Winter 2019

Northwest Indiana residents grapple with implications of dead swans

By Lauren Robinson
Medill Reports

Northwest Indiana is a region of many small refuges. For its human occupants, that might be a quiet spot on Whihala Beach facing north, toward Chicago’s glimmering skyline. For wildlife, that might be a bird sanctuary by a casino in Hammond — or perhaps a discharge of warm water from a British Petroleum plant into an otherwise frozen Lake Michigan. The oil refinery, like the ArcelorMittal steel factory and Whiting Metals, spans hundreds of acres of real estate in the area, and its machinery stretches into the sky, a metallic forest visible from afar.

Carolyn Marsh, who is my tour guide on a cold, gray weekday in February, is no longer naive about the competing realities of the natural world and industry. When she moved to Whiting in the 1980s, she had her eyes fixed northward, from that refuge on Whihala Beach that factored into her decision to buy a home here. “I did not know how bad the pollution would be,” she says. “Nobody talked about it because there were jobs. Jobs, jobs, jobs.”

Continue reading

Environmentally conscious consumers ponder genuine leather versus alternatives

By Karleigh Stone
Medill Reports

Use of genuine leather in the fashion industry is a topic of dispute among designers and consumers.

Authentic leather is environmentally friendly. Its durability allows it to outlast synthetic options, and that decreases consumption in the high-polluting apparel industry. Leather is also made from natural products — animal hides — which means it biodegrades quickly when it’s  discarded, lessening the impact on the landfill.

But for some, designers’ use of genuine leather raises ethical questions around the treatment of animals. They wonder whether most hides are truly a byproduct of the meat industry, and question if leather should continue to be used for apparel.

Photo at top: Genuine leather is a durable material, particularly for footwear. (Karleigh Stone/MEDILL)

Used as the new black: Environmentally conscious shoppers are choosing thrift stores

By Karleigh Stone
Medill Reports

Rapidly changing fashion trends can be harmful to the environment, according to a recent analysis by a U.N. consortium. In what’s known as “fast fashion,” retailers constantly flip the floor stock to match popular styles. That has led to production facilities creating more clothing than ever before.

Continue reading

59th Sakura Matsuri Japanese Street Festival celebrates D.C.’s cherry blossoms

By Stephanie Fox
Medill Reports

Slideshow: The 59th Annual Sakura Matsuri Japanese Street Festival. (Stephanie Fox)

A few blocks from the National Mall, families, friends, dogs and anime enthusiasts crowded through a gated entryway placed on Pennsylvania Avenue to experience the 59th Annual Sakura Matsuri Japanese Street Festival.

Some effortlessly used chopsticks to eat mango sticky rice on-the-go. Others sipped bubble tea, or stared admiringly at a newly-purchased bonsai tree while taking a selfie. Everyone enjoyed the company of a welcoming community while celebrating the significance of the U.S.-Japan relationship and the final day of Washington, D.C.’s three-week Cherry Blossom Festival. Continue reading

Life at a research lab in Israel’s Negev desert

By Alexis Shanes
Medill Reports

SDE BOKER, ISRAEL — Two hours south of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, where political drama unraveled amid Tuesday’s Israeli elections, I finished my morning coffee and stepped out into the blinding desert sunshine.

I’m spending this month at the Jacob Blaustein Institutes for Desert Research, which are part of the Ben-Gurion University of the Negev. The main BGU campus is located in Be’er Sheva, the Negev desert’s largest city. But I’m at the BIDR outpost 45 minutes south, in Sde Boker, where I’m embedded with researchers tackling water stewardship in the Middle East. I’m reporting by observation and taking notes I’ll later use for Medill News Service stories.
Continue reading

Lab optimizes performance and prevents injury for warriors, athletes and more

Medill News Service journalist Colleen Zewe is embedding this spring as a reporter with with sports medicine researchers at the University of Pittsburgh School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences Neuromuscular Research Lab as they enhance performance for warriors and athletes.

By Colleen Zewe
Medill Reports

At first glance, the University of Pittsburgh Neuromuscular Research Lab seems more like a gym than a laboratory. Treadmills, stationary bikes, weight racks and kettlebells all line the walls of the lab, which sits in a sports medicine hub of Pittsburgh. Just a few steps away, the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center Rooney Sports Complex welcomes the Steelers to practice and train.

But the Bod Pod, underwater treadmills, and an array of experiments hint that these workout machines aren’t used for regular exercise. Instead, they’re measuring warrior performance – the performance of military personnel. NMRL is also Pitt’s Warrior Human Performance Research Center. The researchers strive to optimize the performance of those who are quite literally human warriors: military personnel,  athletes and other active populations. Continue reading

A pageant for the Chinese community in Chicago

By Carolyn Chen
Medill reports

Victoria M Ng, a second-generation Chinese immigrant,  founded the “Miss Chinese Chicago Pageant” in 2018. Growing up in the Chinese community in Chicago, she hopes to foster the next generation of Chinese American female leaders. Here is her story.

Continue reading

Chicago Bandits players aim for sustainable careers in professional softball

By Karleigh Stone
Medill Reports

Lack of advertising, inappreciable salaries and a shortage of opportunities characterize the state of professional softball.

With only six teams total and pay ranging from $6,000 to $20,000 a year, most professional softball players are unable to make a living out of their athletic career, in contrast to their male counterparts in Major League Baseball.

Despite the odds, women are not giving up and are excited to continue pioneering the National Pro Fastpitch League.

Courtney Gano and Abby Ramirez, two professional softball players on the Chicago Bandits, tell their stories.

Continue reading

How to ensure your electric vehicle is powered by renewable energy

By Brady Jones
Medill Reports

Driving an electric vehicle plays a critical role in reducing carbon dioxide emissions, but the impact of this reduction gets diminished if the electricity comes from fossil fuels. The sources of electricity used to power your car must be green too and several choices are available to make that happen.

It all comes down to this: how can you ensure that you are maximizing the amount of electricity that comes from renewable sources used to charge your vehicle?

The two highest contributors of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions in 2016 were transportation and electricity production, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. In Illinois, 40 percent of the state’s electricity is produced by coal and natural gas—only 7 percent is produced by wind and solar, reports the U.S. Department of Energy. Fortunately, some power companies offer green energy options for your power. And there are steps you can take to maximize the percentage of renewable sources for your electricity. How you do that depends first on where you live.
Continue reading

Political priorities: A review of key bills in the current Illinois legislative session

By Noah Broder
Medill Reports

With a progressive legislature and Democrat J.B. Pritzker as governor, a law raising the minimum wage to $15 swiftly passed in Illinois. Other proposals such as raising the age for purchasing cigarettes to 21 and the legalization of recreational marijuana could take hold for Illinois residents in the near future.

While the general assembly often hears and votes on hundreds of bills in the state house and the senate, only a few new high-profile laws affect the lives of most everyday residents.

Gov. Pritzker ran on a platform that considered issues ranging from legalizing marijuana to raising the minimum wage to criminal justice reform. While Pritzker makes these promises, it is the work of the members of the state house and senate to turn the promises into proposals and concrete laws. Continue reading