Johnathan Hettinger, Investigative Reporter 

Johnathan Hettinger focuses on pesticide coverage for Investigative Midwest.

Growing up in central Illinois, Johnathan saw and had family members working in all aspects of agribusiness, from boots-in-the-field farming and raising livestock to spreading fertilizer, managing grain elevators and trading commodities.

Sadly, though, he didn’t have a tractor for “Drive your tractor to school day” at Monticello High School.

Johnathan is a proud 2015 graduate of the University of Illinois, where he worked for four years at The Daily Illini, the best student newspaper in the state. After graduation, Johnathan worked at The News-Gazette, the daily newspaper in Champaign, Ill., where he covered the Champaign and Urbana municipal governments and the University of Illinois.

Madison McVan, Investigative Reporter

Madison McVan graduated from the University of Missouri in 2020 with degrees in Journalism and Latin American Studies. Before joining Investigate Midwest, she worked for the Columbia Missourian and Missouri Info Corps, covering topics including state and local government, meatpacking plants and the coronavirus pandemic. She is fluent in Spanish and has published work in both Spanish and English. Originally from Pflugerville, Texas, she is now based in the Twin Cities.

Pamela G. Dempsey, Executive Director

Pam Dempsey was the executive director of Investigate Midwest from close to its founding to 2022, about a decade at the helm.

She is an award-winning journalist who has done investigative reporting and editing on topics including agribusiness, migrant farm workers, health, housing and Native American government.

Dempsey, who is an online, print and radio journalist, has developed community engagement programs and investigative reporting workshops.

She also has helped coordinate the start-up of two online newsrooms that heavily emphasize data journalism.

In 2017, she was selected as a Reynolds Institute Journalism Fellow to co-lead a team of data journalists and computer scientists with Brant Houston, Professor and Knight Chair in Investigative Reporting at the University of Illinois, to develop a “freemium” model of a digital tool to better identify issues of risks within Big Ag.

Aruni Soni, Dow Jones News Fund Data Intern

Arundhati Soni is a senior economics major at Columbia University, where she serves as the graphics reporter on the school newspaper. Soni’s internship is part of the Dow Jones News Fund.

Mary Norkol, Gary Marx Journalism Fund Fellow

Mary Norkol has covered education, housing, arts and culture, city government and COVID-19 for various news organizations, including the Chicago Sun-Times.

Marley Schultz, Gary Marx Journalism Fund Fellow

Marley Schultz is a recent graduate from the University of Illinois-Urbana/Champaign, where she completed the post-graduate journalism program.

Kendall Little, Gary Marx Journalism Fund Intern

Kendall Little is a senior multimedia journalism student at Florida Atlantic University, where she is editor of the student newspaper.

Heather Robinson, Gary Marx Journalism Fund Intern

Heather Robinson (not pictured) is a senior journalism and French studies student at the University of Illinois-Urbana/Champaign, where she is the editor of the student newspaper.

Amanda Perez Pintado, Report for America

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Pintado covers Illinois’ agriculture businesses and workers for Investigate Midwest. She previously reported on trending topics and local events in south Florida as an intern at the Spanish-language news outlet El Nuevo Herald. She holds a bachelor’s degree from the University of Puerto Rico’s Río Piedras campus and a master’s from New York University. While there, this multimedia reporter covered immigrant voters in the New Hampshire 2020 Democratic presidential primaries, the pandemic and Puerto Rico for Pavement Pieces, an NYU news site. Perez Pintado was editor-in-chief of the student-run publication Latin America News Dispatch, which covers Latin America, the Caribbean and Latinos in the U.S., and in her native Puerto Rico she has reported for El Nuevo Día, the island’s main paper.

Christopher Walljasper, Investigative Reporter

Christopher Walljasper is an investigative reporter who grew up in a small town in Southeast Iowa, where much of his family still farms.

He has worked in various aspects of media, from advertising to digital production management, data journalism and reporting.

He now lives in Chicago and his work has appeared in Farm Journal, Global Post, Missouri Life, The Chicagoist and the Austin Weekly News.

He graduated from Monmouth College, and received his master’s degree from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University.

Claire Hettinger, Illinois Humanities Engagement Fellow

Claire Hettinger is the 2019 Illinois Humanities engagement reporter for the Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting.

She will cover agribusiness with a focus on how it impacts the local farming communities. Her role is to connect with individuals who can shed light on the issues impacting agriculture workers. 

Claire grew up in Monticello, Illinois, and is a proud graduate of Monticello High School. She first learned about farming from family members working in various areas of agriculture including corn and soybean farming to managing grain elevators and spreading fertilizers. 

She then attended the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign where she studied journalism. She worked for four years at The Daily Illini, the best college newspaper in the state. After graduating, Claire worked as a reporter at the Herald & Review in Decatur, Illinois, where she covered breaking news, agribusiness and social services. 

Eli Hoff, Gary Marx Jounalism Fund Intern

Eli Hoff is a junior at the University of Missouri School of Journalism, majoring in journalism and minoring in Spanish and psychology. He’s covered state and local government for the Jefferson City News Tribune, sports for SB Nation and Major League Soccer, and previously served as the managing editor for The Maneater, Mizzou’s student newspaper. Originally from Minnesota, he’s currently trying to lose his accent to pronounce the “a” in Big Ag how everyone else does.

