New West Loop market melds cuisine from Chicago and the world

by Joshua Skinner

After two years of construction, Time Out Market Chicago opened in the West Loop to crowds of hungry people. Bringing together unique flavors from across the globe, the market features 18 eateries, two Michelin-Star chefs, and an array of beverages. It’s a market for Chicago, but not of Chicago. In fact, the idea had its inception an ocean away.

Photo at Top: Maximo Beef Rib from John Manion at Time Out Market Chicago (Joshua Skinner/MEDILL)

Christkindlmarket draws worldwide crowd to Chicago

By Allegra Zamore

The Christkindlmarket has been bringing the holiday spirit to the city of Chicago since 1996 attracting a wide variety of visitors throughout the years. From mulled wine and roasted nuts to German beer and schnitzel, there is something for everyone to enjoy. Vendors like Frank’s Ornament House even hire German natives to work the market each year to add a touch of authenticity to the downtown experience. Sarah Arnold says it’s just like Germany, but without the snow. The market opens every year just before Thanksgiving and stays open until Christmas Eve.

Photo at top: Vendors like Frank’s Ornament House attract a steady stream of visitors at the Christkindlmarket. (Allegra Zamore/MEDILL)

Helping to Close Science’s Gender Gap at 2019 Automation Fair

By Annie Krall

Even in 2019, less than 30% of the world’s researchers are women, according to the UNESCO Institute for Statistics. That’s a startling statistic. It’s downright shameful. Yet, walking around the 2019 Automation Fair in Chicago from November 18-19, I’m optimistic. Watching a group of 7th grade girls play with robotics equipment in McCormick Place was eye-opening. Granted, they were playing hooky to come and hang out with their robotics team friends, but when you miss school to go have fun with NXT Mindstorm sets, I can assume you’re probably doing alright in the classroom.

Seeing them horse around with their mechanical creations as part of the organization known as FIRST, which teaches STEM learning to children starting in kindergarden all the way through to senior year of high school, reminded me of my own robotics class days. When I was in middle school, I spent every Saturday morning traveling to Northwestern University to attend the Center for Talent Development classes offered in computer programming and robotic design.

This was back in the mid 2000s, and I was the only girl in my classes of 20 or 30 students. At the time, I never thought too much about my gender. It didn’t seem to make the boys treat me any differently and it certainly didn’t make me feel inferior. But, watching these young women play with the same sort of robots I had designed ten years ago seemed so different.
I felt different.

I wanted to cheer them on and tell them that they shouldn’t ever feel dumb. Inadequacy was a feeling I had more than once by the time I reached high school. I had internalized assumptions that boys were the ones meant to be on science olympiad and girls were meant to be on the debate team.

As I got older, there weren’t instances from one individual that made me feel inferior amongst my male colleagues, rather a systemic stereotype I didn’t quite fit with my brunette American Girl like doll appearance.

I can’t help but wonder where my life would be if I had listened to all of the criticism that came from being a scientifically inclined female. I always did better in physics and biology than I did in history, much to my twin sister’s amazement who would eventually major in history at Northwestern. My analytical mind is what would land me in accelerated chemistry my freshman year at Northwestern, not to mention send me on a path that would eventually lead to a medical school acceptance.

Everyone’s story isn’t the same. I don’t mean to project on the young women of FIRST the shifted glances I once recieved entering high school in accelerated biology. I hope they continue their passion for technology with no fear and constant curiosity. Considering that over 60% of their robotics team is female, I believe they can create a female community I never could at their age.

That isn’t to say there isn’t work to be done when it comes to gender diversity in science. There is: lots of it. But to know any daughter I may eventually have, might not be the only child with two X chromosomes in a robotics class is not only encouraging. It’s inspirational.

So here’s to being inspired in the new decade. I can’t wait to see what our young women will create next.

Photo at top: FIRST Robotics Team Captain Erin Marshall, watches on as one of her robot creations effortlessly moves objests at the 2019 Automation Fair in Chicago.(Annie Krall/MEDILL)

Campus Kitchen back in action amid recent move

By Selah Holland
Medill Reports

Campus Kitchen, a Northwestern University student organization that redistributes unused food to nonprofit organizations and food insecure individuals in Evanston, recently moved into the Great Room kitchen in Great Hallon campus  a few weeks ago.

