Jennifer Guerra

Reporter/Producer

Jennifer is a reporter for Michigan Radio's State of Opportunity project, which looks at kids from low-income families and what it takes to get them ahead. She previously covered arts and culture for the station, and was one of the lead reporters on the award-winning education series Rebuilding Detroit Schools. Prior to working at Michigan Radio, Jennifer lived in New York where she was a producer at WFUV, an NPR station in the Bronx.

Her stories and documentaries have won numerous regional and national awards, and her work has aired on Morning Edition, All Things Considered, Marketplace and Studio 360.

Jennifer graduated from the University of Michigan and received her M.A. in broadcast journalism from Fordham University. When she's not on the radio, she and her husband are making up lyrics to songs and singing them to their adorable baby girl.  

Ways To Connect

Several elected officials and about a hundred others packed into a small conference room on the University of Michigan campus Monday night to talk about the state’s controversial Emergency Manager Law.

The Emergency Manager panel consisted of three elected Democratic officials: Flint Mayor Dayne Walling, Ann Arbor Representative Jeff Irwin and Washtenaw County Commissioner Conan Smith.

user mconnors / morgueFile

Another novel taught in the Plymouth-Canton school district is up for discussion this week.

Photo courtesy of the DIA

Metro Detroiters may be asked to pay a tax to help support the Detroit Institute of Arts.

The DIA is in talks with commissioners from Wayne, Oakland and Macomb counties about a possible regional millage to help support the museum.

There’s nothing definitive yet, but if a 0.2-mill tax went through, it would bring in around $22 million for the struggling museum. Oakland residents would pay $19 annually based on average home sales for 2009; Macomb residents would pay $14; Wayne residents $10.

The Detroit Zoo has received public support through a 0.1-mill tax since 2008.

Annmarie Erickson, executive vice president of the DIA, says the  museum is operating at "bare-bone levels." She says if they can’t secure more money, the museum will go into what she calls a “controlled shutdown”:

"We will lose hours, we will probably lose most of our programming, we will certainly lose visitor amenities. Special exhibits like the very popular "Rembrandt and the Face of Jesus" - we would no longer be able to afford those."

mconnors, gracey / morgueFile

Lots of news packed into this week's Artpod!

We learn about Michigan's burgeoning garment industry, and we get an update on how one of the state's biggest movie studios is doing (hint: not too well.) Plus, we talk with the director of the new documentary, After the Factory.

user gracey / morgueFile

A small group of Michigan designers and economic development officials are headed to Turkey for a week-long trade trip.

The group believes Michigan’s garment industry is up-and-coming, and they hope the trade trip will spur on partnerships with Turkey’s textile suppliers and buyers.

Eleanor Fuchs believes the garment industry "has the potential to be a multi-million if not billion dollar industry here in Michigan."

U of M GEO

Michigan’s Attorney General Bill Schuette filed a request with the state Supreme Court to stop a hearing about whether certain graduate students at the University of Michigan can unionize.

But the hearing was held today despite the request, and is scheduled to continue tomorrow.

user mconnors / morgueFile

A Michigan movie studio that opened just ten months ago is in default on an $18 million state-issued bond.           

Raleigh  Studios made a big splash when it opened in Pontiac last March, with its seven sound stages and state of the art facilities. But now the movie studio can no longer meet its debt obligations, and will not make a $420,000 payment due Feb. 1.

"The movie studio is in default of that payment," explains Terry Stanton, communications director for the Michigan Department of Treasury. "But the bonds will not be in default, since the State of Michigan Retirement Systems is obligated to make those payments."

The money will come out of the retirement funds of public school and state employees, police and judges. 

user kakisky / morgueFile

Full day kindergarten may be in store for more Michigan children, due to changes in the school aid budget.

Schools currently get the same amount of per pupil funding whether they offer half day kindergarten or full day kindergarten. But starting this fall, schools that offer half day kindergarten will see their per pupil funding for those students cut in half.

