Rhonda Miller

Reporter

Rhonda Miller joined WKU Public Radio in 2015.  She has worked as Gulf Coast reporter for Mississippi Public Broadcasting, where she won Associated Press, Edward R. Murrow and Green Eyeshade awards for stories on dead sea turtles, health and legal issues arising from the 2010 BP oil spill and homeless veterans.

She has worked at Rhode Island Public Radio,  as an intern at WVTF Public Radio in Roanoke, Virginia, and at the South Florida Sun-Sentinel and Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Rhonda’s freelance work called Writing Into Sound includes stories for Voice of America, WSHU Public Radio in Fairfield, Conn., NPR and AARP Prime Time Radio.

She has a master’s degree in media studies from Rhode Island College and a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Boston University.

Rhonda enjoys quiet water kayaking, riding her bicycle and folk music. She was a volunteer DJ for Root-N-Branch at WUMD community radio in Dartmouth, Mass. 

Somerset Community College

Somerset Community College has received a $200,000 grant from the National Science Foundation to expand the reach of its 3-D printing program.

The main focus of the grant is to advance biomedical applications for 3-D printing in the region.

Eric Wooldridge is associate professor of 3-D printing at Somerset Community College.  He says the technique is already playing a big role in biomedical field.

“We actually can take full body MRIs and select sections that we want to print off. It can be the actual organs. It can be the bone structure. Whatever a surgeon or physician may need to better prepare for surgery or plan diagnostically what they’re going to do.” 

He says the process uses different types of materials to create physical forms.

Land Bank of Evansville

Evansville is creating a nonprofit land bank under a new Indiana law that went into effect this month.

Kelley Coures is executive director of the Evansville Department of Metropolitan Development. He says the land bank gives the city a way to demolish vacant buildings that are not valuable enough to be renovated and are not bringing in tax revenue.

“The land bank functions just like a regular bank, instead of money it takes in property. We’re hoping that developers will see that we have lots of available land, or we will have, after we clear out all of these vacant and blighted structures. And we can build things like new homes, affordable housing.”

He says the vacant properties are sometimes used by homeless people or drug dealers and that creates safety issues in neighborhoods.

“Ten percent of all fires in cities like Evansville occur in vacant and abandoned structures. Homeless people, vagrants come in, start fires to try and keep warm or people making drugs, people cooking methamphetamine get in these houses, since there’s no occupant, and make drugs there.”

Coures says Vanderburgh County loses $2 million a year in unpaid property taxes from the properties that have no current owner. The Evansville City Council gave final approval to the land bank this week.

Kentucky Mesonet

If you’ve been outside lately, you know it’s hot.

The National Weather Service has issued a heat advisory for most of our area through the weekend.

High temperatures will be in the mid-to-upper 90s. Those temperatures are not the only thing to be concerned about, says Patrick Collins, a meteorologist for the statewide weather monitoring system called Kentucky Mesonet.

“Be careful of the temperature, as well as the heat index, which is the temperature added to the amount of humidity in the air."

Over the next few days, that combination will produce a heat index that feels more like 105-to-110 degrees. A heat index of 105 or higher is especially dangerous for children, the elderly and people who work outside. 

It’s been an intense summer in Kentucky weather-wise.  Before the heat wave, Kentucky had heavy rains that broke records in at least one location in the state.

Megan Schargorodski is operations manager for  Kentucky Mesonet, which has  66 weather stations.

“Earlier in July we had an event in western Kentucky, in Marshall County, that experienced about 8 inches of rain in 5 hours. According to climatological charts, that's about a 1,000- year event.”

That means the area is only expected to get that much rain in that amount of time only about every 1,000 years. 

Daviess Co. Public Schools

Transportation managers are interviewing, hiring and training at Daviess County Public Schools.  They’ve gotten a good response to their recruitment campaign that advertised a job that comes with “a company vehicle."

That vehicle is a bus.

Lora Wimsatt is a spokesperson for the school district. She said with 117 daily bus routes that carry 7,000 students, the district has to keep up its staff of trained drivers.

“I had worked with our transportation director and we were concerned that the number of applicants for open school bus driver positions had decreased over the years. So we wanted to do something new and exciting that would get people’s attention and get people talking.”