This relocation, into a 1920s dining hall that later morphed into a café and catering space, keeps volunteers busy revamping the space to match the scale lost with the move from Allison Dining Hall.
Campus Kitchen president Laine Kaehler said the group is gradually working to rebuild its food stock and work volume. Over the summer, the group operated for only two months before coming to a temporary halt early in September when the university chose to relocate them to Great Hall.

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Lake surfers ride the high, frigid waves at Indiana Beach

By Lucia Whalen
Medill Reports

Fall marks the time of year when most people in the Chicago pack away their swimsuits and say goodbye to the beach.

But Lake Michigan surfers aren’t most people.

For surfers who live for the challenges of the lake, fall marks the time of year when waves get bigger and groups clad in wetsuits congregate at various beaches around Chicago and Northwest Indiana to ride the waves in frigid water. As the fall transitions into winter and the air becomes colder than the lake, the wind creates bigger waves due to increased air pressure as the wind blows across the surface of the water. That’s why more lake surfers can be seen out in the fall and winter than in the summer.

Rex Flodstrom, an artist and surfer, started surfing in California before moving back to his hometown of Chicago, where he discovered the lake surfing community. To many, the idea of surfing in the cold Midwest winters might sound painful and crazy. But to Flodstrom, and most surfers, the option to surf outweighs the cons of the cold.

“It’s either that or don’t surf. And even if it’s cold, if you have the right gear you can stay warm and have a good session, so it makes it worth it,” Flodstrom explained.

Lake surfers are in touch with changes in weather and lake patterns in a way unlike the majority of people living near the Great Lakes, as the window for finding good waves is very short in the Midwest and can suddenly change in a matter of hours.

“To surf the Lakes you have to be an amateur weather [forecaster]. It’s a never-ending pursuit of waves. On the ocean you can have a swell that will last for days, where here it will only last for a couple of hours. You have to be in the right place at the right time and that’s always a challenge,” Flodstrom explained.

This year, Lake Michigan reached record high water levels in July, making headlines around the country due to the dangers the water poses for swimmers and water lapping onto Lake Shore Drive. Beach erosion became obvious along the entire lakefront.

No group of people is more aware of the effects of the high waters than Chicago-area lake surfers, who have witnessed erosion radically change the shape of the beaches they surf on. At the Portage Lakefront and Riverwalk in Portage, Indiana, the beach erosion is unmistakable. An entire tree lay with roots exposed in the middle of the water, fallen off the bluff too far eroded to hold its weight; underneath the tree, concrete slabs litter the shore, broken off from the pier. A circular cement viewing area, once stationed on top of the dune, now sits in the middle of the shore; a wooden picket fence falls off the bluff; and the metal walkway that once extended above the beach is now half underwater.

According to Flodstrom, the beach itself has shrunk. And where there was once room for people to lay towels down and hang out on the beach, there is now a sand dune.

“I’ve noticed a lot of changes at this location,” Flodstrom said, adding, “There’s a lot of sand erosion. There used to be a more gentle path down to the lake, and now it’s a steeper path. It’s partly the sand erosion and partly the high water.”

Aside from concerns about water levels and beach erosion, surfers face a constant battle due to the surrounding industries. U.S. Steel and the Whiting B.P. oil refinery loom on either side of the beach. Both were cited by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for chemicals spilled into the lake. In 2017, U.S. Steel dumped nearly 300 pounds of hexavalent chromium into Lake Michigan, and a number of surfers joined a lawsuit against U.S. Steel for violating the Clean Water Act. The lawsuit is still pending.

A “revised consent decree to resolve alleged violations of the Clean Water Act and other federal and state statutes by U. S. Steel at its Midwest Plant in northwest Indiana” was filed by the U.S EPA on Wednesday.

While many surfers say they have had adverse reactions to surfing in the water, such as rashes and other symptoms, drawing a clear correlation can be difficult.

“Who knows what the long-term effects are?  We’re sort of like the canaries in the coal mine. We’re in a science experiment. Hopefully people are okay. I think in the off season the Lake isn’t tested as much as it should be, so no one really knows what’s in the water or what they’re exposing themselves to,” Flodstrom said.