The state legislature approved the school budget funding change last year.

Here are several different school districts' takes on the changes:

One size does not fit all

Livingston County's Brighton Public Schools currently get the full $7,000 per pupil for half day kindergarten students. They’ll get $3,500 for half day kindergarten students beginning with the 2012 school year.

Greg Gary is superintendent for Brighton area schools. He says the drop in funding is going to hurt his budget, but he refuses to cut half day kindergarten from the schedule:

"Not every kid is going to excel in a full day program. I have two children, and I would have put one in full day kindergarten, and one in half day kindergarten, because kids are different."

user RichL / morgueFile

A new documentary focuses on two cities: Detroit, Michigan and Lodz, Poland.

After the Factory” looks at how the two cities are trying to reinvent themselves in a post-industrial age.

Philip Lauri is the film’s director. He says cities around the world are struggling to answer the question: What happens after industrialization and manufacturing leaves?

Update 12:56 p.m.

President Barack Obama was at the campus of the University of Michigan today, where he laid out his plan for how to make higher education more affordable.

"Shared responsibility" was a big theme in President Obama’s speech.

Mr. Obama called on states to make higher education funding a higher priority in their state; on Congress to extend tuition tax credits, and double the number of work study jobs available; on colleges and universities to do what they need to do to keep costs down.

"So from now on I’m telling Congress: We should steer federal campus-based aid to those colleges that keep tuition affordable, provide good value, serve their students well. We are putting colleges on notice.

You can't assume that you'll just jack up tuition every year. If you can't stop tuition from going up, then the funding you get from taxpayers each year will go down."

Mr. Obama also introduced a new, $1 billion Race to the Top competition to reward states that come up bigger, more systemic ways to reduce college costs:

"We're telling the states: If you can find new ways of bringing down the cost of college and make it easier for more students to graduate, we'll help you do it. We will give you additional federal support, if you are doing a good job of making sure that all of you aren’t loaded up with debt when you graduate from college."

The President also wants to create a "report card" of sorts for colleges and universities, so that parents and students better understand how a school is doing, how affordable it is, how well its students are going.

And while the roughly 4,000 students in the crowd cheered at Mr. Obama's overall college affordability proposal, not everyone is on board with it.

As Tamar Lewin from the New York Times reports, the President's proposal has "raised hackles in higher-education circles":

“When we hear things like a shift in federal aid, it causes our antennas to go straight up,” said Molly Corbett Broad, president of the American Council on Education. “Anything that smacks of price controls is of great concern on many levels, especially at a time when states are cutting their budgets — and if the effect of this is to limit tuition, what else would you call it but price controls?”

Ms. Broad said that she and university presidents across the nation shared the president’s commitment to affordable higher education, but that it was not so easy to keep tuition down at a time when institutions must also absorb state budget cuts, increase enrollment and bolster financial aid for the growing number of families who need it.

The President delivered his remarks to roughly 4,000 people, mostly students,  at the Al Glick Field House on U of M's campus.

9:20 a.m.

The stage is up, and the crowd is gathering to hear President Obama deliver remarks at 9:35 a.m. at the Al Glick Field House at the University of Michigan.

You can listen to his speech by clicking our "listen live" link above.

Michigan Radio's Jennifer Guerra is at the event and will bring us details of the event later today.

Mr. Obama's speech is part of a nationwide tour where he is adding details to plans he outlined in his State of the Union speech.

Today, standing in front of a sign that reads "An America Built to Last," Obama will talk about his ideas for keeping college education affordable.

This morning, the White House released a "blueprint" for his plan. We'll post more on those ideas soon.

Update 2:58 p.m.

We caught up with several folks waiting in line to get tickets to President Barack Obama's speech tomorrow. We asked them if there was anything in particular they wanted to hear the president talk about:

"I hope that they increase the Pell Grant, make it more affordable for people so that we’re not re-mortgaging our house over and over to pay for our kids’ to go to college."