The recruitment for bus drivers started this past April. The district posted colorful banners that said, “Now hiring school bus drivers, benefits, paid training and company vehicle provided.”

Greater Owensboro Federation of Advanced Manufacturing Education

A program to address the shortage of skilled workers for advanced manufacturing is expanding in the Owensboro area.

The project is called GO FAME, which stands for Greater Owensboro Federation of Advanced Manufacturing Education. 

It’s a collaboration among regional businesses and Owensboro Community and Technical College. Students are trained as advanced manufacturing technicians in an 18-month apprenticeship program.

William Mounts, president of GO FAME and vice president of Omico Plastics in Owensboro, says companies are doing their part to improve the future workforce by investing in the students.

“We pay them a minimum of $12 an hour and we pay a minimum of half their tuition. Some organizations pay full tuition. Some organizations, like mine, we pay half the tuition plus books. We would have paid full tuition for one student, but we wanted to take two.”

GO FAME launched in March 2015 with 12 businesses and 15 students. It’s expanded to 22 businesses training 35 students.

Rhonda J. Miller

About 125 people attended a public hearing in Bowling Green on June 28 to get an overview and offer comments on Gov. Matt Bevin’s proposed changes to Kentucky’s Medicaid program.

Vickie Yates Glisson is secretary of the Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services. At the public hearing, she said one of the major proposed changes is that instead of copays for medical services, those on Medicaid will pay a small monthly premium. Glisson said the proposal also seeks to include services that address Kentucky’s most critical health issues. 

Cardiovascular health, we have the fourth highest in the nation in heart disease. We have the highest rate of cancers, so we’re addressing lung cancer, smoking cessation, slash lung cancer. We have an out of control drug abuse problem.”

Some at the hearing expressed concern that even a small monthly premium would be barrier to health care for low-income residents. 

Another area of concern that some expressed is that dental and vision care are not included in the basic health care plan.

Flickr/Creative Commons/Leicester Royal Infirmary

A public hearing on Governor Matt Bevin’s proposed changes to Kentucky’s Medicaid program will be held Tuesday, June 28 in Bowling Green.

The leader of an Owensboro-based community development group sees positives and negatives in  Bevin’s proposal. 

Jiten Shah is executive director of Green River Area Development District and is on the board of Kentucky Voices for Health.

He’s concerned about Bevin’s plan to have Medicaid recipients pay a monthly premium.

“I do have some concerns, you know especially, the recipients would have to have a monthly premium. Since the Medicaid expansion is serving the low income population for the insurance, and many of them may not be able to afford monthly payments of $1 all the way up to $15 a month.”

Shah said even relatively small payments could be difficult for many low-income people already struggling to make ends meet.

The proposed changes would add the premium, but do away with the co-pay that Medicaid recipients are charged when they go for a medical appointment. 

International Bluegrass Music Center

A new home for the International Bluegrass Music Museum and Hall of Fame in Owensboro is one step closer to reality.

A groundbreaking for the facility is being held on Thursday, June 23.

The new 50,000-square-foot building will have more space for bluegrass luminaries honored in the Hall of Fame, as well as lots of other activities. 

"It  will encompass expanded museum exhibit space, " said Museum Executive Director Chris Joslin. "It will also have a 450-sea performance venue, as well as a rooftop restaurant and an outdoor performance venue that can accommodate 1,500 to 2,000 folks."

The $15.4 milion music center is being built with a combination of city, state and private funding. Construction is scheduled to be finished by spring 2018. 

Flickr/Creative Commons/llmicrofono Oggiono

The Kentucky Teacher Hall of Fame is accepting nominations for the 2017 class. The recognition is for those who teach kindergarten through grade 12 who have  made a noteworthy contribution to the lives to children.

Deadline for nominations is July 15.

The hall of fame was established in 2000 through a gift from former Governor Louis B. Nunn. It is based at Western Kentucky University.

WKU

A majority of students from India recently recruited by Western Kentucky University for its graduate program in computer science have not met their academic requirements.

WKU spokesman Bob Skipper says 59 students from India were recruited in a pilot project for the 2016 spring semester. At the end of the semester, 41 of those students did not meet the requirements of their admission. 

