ARRL Public Relations Committee Chairman Scott Westerman, W9WSW, believes collegiate Amateur Radio clubs need to blow away the dust and cobwebs and modernize, in order to attract new members. He urges college and university ham radio clubs to seek common technological ground with younger generations, in order to attract new Amateur Radio licensees.
“We really need to be thinking in terms of…state-of-the-art technology, because that’s what ‘the kids’ are looking for nowadays,” Westerman told ARRL Marketing Manager Bob Inderbitzen, NQ1R, during a brief interview at the 2017 Orlando HamCation February 10-12, which hosted this year’s ARRL Southeastern Division Convention. “The big challenge is how to get them away from their cellphones.”
Westerman, a Michigan State University (MSU) alumnus and executive director of the MSU Alumni Association, recalled his own student days, when MSU Amateur Radio Club (MSUARC) station W8SH had a Collins S-Line for a station. Founded in 1919, the MSUARC is one of the oldest collegiate ham clubs in the US.
Collegiate clubs need to tap into students’ interest in “parallel” technological realms, such as the Maker Movement or those already experimenting with electronics, Westerman said. “At one time or another, we were all in that parallel universe, and there was something that brought us to ham radio,” he offered.
Westerman said the MSU club has come up with a program to get students on HF via a remote base. “So, you can get into our state-of-the-art shack, you can check out a control head, a Kenwood TS-480, take it back to your dorm, plug it into the Wi-Fi network, and work the world!”
While access to opportunities to get on the air are important, Westerman said, the availability of Amateur Radio mentors — what he calls “our seasoned generation” of radio amateurs — is also vital. “We’re trying to encourage them to reach out and adopt somebody, and to do the same for them that somebody did for us.”
For Westerman, that person was his uncle, who took him into his ham shack and got him fascinated with the world of Amateur Radio. “Why can’t we be one of those people for some kid in college?” he suggested. “That’s the challenge.”
The ARRL College Amateur Radio Initiative (CARI) enjoyed attention throughout HamCation, Inderbitzen recounted. ARRL CEO Tom Gallagher, NY2RF, wearing a “Penn” sweatshirt for his University of Pennsylvania alma mater, welcomed attendees to a Collegiate Amateur Radio Initiative Forum, moderated by Andy Milluzzi, KK4LWR. A graduate student in electrical engineering, Milluzzi highlighted the value of Amateur Radio as a way to meet other people.
“We keep our alumni close,” Milluzzi said, explaining how college ham radio clubs help students develop professional networks in their field of study. Quarter Century Wireless Association (QCWA) Director Ken Simpson, W8EK, shared information about applying for QCWA scholarships administered by the Foundation for Amateur Radio (FAR). Sterling Coffey, N0SSC, posted the forum on YouTube. — Thanks to Bob Inderbitzen, NQ1R
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