Michelle Billman | KUNR

Michelle Billman

News Director

Michelle Billman is the news director at KUNR Public Radio in Reno, Nevada where she oversees a scrappy crew of multimedia storytellers. She’s a transplant from the East Coast, where she earned degrees in creative writing and English from the University of North Carolina at Wilmington and Virginia Tech.

Under Michelle’s direction, and in close partnership with Noticiero Móvil, KUNR has become an early adopter within public media for providing Spanish digital content to its local audience in an effort to start addressing language access gaps. This initiative has been recognized with a national Edward R. Murrow award for innovation and a Public Media Journalists Association award for collaboration.

Working with developing reporters is important to Michelle, which is why she established an internship program at KUNR for students at the Reynolds School of Journalism. Under her editorial guidance, college reporters have earned national and regional awards. She’s also served as a mentor for NPR’s Next Generation Radio program and helps run the KUNR Youth Media program for high school students in Washoe County.

Outside of radio, Michelle is usually busy chasing her toddler, Alex, or doing art projects with her first grader, Nora. Michelle also enjoys working on nonfiction writing projects, which have appeared in literary journals like River Teeth and Ninth Letter

Ways to Connect

Truckee Meadows Community College

The counseling center at the University of Nevada, Reno is rethinking how to treat its suicidal students. Reno Public Radio’s Michelle Bliss reports that this semester the center is hosting a trial study for a new approach in the hopes of saving more young lives.

As students meet with UNR counselors at the center, white noise machines in each doorway keep their conversations private. Behind some of those closed doors, students are seeking help because they’re thinking about or preparing to take their own lives.

www.aafo.com

A pilot has died after crashing his plane at the Reno National Championship Air Races at Reno-Stead Airport Monday afternoon. Reno Public Radio’s Michelle Bliss reports that the tragedy is a painful reminder of the event’s 2011 crash that killed 11 people, most of them spectators in the grandstand.

Lee Behel was a racing veteran from San Jose who flew planes in both the Air Force and the Nevada National Guard. He was also the father of two sons.

The crime rate in Incline Village has been falling for the past several years, but Chuck Allen, a candidate for sheriff in the November election, says that fact is misleading. Reno Public Radio’s Michelle Bliss reports.

State wildlife officials say they are concerned that climate change and urbanization might diminish the native bee population. Reno Public Radio’s Michelle Bliss reports the Nevada Department of Agriculture is putting together guidelines to protect these important pollinators of natural plants.

Jeff Knight is the state’s entomologist. His job is primarily to keep the bad bugs out and to monitor the ones that are vital to the local environment.

Tahoe-Pyramid Bikeway

An effort to connect Lake Tahoe and Pyramid Lake with a 116-mile trail for bicyclists is getting closer to completion. Reno Public Radio's Michelle Bliss reports that the Tahoe-Pyramid Bikeway recently opened its newest section in California along the Truckee River.

With a new section of bikeway now open in Nevada County, California, the project is seventy-five percent complete. It's a combination of paved roads, existing dirt trails, and sections of new trails, with funding coming from both federal programs and private donations.

State officials are telling the Washoe County School District it must change the way it handles Individualized Education Plans, or IEPs, for special needs students. Reno Public Radio's Michelle Bliss reports that some funding for the district could be at stake if the issue is not addressed swiftly.

Trcuckee Meadows Community College

Construction plans are being finalized for a new health science center at Truckee Meadows Community College. Reno Public Radio's Michelle Bliss reports the facility at TMCC's Redfield campus in south Reno will lay the foundation for future expansion to the school's nursing program.

The $10 million project includes renovating an existing building along with constructing a new facility that will house a high-tech nursing simulation lab resembling real-world conditions.

Tesla Motors

Nevada and four other Western states are serious contenders for Tesla Motor’s $5 billion battery plant. This week, several watchdog groups issued a public letter asking all those states to tell taxpayers what they are offering to entice the electric carmaker, which is asking for about $500 million in tax breaks and incentives.

Bob Fulkerson is with one of the advocacy groups, Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada. He says the letter makes several demands of the state governments involved in negotiations with Tesla:

At Wednesday's State of the City address in Reno, officials said they've been doing more with less since their workforce has shrunk by a third in recent years. Reno Public Radio's Michelle Bliss was there and has the details.