         - Angela Lasiewick. Her daughter is a junior in high school.

"My concern is how we’re going to, what steps he’s going to take help us pay back these student loans. If they’re going to decrease insurance rates, if they’re going to make some sort of allowance for us to be able to live once we graduate with these large debts."

      - Ada Nwaneri has racked up $136,000 in student loans from undergrad, graduate, and law school.

"I want to hear specifically what he wants to do with the rising tuition costs...of debt forgiveness. And another issue I care about is what he's going to do with the banks as far as opening up lines of credit for the

     - Leo Esclamado is a graduate student in the School of Social Work at the University of Michigan.

"I was a little skeptical about attending, but I'm interested in hearing his message, what he has to say about the rising cost of higher education."

     - LaFleur Stephens is a graduate student in political science. She has about $30,000 in student loan debt.

In his State of the Union speech, President Obama touched on college affordability, and put colleges and universities on notice when he said:

"If you can’t stop tuition from going up, the funding you get from taxpayers will go down.  Higher education can’t be a luxury -– it is an economic imperative that every family in America should be able to afford."

After Mr. Obama's speech, University of Michigan President Mary Sue Coleman said in a written statement she "could not agree more with the president that we, as a nation, must recommit ourselves to higher education that is accessible to all."

1:01 p.m.

There were just 3,000 tickets available.

They were free, but people did "pay" for them by waiting in a long line outside the Michigan Union Ticket Office, where the free tickets were given out starting at 9 a.m. this morning.

As the Detroit Free Press' Mike Brookbank reports, the first person to receive a ticket arrived last night:

Teman Evans didn’t intend to do it.

But the 32-year-old turned out to be the first in line at the University of Michigan’s Union Ticket Office.

By this morning, thousands were behind him in a line that snaked for blocks outside the Michigan Union on State Street.

“I got here at 7:30 last night and thought there’d be a whole crew waiting for a month and somehow I was the first one,” said Evans.

People who arrived at 6 a.m. this morning found a long line of people who had been waiting overnight. The line stretched down State Street, down E. William St., and then snaked around to the University of Michigan's Administration building.

Six hours later, 3,000 people had tickets to see President Obama's speech tomorrow at the University of Michigan's Al Glick Fieldhouse. The Fieldhouse is the University of Michigan's football practice facility.

Mr. Obama's stop in Ann Arbor is his second as President. He gave the commencement address in 2010.

This stop is one of many he is making across the country in the wake of his State of the Union speech. He's expected to talk about his ideas for keeping college education affordable.

Dani Davis

A new report suggests that for every $1 Michigan invests in arts and culture, $51 is pumped back into the state’s economy. 

The Creative State Michigan report is based on data gathered from 10% of Michigan’s nonprofit arts and culture sector. It shows that 211 organizations generated $462,791,322 dollars in economic activity.

Photo courtesy of the DIA

The current exhibition at the Detroit Institute of Arts is shaping up to be the museum’s most popular exhibit in recent history.

Pam Marcil is director of public relations at the DIA. She says attendance at "Rembrandt and the Face of Jesus" has been "really overwhelming almost. We’ve had about 60,000 people to date."

She says the “exhibit has brought in 3,500 new and renewed memberships to the museum.

Photo courtesy of Philip Glass

On today's Artpod, we head back to school.

When "Einstein on the Beach" opens in Ann Arbor this Friday, Jan. 20, it'll be the first time the opera has been performed in 20 years. But be warned: this isn’t your typical opera.

Photo courtesy of Philip Glass

When "Einstein on the Beach" opens in Ann Arbor on Friday, Jan. 20, it’ll be the first time the work has been performed in 20 years. But be warned: this isn’t your typical opera.

Einstein on the Beach 101

It was first produced in France in 1976, and until now has only been performed in Europe and on the east coast.

UM GEO

Update 4:26 p.m.

