WUOMFM

Jennifer Guerra

Reporter/Producer

Jennifer is a reporter with Michigan Radio's State of Opportunity project. She previously covered arts and culture for the station, and worked as a producer for WFUV 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 master's in broadcast journalism from Fordham University in New York. When not working on a story, you can find Jen practicing her tap steps and hanging out with her husband and their two hilarious kids.

Ways to Connect

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.

user mensatic / morgueFile

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.

user ronnieb / morgueFile

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.

user mconnors / morgueFile

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.

According to Bowens, the report "does not adequately reflect the realities of today."
morgueFile user kconnors / http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

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.

Photo courtesy of Nicola's Books

Holiday sales appear to be up at most independent bookstores in Michigan, thanks in part to the fact that one of their major competitors is no longer around.

Borders, the now defunct big bookstore chain, was often accused of killing the independent bookstore. But those indie bookstores that remain are now reaping the benefits of Borders demise.

Photo from "All-American Muslim" courtesy of TLC

A network of Arab-American nonprofits say they will no longer accept donations from Lowe's.

The home improvement chain has gotten tons of media attention since it pulled its ads from TLC's All-American Muslim, saying the show was a "lightning rod" for controversy. The retailer was also the recipient of the conservative Florida Family Association's campaign to get the ads pulled.

Now 22 Arab-American nonprofits have refused to accept any future donations from Lowe's.

Hassan Jaber is with ACCESS, a nonprofit based in Dearborn. He says for the past five years the Lowe's in Allen Park donated shovels, paint, tools, and all other kinds of supplies to ACCESS. The items went to support the nonprofit's home renovation program in some of Detroit’s poorest neighborhoods.

"Together we gave hope to the community," says Jaber. But he goes on to say that the decision by Lowe's at the corporate level is "a complete contradiction of their local mission here."

Jaber says they will no longer accept those supplies. He adds they considered the Lowe's in Allen Park a "friend and partner," but he says ACCESS "made it clear that we stand by our principal."

Ian Tadashi Moore / Mosaic

Artpod is back!

In today's podcast, we look at how an arts group is encouraging lower-income kids to go on to college, with measurable results. It's called Mosaic Youth Theatre of Detroit, which one student describes as a place filled with "pops of rainbow colors."

Here's an excerpt:

user jdurham / morgueFile

Michigan’s Republican-led Senate has passed a measure that removes the 150-school cap on university-sponsored charters. The bill is now stalled in the House.

The way the current cap works: If a charter is considered "high performing," it is re-labeled a School of Excellence, and removed from the cap, which leaves a vacancy for a new university-sponsored charter school to fill.

The Spoke Folks, a Grand Rapids non-profit, wants to put "More Butts On Bikes" and help people maintain them.
user kconnors / morgueFile

You may one day be able to check out bicycles for free at the Ann Arbor District Library.

The library is considering teaming up with Common Cycle, a non-profit bike club, in an effort to provide free bike rentals to library patrons.

Eric Jankowski is with Common Cycle. He says details are still being worked out, including what the late fees will be, and for how long a library patron can check out a bike. As for how many bikes they’ll need?

Photo by coopah / morgueFile

Teachers across the state can now apply for grants to help cover transportation costs for field trips.

The Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs is providing schools with Arts & Culture Trek grants worth $500 to help cover transportation costs.

Stacey Lind is with the Michigan Youth Arts, the group that’ll be distributing the grants. She said there's an approved list of all organizations on their website, which includes "museums, orchestras, performing arts centers, dance organizations, [and] the Detroit Zoo."

Lind said extracurricular activities like field trips are often the first things to go when a school is trying to cut costs:

"Some students never go to the symphony; some students never get to see a live dance performance," said Lind. "These transportation grants provide an opportunity for those students to actually be able to see and experience things  they might never be exposed to in school."

About 100 grants are available, though Lind says more could be on the way.  Each school can qualify for one$500 grant.

Applications are available now through January 16 for field trips between March and May of 2012.

As we reported earlier this week, Aretha Franklin is searching for the next great opera singer. If you're 18-40 years old and classically trained, the Queen of Soul wants to hear from you:

"Some of the older classical singers like Jessye Norman, and Leontyne [Price], Barbara Hendricks...they are retiring, they’re not singing anymore, and I’d like to see some younger singers come along and take their place," explains Franklin.

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney went back to his Michigan roots to choose a campaign theme song.

“Born Free” by Michigan native Kid Rock has been chosen as Romney's official campaign theme. A Romney staffer confirmed the music selection with Michigan Radio this afternoon.

User bazylek100 / Flickr

Calling all opera singers: Aretha Franklin wants to hear from you.

The Queen of Soul says she wants to find the next Jessye Norman or Barbara Hendricks:

"Some of the older classical singers have retired and they’re not singing anymore, and I’d like to see some younger singers come along and take their place."

Consumers Energy / Flickr/user

Consumers Energy has canceled its plans to build a coal plant near Bay City. The $2 billion plant would have created 1,800 construction jobs and 100 permanent jobs.

Jeff Holyfield, a spokesman for Consumers Energy, says there two main reasons for the cancelation:

  1. Customer demand is down "about 5 or 6 percent. Holyfield says they "don’t expect that demand to reach pre-recession marks until sometime late in 2012."
  2. Natural gas prices are cheap, which Holyfield says makes a "new coal-fired power plant less economically attractive."

Holyfield says Consumers Energy invested about $25 million in the now scrapped coal plan.

The utility will also suspend operations at seven of its smaller coal-fired units across the state by 2015, and focus on two new wind farms it’s developing: one in west Michigan's Mason County, the other in Tuscola County in the thumb.

Consumers continues its $1.6 billion investment at its five largest coal-fired units to meet environmental regulations, which Holyfield says will create about 2,000 jobs in the state.

The Ann Arbor A.V. Club has folded. The local entertainment arm of the popular satirical newspaper “The Onion” made its debut in September and employed three full time workers.

Bobby Mitchell and his company Bopper Media handled all aspects of the Ann Arbor Onion and A.V. Club franchise - from printing to distribution and ad sales. Mitchell did not want to be recorded for an interview, but he did confirm that the November 24th issue was the last one he’d be publishing. He wouldn’t say more except to say “lawyers” were involved. He also added that there's a slight possibility The Onion corporate might want to take over the Ann Arbor A.V. Club and publish it.

Curtis Sullivan was very surprised to hear the news. Sullivan co-owns the comic store Vault of Midnight in Ann Arbor. He says, unlike other free, entertainment weeklies, copies of the Onion’s used to fly off the shelves at his store:

"We almost never have leftovers of the Onion! And I hear people talking about, 'did you read The Onion?' I don’t know, you don’t really hear that as much about other things."

Sullivan himself is a huge fan of The Onion - so much so he even signed up for a full year of advertisements with the local A.V. Club, something he never does:

"I’m not very excited about print advertising as a business owner generally. When they approached us, it was like, this is great, we’ll do it! I thought it would be a perfect match."

Instead, Sullivan's Vault of Midnight ad only got to run once before the publication folded.

Jennifer Guerra / Michigan Radio

The University of Michigan Museum of Art (UMMA) is $650,000 richer, thanks to a grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

Joseph Rosa, director of UMMA, calls the grant a "dream come true" because it allows the museum to shift from an "oh, if we could" mentality to one of "now we can."

Five students from Albion College believe they know how to fix the U.S. economy. The team will share their ideas tomorrow in Washington, D.C. at the national College Fed Challenge finals.

Albion will compete against the four other regional finalists: Harvard University; Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey; Lafayette College; and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

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