Luis Velazquez, Gary Marx Journalism Fund Intern

Luis Velazquez is from Cicero, Illinois. He is also a recent graduate of the University of Illinois. Luis earned a Bachelor of Science in Journalism with a minor in Latina/Latino Studies. Previously, Luis reported on a police misconduct case at Cicero Independiente, a local news outlet in his hometown, and has also worked with The Daily Illini as a news reporter and assistant news editor. He hopes to distribute factual information to those in need with his work as a Latino journalist. 

Da Yeon Eom, Department of Journalism at the College of Media, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Intern

Da Yeon Eom is an international scholar from South Korea. She earned her bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and returned to her alma mater to gain a master’s degree in journalism as a Hefner First Amendment Fellow. Throughout her education at Illinois, Da Yeon was involved in The Daily Illini, WPGU 107.1, Illinois Public Media, and Hear My Voice. Upon graduation, she worked at FleishmanHillard as a health and wellness team intern. She is interested in writing data-driven stories related to health, technology, and agriculture.

Danielle Rhody, Department of Journalism at the College of Media, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign intern

Danielle Rhody is a senior at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. She is majoring in journalism and minoring in creative writing. Previously, she has worked as a sports reporter and copy editor for The Daily Illini. During her free time, Danielle enjoys reading and watching sports.

Mary Hennigan, Dow Jones  News Fund Data Intern

Mary Hennigan is a recent journalism graduate from the University of Arkansas and a Dow Jones News Fund data intern for the Summer 2021. Previously, Hennigan was an assistant editor and data journalist for, a student-run publication that provided daily COVID-19 updates to thousands of Arkansas readers. Hennigan also worked collaboratively to produce stories concerning evictions and worker safety during the pandemic. Hennigan’s work is typically data focused and addresses the human impact of national trends.

Pramod Acharya, Data Visualizations/Reporter

Pramod Acharya is an investigative journalist, data reporter, and multimedia content producer. As a Research Assistant at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, he produced data-driven and investigative news reports for Journalism Department newsroom CU-CitizenAccess. He previously worked as the Assistant Editor at the Center for Investigative Journalism Nepal, and was a Dart fellow at Columbia University and Global Investigative Journalism Network (GIJN).

He started his journalism career as a cub reporter in a community radio station in Nepal in 2009 and has spent a decade working on electronic, print, and online media.

Pramod holds an MS in Journalism from the University of Illinois and an MA in English from Tribhuvan University, Nepal.

Ignacio Calderon, USA Today Agricultural Data Fellow

Ignacio Calderon is a recent graduate from Columbia College Chicago where he earned a Bachelor of Arts in Photojournalism with a focus on documentary filmmaking. Originally from Bolivia, he is a bilingual journalist that has been covering local climate activism groups and Chicago nursing homes for his student newspaper. After taking his first journalism class with Sam Roe, Ignacio was inspired to pursue investigative and data journalism where he has earned national collegiate awards and has collaborated with the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. He aims to use visual and data journalism to bring tangible change in his community.

Acton Gorton, Data Reporter

Acton H. Gorton is a data journalist with a focus on open data, geospatial analysis, and software development.

His work commonly appears in investigative journalism news outlets, such as CU-CitizenAccess and Investigate Midwest.

Gorton is currently completing a PhD with the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, focusing on the visualization of computer based data analytics using Augmented Reality.

Frank Hernandez, Intern

Frank Hernandez is a senior at the University of Texas at El Paso, majoring in philosophy and multimedia journalism. Previously, he reported for, an online news magazine covering life on the US-Mexico border. He has presented research at conferences in Texas, Wisconsin and New York. Last summer, he interned with the East and Central European Studies program at Charles University in Prague, Czech Republic. He is interested in reporting on the environment, climate change and vulnerable communities across the country and the world.

Madeline Perry, Intern

Madeline Perry is a recent graduate of the University of Illinois where she earned a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science with a concentration in Public Policy and Democratic Institutions and a minor in Journalism. Last summer, she interned in Washington D.C. as Senator Durbin’s Press Intern. There she worked with Senator Durbin’s Press Team on social media posts as well as policy research. Madeline developed an interest in investigative journalism last semester through taking Brant Houston’s investigative reporting class. She hopes to one day inspire systemic change with one of her stories.

Marissa Plescia, Intern

Marissa Plescia is from Barrington, IL, and graduated from the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign with a major in journalism and a minor in public relations. Over the last few years, she has interned with the Chicago Tribune’s collection of suburban papers, The Daily Herald and Southwest Lake Lifestyle Magazine. She also worked with The Daily Illini as a features reporter and later assistant features editor.

Samuel Trilling, Dow Jones Editing Intern

Samuel Trilling is a recent graduate of Temple University in Philadelphia, PA, where he majored in Journalism and Political Science. A Dow Jones intern at the Midwest Center, Sam spent last summer in Sarajevo, Bosnia working for the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project. Sam is originally from rural New Jersey and is currently based in Philadelphia, and hopes to continue working in investigative reporting.

 Heather Schlitz, Dow Jones Business Reporting Intern

Heather Schlitz is a senior at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign where she studies journalism, global studies and East Asian languages and cultures. Previously, Heather reported on climate change and the environment as a Dow Jones Data Journalism intern at AccuWeather and has spent three years writing about science news for the student newspaper and the University News Bureau.