Jennifer Dibbern, the former University of Michigan graduate student, spoke at a press conference this afternoon on U of M's north campus.

Dibbern worked as a graduate student research assistant while pursuing her doctoral degree in Materials Science and Engineering at the U of M.  She was also involved in the effort to form a union for research assistants.

Dibbern claims her advisor pulled Dibbern’s funding and kicked her out of the program because of her union activities:

"I think my story is one clear reason why we as research assistants need a union," says Dibbern. "I would really hope that me being able to come forward and talk with you all prevents this from happening to any other person, any other research assistant at this university."

There is an ongoing dispute over whether graduate student research assistants (GSRAs) have the right to organize. The U of M Board of Regents last May recognized RAs as public employees who have the right to vote to decide for themselves whether they want to form a union. That's in contrast to a 1981 decision by the Michigan Employment Relations Commission (MERC). GEO, the graduate employees union, is seeking to get that MERC ruling overturned. Trial hearing dates are set for Feb. 1-3, 2012.

Dibbern says she came to U of M because of its reputation as an excellent research institution, and she had hopes she'd get her doctorate degree. But she says because of the decision of her advisor, professor Rachel Goldman, she's no longer able to do that.

"My career path in the field that I’ve chosen and all the work that I’ve put into it has been lost; my career’s been ruined."

Rick Fitzgerald, a public relations official with the University of Michigan, was also at the press conference. He says Dibbern's case is "an academic matter" and by law can’t be discussed publicly. He says Dibbern’s claim that she was terminated is not true.

Dibbern claims she received positive feedback on her academic performance up until a few weeks before she was terminated.

Professor Rachel Goldman could not be reached for comment.

9:56 a.m.

ANN ARBOR, Mich. (AP) - A University of Michigan graduate student claims she lost her job after supporting efforts to unionize graduate student research assistants.

The Detroit Free Press reports Wednesday that Jennifer Dibbern lost her research funding and was kicked out of her academic program. She tells the newspaper she wants to highlight a need to protect research assistants.

School spokesman Rick Fitzgerald said in a statement that "we believe certain of the union's factual claims are unfounded." He said the issue is an academic matter that the school is prohibited from discussing publicly.

Dibbern's work was in the College of Engineering.

The Michigan Employment Relations Commission in August affirmed a 1981 decision that bars research assistants from banding together. There's an ongoing dispute about whether that should be
overturned.

user mconnors / morgueFile

Two award-winning novels are at the center of a book-banning effort in the Plymouth-Canton school district.

One of the books up for review is Toni Morrison’s Beloved, a story about slavery, rape and the effects of trauma.

Meredith Yancy, 16, is reading the book in her Advanced Placement English Literature class at Salem High School. She says she didn’t have a problem with the book’s mature content.

"Nearer my god to thee" by Jack Kevorkian. / Photo courtesy of Ariana Gallery

The late Jack Kevorkian’s paintings are at the center of a lawsuit headed to Oakland County Circuit Court on Wednesday.

The dispute is over 17 of Kevorkian’s paintings.

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A new report from Michigan’s Auditor General shows problems with determining eligibility for some public assistance programs.

In 2008, Auditor General Thomas McTavish recommended D-H-S come up with system to reduce the number of errors it made and improve payment accuracy for three public assistance programs: the Family Independence Program (FIP), the Child Development and Care program (CDC), and the Medical Assistance (MA) program.

Jennifer Guerra / Michigan Radio

There’s currently no set standard for how to train K through 12 teachers. Every program in the country has a different curriculum. As a result, the level of teaching skill varies widely.

A new nationwide organization based at the University of Michigan aims to change that.

The goal of Teaching Works is to develop a nationwide system for all teaching programs, so that teachers are prepared the minute they walk into the classroom.

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Today's Artpod is all about work...or rather, re-imagining what work can be.

Many people view Michigan as ground zero when it comes to job loss and unemployment. Yet despite the tough economy, some people are quitting their jobs in an effort to pursue their creative passions, which are often unpaid.