Peter Matushek stands next to a circular cement viewing area at the Portage Lakefront, which used to sit on top of the dunes. The cement circle is now in the middle of the shore. (Lucia Whalen)

This tree stood on the dune overlooking the water only a year ago. Much of the bluff has eroded, the sand no longer able to hold heavy weight, which caused the roots of the tree to lose old and fall into the water. (Lucia Whalen)

Rex Flodstrom surfs in the afternoon. Rex, and most surfers, track the weather and water patterns daily and make plans to go out day-of.

A wax-covered surfboard. Wax creates an adhesive surface that helps surfers stick to the board while surfing. While the underside on the water stays slippery, allowing for smooth surfing, a good wax creates a slightly bumpy surface, giving feet a slight grip. (Lucia Whalen)

Surfer and photographer Mike Killion tests out the stability of the edge of the bluff. The sand on the bluff’s edge is crumbling and unsafe to stand on, as it cannot hold much weight. (Lucia Whalen)

The Chicago skyline sits as a backdrop beyond the Portage Lakefront and Riverwalk.(Lucia Whalen)

A surfer looks out over the metal walkway, which is now engulfed in water. (Lucia Whalen)

A fence that once stood on the bluff has fallen due to the sand erosion. (Lucia Whalen)

Most lake surfing happens in the cloudy cold weather months and during tumultuous weather, as extreme weather lends itself to bigger waves. However, surfers do catch the occasional sunny day. Here Rex Flodstrom looks out at the water after an afternoon of surfing. (Lucia Whalen)

Meet TV Chef, Inventor, and ‘Fit Foodie’ Mareya Ibrahim

By Harrison Liao
Medill Reports

For today’s health-conscious eaters, it is all too easy to get lost within the maze of contradictory nutritional advice.

Nearly 80% of Americans surveyed  “come across conflicting information about food and nutrition,” and 59% reported that “conflicting information makes them doubt their choices,” according to a 2018 study conducted by the International Food Information Council (IFIC). Although more people believe they are eating healthier now, what that really means is more confusing than ever, according to the same study.

That’s where Mareya Ibrahim — author, TV Chef and inventor of Eat Cleaner products  – hopes to enter the fray. Her products are designed to wash fruits and vegetables more effectively than water, removing potentially harmful particulates and keeping produces fresh longer, according to Ibrahim.

“The only all natural, patented produce wash, Eat Cleaner® is the tasteless, odorless and lab-tested line of food wash and wipes that is up to 99.9% more effective than water in cleaning wax, pesticide residues and soil from commercially and organically grown produce,” according to the Eat Cleaner website.

She has been featured in segments on ABC, Fox News, the Food Network, Today and other media as “The Fit Foodie” chef. She also has a new free Thanksgiving recipe book available to everyone.

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Tailor-made models for preventing suicide may soon be a reality

By Madhurita Goswami
Medill Reports

A recent study based on social media data shows that chat features of conversations between help-seekers and therapists can be used to predict suicide risk and develop models to reduce the risk.

“There is an interesting link between language and health that hasn’t been explored in real-time fashion,” said Carlos Gallo, a research assistant professor at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine. For instance, expression of positive or negative emotions compared to “yes” or “no” answers is linked to reduced suicide risk. Help-seekers who are less engaged tend to fare the worst, Gallo said.

On the other hand, he said a counselor can improve suicide prevention by using sentences such as – “it’s understandable that you are feeling sorry for your loss” or “thank you for sharing that awful experience” or “what would it feel like if you were to take a walk around the park?”

Carlos Gallo is using text analysis to come up with a computational model to guide counselors in reducing suicide risk. He spoke at this month’s Data Science Night at Northwestern University. (Madhurita Goswami)

Gallo and his colleagues have linked suicide risk to chat features of help-seekers such as length of sentences, number of times a positive or negative emotion is expressed, response time (which is a measure of engagement), typing mistakes (which are related to stress), and function words. They have also linked risk reduction to the type of questions counselors ask, the number of times they ask those questions, number of words in their sentences (or complexity of sentences), and safety planning. Safety planning, including advice such as “toss away your pills” or “call a friend right now”, reduces suicide risk, Gallo said.

He presented these preliminary findings at this month’s Data Science Night in Northwestern University’s Chambers Hall in Evanston.  According to World Health Organization, one person dies due to suicide every 40 seconds across the world.

Talking about the significance of function words, Gallo said help-seekers use articles, prepositions and auxiliary verbs, subconsciously. “If I want to talk about a table, I make the choice to talk about the table. But the architecture of language used to talk about the table is so automatic that I am not necessarily choosing the actual function words,” he said, adding that such words allow counselors to echo help-seekers and find common ground with them.