Over the past five years, the City has gone from employing 1,600 people back in 2009 to less than 1,100 right now. Along with overcoming those staffing hurdles, City Manager Andrew Clinger, who delivered the speech, says Reno is also planning ahead for a solid financial future.

Ashima Devices

A drone manufacturing company is moving its headquarters to Reno, bringing about 400 new jobs to the area over the next two years. Reno Public Radio's Michelle Bliss has the details.

Ashima Devices is relocating from Pasadena and setting up shop at the Reno-Stead Airport where the company will be researching, testing, and building unmanned aerial vehicles or UAVs. The company makes drones to help law enforcement, fire, and emergency crews gain situational awareness.

The state has received more than 500 applications for running medical marijuana establishments in Nevada. Reno Public Radio's Michelle Bliss reports that after scoring and ranking those applicants, public health officials will announce their choices in November. They expect the first medical marijuana purchases to be made by early next year.

University of Nevada, Reno

Campus has been bustling with thousands of students who started their classes Monday at the University of Nevada, Reno. This school year, more than 19,000 students are enrolled, setting a new record, and Reno Public Radio's Michelle Bliss reports that campus living quarters are pretty tight in order to house 2,600 of those pupils.

Some dorm rooms are being converted from singles to doubles or from doubles to triples in order to meet demand.

This week, a hospital patient in Sacramento waited in isolation for the results of an ebola blood test. Late last night, the California Department of Public Health announced that the results are in, and they are negative.

Over the past few days, the situation has drawn national attention and Reno Public Radio's Michelle Bliss reports that it has raised questions about the level of threat, if any, ebola poses for the U.S. and here locally in Northern Nevada.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid isn't get his hopes up about Tesla, believes the Democrats will win all the major races in Nevada and won't get in the middle of the debate over the Margins Tax. Those were some of the topics addressed by Reid when he visited the studios of Reno Public Radio this week.  

Here are some of the highlights:

Reid says he's not optimistic about getting more funding for Lake Tahoe restoration projects.

At a recent conference at the University of Nevada, Reno, Governor Brian Sandoval spoke to nearly a hundred of the state’s education leaders about improving early childhood education. Reno Public Radio’s Michelle Bliss reports that one of the governor’s top goals moving forward is to expand all-day kindergarten programs.

Right now, about two-thirds of elementary schools in Nevada have all-day kindergarten. Sandoval says he hopes to soon see it offered statewide.

A task force of community members in Northern Nevada has been studying the growing need for specialized healthcare workers in the region. Reno Public Radio's Michelle Bliss reports that the group is recommending more training programs at the college level that reduce common barriers for students, like the amount of time and money needed to complete their education.

The Healthcare Jobs of the Future Task Force includes representatives from local colleges and hospitals who are examining gaps in the training pipeline for healthcare professionals.

The last day to apply for setting up a medical marijuana dispensary in Nevada is Monday. Reno Public Radio's Michelle Bliss reports that so far, the paperwork is trickling in at a much slower rate than officials expected. 

Early on, the state projected that about 450 eager entrepreneurs would come forward with business plans.

Senator Dean Heller says Nevada's goal of enticing Tesla Motors to build a $5 billion battery plant near Sparks could be thwarted if voters approve the ballot initiative for a 2 percent margins tax this November.

The Republican lawmaker says he'll voice his opposition to the margins tax strongly because of how it would raise the corporate income tax. He says the initiative would hinder one of Nevada's major advantages in the race among multiple states to reel in Tesla.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Every newborn in Nevada is screened for rare disorders like hypothyroidism and cystic fibrosis. Reno Public Radio's Michelle Bliss reports that those blood tests are now actually being done in Nevada, instead of being sent out-of-state.

Conducting lab work on babies through the Nevada Newborn Screening Program will keep about $2.5 million in the state for funding the operation. In the past, that money has been going to a lab in Oregon.

A new portable classroom unit that is awaiting installation at Brown Elementary School.
Photo by Anh Gray

Students head back to school on Monday, but there aren’t enough classrooms for everyone. To alleviate the over-crowding, the Washoe County School District is installing about a dozen portable classrooms at several schools.  

From the inside, the third grade portable classroom at Brown Elementary in South Reno doesn’t look much different than a typical brick-and-mortar set-up.  There are colorful maps and flags on the walls along with piles of neatly stacked textbooks. 

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