

Smooth Dogfish that was tagged by SERC. Photo: Mollie McNeel
A student from UNC places the shark on its back putting it into an unconscious state. Photo: Mollie McNeel

A UNC undergrad student grabs the small shark and places it in a black plastic tank filled with seawater. “Flip it over onto its back,” instructs Chuck. Doing this helps subdue the shark by putting it into an almost unconscious state. He readies his surgical equipment, slips on blue latex gloves and grabs a scalpel to tag the shark.

In order to implant the acoustic tracker, the study procedures require Chuck to perform a small surgery on the sharks. He gives the aquatic patient a small shot of lidocaine to numb the area, makes a small incision on the shark’s underbelly, inserts the small black cylindrical instrument and stitches the wound closed—all in under five minutes. After the procedure is complete, they roll the shark back onto its stomach, making sure it is alert and moving well before it gets tossed for a dive back into the ocean.

After sorting through the rest of the net full of fish – squid, crabs and some of the biggest shrimp I’ve ever seen (which the crew happily set aside for their dinners) we were ready to continue fishing for the “big dogs”— more sharks.

Our first stop was just a mile off the coast. The crew began lowering a line of buoys and metal fish hooks loaded with our bait, impaled but still flailing, into the water. One buoy, 10 hooks. That was the order we followed in a smooth and practiced routine.

Once the hooks were out there, we did what fishermen do best – we waited. An hour passed easily with talk of science, fishing stories and dreams of catching a great white. As our boat circled back around to pick of the first buoy, excitement filled the air. Members of the crew were ready pull in whatever was attached to the hooks, scientists ready to tag and measure sharks and me, ready to take photos and come face-to-face with “jaws.”

The first couple of hooks come up empty but then the frenzy starts – one, two, three sharks about 3-feet long each are pulled aboard. They are Sharpnose sharks, not a species Chuck is looking for, but ones UNC scientists are tagging in a separate study. Grab a shark – measure to the fork in its tail, to the tip of the tail – tag it – throw it back – repeat. Over and over I watched as this series was performed in a shark assembly line.

A scientists measures the length of a shark. Photo: Mollie McNeel

After about 30 hectic minutes, we had pulled in 15 sharks, none that can be used for SERC’s study but still an impressive population size that scientists rarely see on these trips. “I’m your good luck charm,” I say joking. To my surprise, the team agrees and tells me to forget the rest of graduate school and join the crew instead.

Next, we move farther off the shore to about seven miles out. We no longer can see land in any direction and the captain’s gadgets show that we are floating in water about 57 feet deep. The wind has begun to pick up causing swells about three feet tall to rock the boat side to side harshly. As I look out the window from the boats cabin one second I can see nothing but blue sky and the next the boat shifts and the window only shows dark blue water.

We repeat the buoy and hook pattern as we cast again in the deeper water. Everyone takes the opportunity to eat some lunch while we wait. “Goldfish crackers are a must while out on a boat,” says Lewis, a student from the UK who is at UNC working towards his doctorate. We take bets on how many sharks we will catch this round. The buy in is a quarter and I bet high with hopes that my luck will continue — “12,” I say.

Unfortunately, I didn’t win the bet since we only brought in two sharks. But, while the number was disappointing, the last catch was not. As we were nearing the end of the hooks, we pulled in a large Sandbar shark spanning about 5 feet long. She was not happy to be pulled up onto the deck and was flailing around violently, mouth open, teeth visible and bloodied from the hook. A deckhand jumped on top of the shark, straddling it and pressing down on its head to keep it from biting anyone on deck. The shark was quickly measured, tagged and shoved off the back of the boat into the deep waters.

Sandbar shark that was the last catch of the day. Photo: Mollie McNeel

After that excitement it was time to make the long trip back to the docks. Some people on board began conversations while others, me included, settled in for a nap in the sunshine.

As we reached the dock and gathered our belongings someone in the background asked Chuck if he thought the trip was successful. “Well, we are leaving with one more shark tagged than before, so I would say that is a success,” exclaimed Chuck with a smile as he stepped of the boat and back onto dry land.

PHOTO AT TOP: Smooth Dogfish Shark caught and tagged off the coast of North Carolina. (Mollie McNeel/Medill)

Always on alert! Two days in the national Storm Prediction Center

By Morgan Levey
Medill Reports

Medill News Service reporter and Comer Scholar Morgan Levey spent two days in the NOAA Storm Prediction Center (SPC) located in the National Weather Center building in Oklahoma. The SPC is responsible for monitoring severe weather — thunderstorms and tornadoes — for the entire country. Staffed around the clock by at least two people, the room contains five main desks with endless computer monitors showing weather maps of the U.S. depicting moisture, wind, radar and a host of other measurements to maximize weather forecasts.

Thursday, April 26: Norman, Oklahoma
On an average weather day, the Storm Prediction Center is quiet and dim, lit from the glow of computer monitors. I’m in the room observing forecasters work in real time. At the outlook desk, I talk with meteorologists Steve Goss, the outlook forecaster, and Bryan Smith, stationed at one of the two mesoscale desks. Mesoscale is a time scale in the order of which weather systems occur.

“That’s a unique way to chase,” says Goss when I tell him and Smith that I was on NOAA’s P-3 plane flying over the tornadoes in Louisiana the week before. The SPC had received notification that a P-3 plane had spotted a tornado from the air near Shreveport, Louisiana — the plane I was on. Smith remembers seeing the notification and says he found it odd. “That’s the first time I’ve heard of a tornado getting verified by an airplane,” Goss says.

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Back on ground

After her short-but-intense campaign in the Democratic primary to represent Illinois’ fourth Congressional District, Sol Flores returns to her roots as an affordable housing advocate.

by Vangmayi Parakala 
Medill Reports

Earlier this year, Sol Flores ran an intense 112-day campaign in the Democratic primary for Illinois’s fourth Congressional District Seat.

It was the same seat that Luis Gutierrez held for 13 straight terms, and the same seat political heavyweight Jesus “Chuy” Garcia also was contesting. She lost.

But Flores captured the imagination of both her constituency and political commentators alike—especially due to the sort of varied experiences she brought to the campaign, ranging from her candid #MeToo childhood story, to her profile as a middle-class, single, working woman of color. “We need more women at the table,” Flores says, shaking back her tight curls. But what she shaped and informed her participation in the campaign most was her work and experience as an affordable-housing activist in Chicago.

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International Rugby Coming to Chicago

By Nick Mantas
Medill Reports

At a news conference inside Soldier Field it was announced The Rugby Weekend will be held in Chicago once again.
The last time Chicago hosted the event in 2016  sell-out crowds packed the Chicago Bears stadium to see their beloved country-men and women play rugby.

Team members from Italy, New Zealand, Ireland, and the United States all attended Tuesday’s announcement and answered questions on their anticipation of the event.

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