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The head of the American Family Association of Michigan is appealing a court ruling that upheld a federal hate crime law.

The law, called the Matthew Shepard & James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, was expanded in 2009 to protect people victimized because of their race, religion, ethnicity, gender, disability or sexual orientation.

Gary Glenn claims the law is unconstitutional because of the threat it poses to free speech:

Jennifer Guerra / Michigan Radio

An arts advocacy group is stealing an investment idea from the agriculture world in an effort to get more folks to buy local art.

A statewide arts advocacy group wants to serve up some fresh, local art. To do so, the group is copying an investment model popular in the agricultural world.

Lots of farms in Michigan participate in Community Supported Agriculture. Folks can buy a CSA share in a farm. In return, the shareholder gets a weekly crate of fresh farm produce.

Many people view Michigan as ground zero when it comes to job loss and unemployment. Yet despite the tough economy, some people are quitting their jobs in an effort to pursue their creative passions, which are often unpaid. 

From fast food to felt toys

Photo courtesy of Aretha Franklin

We kick of the first Artpod of 2012 with an appearance by none other than the Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin.

I interviewed Franklin last month about her search for the next great opera star. That's right, opera star. Franklin wants to get in on the singing contest circuit, and she's turning her searchlight on the world of classical music.

Jennifer Guerra / Michigan Radio

Lake Superior State University a few days ago issued its annual list of Banished Words and phrases for 2011.

Now Wayne State University has issued its own top 10 list of "remarkably useful and expressive words that deserve more chances to enrich our language."

Photo by Jennifer Guerra

There’s a long-running debate about which kind of Christmas tree is greener: real or artificial.  We wanted to try to settle that debate... or at least add to the discussion:

Lauren Northrop and her husband Tom are big fans of Christmas.

“We love celebrating it, I love decorating, but we always have this dilemma: what do we do about a tree?”

They didn’t want a plastic tree because it’s, well, plastic. And they didn’t like the idea of bringing a live tree into their house, only to have it die and then drag it out to the curb to be recycled.

So they skipped the Christmas tree thing altogether for the last four years. But then, their son was born.

They bought a live, baby Christmas tree with its roots still intact. That way, when Christmas is done and the ground thaws, they can plant it in their backyard.

“I was planning to keep the tree inside until December 25th so that we could decorate it and put lights on it. When we went to buy it they said if you do that, it probably won’t survive.”

That’s probably way too much hassle for most people.

user anon / morgueFile

For all your late holiday shoppers out there, today's Artpod is filled with ideas for giving local.

I put out a call on Twitter and Facebook to hear your thoughts on Michigan-made gifts you'd like to give (or receive) this year. I also reached out to the owner of an independent bookstore in Grand Rapids, and the owner of an independent music store in Ann Arbor to get their suggestions, too.

So without further ado, here's what you had to say about giving local:

user mconnors / morgueFile

Low-income immigrants in the Washtenaw County area will soon be able to get free legal help from the Thomas M. Cooley Law School’s Ann Arbor campus.

Jason Eyster, an associate professor at Cooley Law School, will run the new immigrant rights clinic. He says they’ll be able to take up to six immigration cases at a time, dealing with a variety of issues:

"In the immigration area: individuals are seeking asylum, seeking withholding of removal,  seeking cancelation of removal, or seeking clarity on what their rights may or may not be," said Eyster.

Eyster says they’ll also help immigrants with other issues, like "foreclosure, landlord-tenant, custody issues, and that sort of thing."

The clinic doesn't open until next month, but Eyster says they're already booked.

user kconnors / morgueFile

Discussions are underway to figure out how best to evaluate Michigan’s teachers.

Governor Snyder has tasked a group of five people to develop a so-called “teacher evaluation” tool as part of the state’s new teacher tenure law. The law contains a lot about teacher evaluation, but doesn’t detail what the evaluation would look like.

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