The researchers are now developing a computational model to monitor counseling services and guide crisis intervention. “The model has to be tested before being integrated into counseling services,” Gallo said. Moving forward, he said models could be tailored to fit the needs of various vulnerable groups, including teens, Hispanics or immigrant communities. Such models, designed to better meet needs based on age, race and gender, could become starting points for counselors to provide care to suicidal individuals.

Gallo said his group analyzed data from 1,800 online chats and then focused on help-seekers who were suicidal. The participants were mostly young women and their anonymity is protected. Observers tracked the chats and subjectively assessed their outcomes. They also took feedback from help-seekers into account. Gallo, who is with the department of psychiatry, said, “Only around 5% of counseling services are monitored now. We have to find out what’s happening and then improve it.”

“Gallo has some significant results from a small data set,” said Thomas Stoeger, a postdoctoral fellow at Northwestern’s Amaral Lab which facilitates study of complex systems such as metabolic pathways, the ecosystem and the Internet.  “There is a lot of confidentiality in this kind of research and considerations of what you can research on or not. But from Gallo’s results, it seems we can actually improve suicide prevention,” said Stoeger, who is also an organizer of the Data Science Nights.

Gallo was invited for a talk because many attendees were interested in applications of text mining (converting a huge number of texts into structured data suitable for analysis) in social sciences, said Sarah Ben Maamar, another organizer and postdoctoral fellow at Amaral Lab. “Also, he is collaborating with social media, which is now a big thing in data science. It (data science) acts as a bridge between researchers and industry.”

Data Science Nights, launched in 2017, bring together researchers and students working on data science techniques and their applications in fields ranging from medicine to journalism.

Photo at top: Analysis of huge sets of unstructured data can help tackle challenges such as suicide risk and intervention. (Open access photo. Blue computer internet technology background with binary data code from

A festival that binds Bengali students and professionals in Chicago

By Madhurita Goswami
Medill Reports

Students and professionals belonging to the Bengali community in Chicago came together for a recent religious and cultural celebration.

Started at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) campus by a group of students in 2007, the celebration is centered around Durga, a Hindu Goddess.

It, however, has turned into “a huge picnic” and “a version of Christmas for Bengalis in Chicago”, according to 26-year-old Indrani Banerjee who is completing her Ph.D. in chemistry at UIC.

Durga Pujo/festival is celebrated in India and Bangladesh in honor of a warrior goddess, who defeated the dark forces. The festival has become an integral part of the social and cultural fabric of West Bengal, an eastern state in India, and is also observed in other locations where Bengalis move in.
Approximately 500 people joined the celebrations in Chicago. The idea is that Bengalis will come together as a community, according to Banerjee, the president of the organizing body.
This is the second idol of Durga that has been brought to UIC from Kumortuli, the porters’ quarters in northern Kolkata, by air. The first was handed over to the National Indo American Center near Little India after being worshipped for at least six years. After the celebrations, the idol is taken to the house of a volunteer, where it stays till the next year.
Former students who are now working in Chicago are actively involved with the volunteer-based festival. This provides incoming students a chance to network and find new friends, said Banerjee.
Volunteers include current and former students from different Chicago area universities. Sumit Bhattacharyya (left), an assistant professor of medicine at UIC, who arrived in the US from Kolkata in 1998, has been involved with the event since 2007. “This is about revisiting our growing up years in Kolkata. Students wanted to organize a festival as they couldn’t afford to go to the suburbs for Durga Pujo and they asked for my help,” he said.
The cultural program kicked off with a dance performance by former student Debasmita Paul depicting Durga’s triumph over evil.
The performances included songs in Bengali, Hindi and English by various groups, Bollywood dances and a theatrical act.
Food is one of the most important aspects of the festival, according to Bhattacharyya. This year, the culinary fest included a traditional meal of “khichudi” – an Indian comfort dish made with rice and dal, Indian-Chinese dishes such as chili chicken, biriyani – a mixed rice dish with meat, and fish cooked with mustard.
Photo at top: Bengalis across generations celebrate Durga Pujo in Chicago. (Madhurita Goswami)

“Why we should care” – Calling on Asian Americans to demand environmental justice

By Madhurita Goswami
Medill Reports

Asian Americans are increasingly pushing for environmental reforms to address the issues impacting their communities across the country. A new Chicago advocacy group recently held a workshop on Asian Americans and Environmental Justice to drive home the importance of the community’s political involvement for climate action.

