Spotlight on Metcalf Alumni: Rebecca Williams
Metcalf Institute alumna Rebecca Williams has been immersed in one of the worst public health crises in recent history, the exposure of 100,000 Flint, Michigan residents to lead in their drinking water. Michigan Radio, where Williams has been reporting for the past sixteen years, was among the first local news outlets to cover the disaster.
“It was a really interesting story to be a part of, especially because there was a lot of denial and push back by state officials,” said Williams, a member of Michigan Radio’s six-person team that investigated the crisis and sought to hold public officials accountable. “It’s very important to have that type of watch-dog journalism,” she added.
Williams, who grew up with a deep appreciation for science and the outdoors, went to college focused on a career in the natural sciences. Hours spent in labs peering through microscopes and engaged in obscure studies convinced her to choose a different path. “It was too narrow for me, and I wanted to be outside learning about a lot of different things instead of going down a very narrow, focused path.”
She just happened to apply for an internship at Michigan Radio during her senior year at the University of Michigan, which opened up a whole new world for her. “I sort of stumbled into something that I ended up loving,” she said. She now covers the environment and hosts The Environment Report, a program that explores the relationship between the natural world and the everyday lives of people in Michigan.
Williams is drawn to stories about wildlife “with a lot of action,” including an assignment that took her into the den of a black bear. She also enjoys covering climate change topics and “people who are really creative in finding ways to adapt to climate change.” She admits it’s sometimes challenging convincing her listeners to engage in this topic. “What we try to do is reach people and let them know why they should care, and try to grab them in the first couple of seconds,” she said.
Her desire to strengthen her understanding of climate science led her to Metcalf’s Climate Change in the News workshop in 2014, which focused on regional impacts in the Great Lakes. Williams said the daylong workshop provided her with a useful update on climate science, introduced her to new sources, gave her access to a variety of experts, and facilitated a conversation between journalists and scientists.
She has won more than a dozen journalism awards over the past 10 years, including a Regional Edward R. Murrow Award for Best Continuing Coverage in recognition of Michigan Radio’s reporting on the Flint water crisis. Williams holds a B.S. degree in natural science from the University of Michigan.
Listen to Stories by Rebecca Williams
Lead Flakes in Flint Water Like a Game of Russian Roulette
Lessons from Isles Royale’s Wolves and Moose
Meet the Guy Who Discovered the Shipwreck Believed to be the Argo