Eight of the students came close to meeting the requirements and are appealing. They are expected to be reinstated. The remainder have been dismissed from the university. Nineteen have transferred to other colleges.

James Gary, chairman of the computer science department at Western Kentucky University, says the first semester can be challenging for the graduate students from India.

“The most common difficulty is they do not seem to have the level of programming expertise that we would expect from a student with an undergraduate degree in computer science,” says Gary.

Daviess County Public Schools

Daviess County public schools are launching a ‘Newcomer’ program. 

“Newcomers are students who are brand new to an English-speaking school and often brand new to the United States. These students typically have had very interrupted or little or no formal schooling,” says Jana Beth Francis, who oversees the English language program for Daviess County schools.

She says the program is based on students who have arrived in the district in the past nine years.

In 2007, Daviess County Public Schools had 77 students who were English language learners. This year, that number stands at 461.

Teachers throughout the Daviess County school district will be trained this summer in strategies to help newcomer students succeed. The district is also instituting tuition reimbursement for high school teachers to get certification to teach English language learners.

Rhonda Miller

Gardening season at one Kentucky jail means more than the physical and mental refreshment that comes with digging, planting and enjoying fresh vegetables. 

A Western Kentucky University sociology course is bringing students from the Glasgow campus to dig side-by-side with students who are inmates at the detention center. More than asparagus and potatoes are taking root at the jail garden.

Some of the students are growing new lives.  

Two dozen college students recently shoveled a mountain of mulch into wheelbarrows at the Barren County Detention Center. They could be any group of college students enrolled in this hands-on course from Western Kentucky University called The Sociology of Agriculture and Food. But five of the young women are wearing bright orange T-shirts .

They’re the inmates.

Flickr/Creative Commons/ Novartis AG

Owensboro Community & Technical College is the only school in Kentucky chosen to take part in a national educational experiment to award Pell Grants to high school students.

The grants will be used to cover the cost of dual credit courses taken by high school students.

The Owensboro Messenger-Inquirer reports low-income students in Daviess, McLean, Ohio and Hancock counties will be able to apply for the grants.

The financial aid comes at the same time that the Kentucky Community & Technical College System is raising its dual credit fee from $50 to $200 per class.

Students who want to apply for a Pell Grant have to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid or FAFSA.

OCTC is one of 44 colleges in the nation taking part in the program. The Obama administration announced this week that the U.S. Department of Education will make $20 million available for the school semester beginning this fall.

International Bluegrass Music Center

The International Bluegrass Music Center in Owensboro is moving closer to reality with a review of construction bids in progress.

Owensboro Assistant City Manager Ed Ray says proposals to build the 48,000-square-foot venue came in from four general contractors by the May 19 deadline.

“This is the brick-and-mortar construction of the facility,” says Ray. “Finishing out nearly all of the facility, including the theater, the sound booths, the green rooms and the staging for all the performance piece of this.”

Ray says plans are on track for construction, based on a preliminary review of the bids.

“They range from a base bid of $9.6 million to $10.5 million. None of them are way out of scale for what we’re looking for, but we’ve got further evaluation to do on each of these bids,” says Ray. “We wholeheartedly believe we’ll be able to start bringing this project out of the ground this summer.”

The total budget for the new International Bluegrass Music Center is $15.3 million.  In addition to the basic construction, the remainder of the budget is for audiovisual equipment and other interior finishing work.

Marshal Ray

Southern Kentucky is seeing a huge boost in tourism spending. A new study shows a 10-county region including Barren, Logan, Simpson and Warren Counties had a nearly seven percent increase in tourism receipts last year.

The numbers come from the annual Kentucky Tourism Economic Impact Report released this week.

Telia Butler is a spokeswoman for the Bowling Green Area Convention and Visitors Bureau. She says the spike in regional tourism is due in part to several new Warren County attractions and events.                     

“We’ve got the Mid-South Conference athletic  championships,” says Butler. “They announced their partnership with Bowling Green to host all kinds of their championships with sports at the beginning of 2015 and they’ve been here all year.”

She says new motor sports events also added to the growth in tourism. The first full year of operation for the National Corvette Museum Motorsports Park drew a large number of visitors.

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