Andrea Chu has been organizing these workshops for the past year. Chu, whose parents immigrated from Taiwan, has studied environmental planning and management. She is involved with  Chicago Asian Americans for Environmental Justice (CAAEJ), an environmental group urging residents of Chinatown and Bridgeport to test their garden soil for lead.

Chu said that an overwhelmingly large number of industrial factories are located in the South and Southwest sides of Chicago and it is a matter of concern for immigrant families who grow their vegetables in backyard gardens. “We are encouraging lead testing and trying to figure out what the situation is,” she said, adding that Chinese families may be advised after testing to move towards raised beds for growing bitter melon, bok choy and other garden staples.

Andrea Chu (right front) stressed on the importance of political involvement for action against climate change. (Madhurita Goswami)

Lower-income communities and communities of color have historically been at a higher risk of environmental hazards and disasters. However, there is a lack of racial diversity in non-profit organizations and government agencies working towards a better environment. Groups such as CAAEJ offer Asian Americans the opportunity to formulate actionable ideas in this regard and exert their voices in the decision-making processes.

Chu started the discussion by asking: “Why should Asian Americans care?” On the local level, she said poorer Asian Americans – like other disadvantaged groups in the US – have a higher level of exposure to toxic substances and criticized the model minority myth, which has created a false impression that all Asian Americans are financially well-off. From the global perspective, she said the coastal cities of Southeast Asia are under the threat of being submerged due to rising sea levels and a huge number of people live in these cities, so it is high time to demand for changes.

She also questioned the ethics of individual responsibility. “We now know that the richest 10% are responsible for half of lifestyle emissions,” Chu said. “But we have been going after individual consumption of people who may not have the time or the capacity to think about something like recycling, which we don’t make easy for anybody in this country.”

She said that protests to shut down a polluting pipeline or seeking greener policies will go far and have a more immediate impact on preventing global warming.

At the workshop, participants criticized the current U.S. attitude on
emissions and President Donald Trump’s decision to walk away from the Paris Agreement on global climate change mitigation. “When I was in school, the American media had this narrative that we are doing the right thing, but India and China won’t play nice and lower their emissions,” said Chu.

However, participants discussed how that narrative ignores that the U.S. has pumped out more carbon dioxide per capita than any other country since the Industrial Revolution. The history of colonization in Southeast Asia has left many countries stuck in time, critics said. They also agreed on the imbalance between the East and the West in terms of population. Chu illustrated this with a study showing that an average American currently leaves more carbon footprint than people belonging to other nations.

Seventeen-year-old Suzy Schlosberg, who participated in the  workshop, moved to the U.S. from China when she was only eight years old. She has been an environmental activist for the past four years. “But, I didn’t identify as an Asian-American environmental activist because I didn’t know what that part of my identity could mean for the movement. As someone who grew up in China and belongs to the immigrant community, I can now work not only for the environment but also for my community,” she said.

Peter Chung, who works for the Illinois chapter of the Sierra Club,
became interested in the workshop because “I am often the only Asian American in the room and currently, the only Asian American on staff at the chapter level (of the Sierra Club).”

He said he is working on political organizing in the northwest suburbs to turn the tide in favor of the Clean Energy Jobs Act, a state-level bill pushing for sustainable energy development.

Photo at top: The new advocacy group Asian Americans and Environmental Justice is calling on residents of Chinatown and Bridgeport to have their garden soil tested for lead, one of several priorities of the organization. (MEDILL)

Chicago teacher’s strike cuts short some high school athletic careers

By Joshua R. Skinner

The battle between the Chicago Teacher’s Union (CTU) and Chicago Public Schools (CPS) dominated Chicago’s media conversation for weeks. After an 11-day strike in October, teachers won several concessions from the CPS.

On Friday, November 15, Chicago teachers ratified a new contract that includes reduced class sizes and a nurse and social worker in every school by 2023. But while the strike made significant gains, it also ended athletic opportunities for many student-athletes.

Photo at top: A composite football lays in the grass during a player-led practice at Bogan High School. Players could not access school-issued leather footballs during the strike.(Joshua Skinner/MEDILL)