Dustin (@BalloonEDU) is a clone of mine, or perhaps I’m a clone of his..basically our mindsets align strangely closely regarding ham radio, education, STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art/design, math…which used to be STEM now Art/design gets a mention) promotion and high altitude ballooning. I met him at Venture Cafe in St Louis, which is a place where young professionals (aka yuppies) meet to find people to collaborate, kickstart, and invest in their ideas.
In my case, I went the first time for free beer. Little did I know I would find a ham.
Dustin, KE0BVB, is a leader of hab.education – a volunteer-based educational program that promotes STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art/Design and Math) by having school kids build and launch high altitude balloons.
It was just last month when I started up my Echoloon project.
He and I met after some of my college friends started texting me.
“COME NOW. VENTURE CAFE. HAM RADIO GUY. HE DOES HIGH ALTITUDE BALLOONING. COME NOWWWW.”
I bolted to the car, sped my way there, and signed in, skipping the line for free beer. I got to the conference room they were in a bit late, just after his talk, meanwhile a man from Stofiel Aerospace was giving a talk on his balloon-launched orbital rocket company…that’s pretty cool! Turns out Mr. Stofiel was turning towards Dustin for his expertise on high altitude balloon tracking.
This was all too awesome. With my Echoloon idea, and my work with FaradayRF, now hab.education…this was all coming to a head.
We talked for only a few minutes and unearthed the single most detrimental issue in ham radio high altitude ballooning – fragmentation. Like I mentioned in my Echoloon post, hardware and software development in high altitude ballooning and ham radio in general is all over the place! It’s fragmented. There’s the California Near Space Project, K6RPT, there’s Bill Brown WB8ELK, there’s ARHAB, and UKHAS…and dozens more! Those are just the biggest names. They even have made their own freakin’ Balloon Open Hardware License!
They’re all over the place, and I don’t think there’s been a lot of cross-talk between them, and some are choosing to develop their trackers and payloads in closed-source secrecy, and man, that’s a bummer. We could really rule the skies and help STEAM education a lot with a standard platform specification. That’s my side-goal for Project Echoloon.
I really want to bring everyone together. I wonder if anyone’s started a High Altitude Balloon consortium or annual conference……
lol. Just missed it. 🙁
So yeah. I got so excited about this encounter that I called Neil Rapp in excitement to get it off my chest during his HamTalkLive! call-in show. I come in around 24:20. Haha.
Marty Sullaway KC1CWF (aka Chicken With Fries) and I are starting a ham radio podcast. We’re kinda winging it, so we’ll see how it goes. No schedule, no topic, no ads (yet.) Just Marty and I having a conversation, two guys and a mic style. We just hope to make something different and entertaining to younger people in the hobby.
I hope Scott, W9WSW doesn’t mind hijacking his post, but I really think it’s one of the best guides to college ham radio clubs I’ve seen, and it was exactly how Barry KC0YDZ and I revitalized W0EEE after a four-year lull. I want to take his guide and go by the numbers with all the experience I had with W0EEE.
Scott serves the Michigan State University Amateur Radio Club W8MSU, and really leads by example. Go check out their Facebook page,twitter and website.
1. Go where the action is
Aka use modern social media tools to build an online name for yourself. It’s imperative to do this because hams going into college will search for “<college name> ham radio club” when looking for a suitable school.
Even with all the modern media sites, your alumni will always prefer email. Clubs should always have a newsletter or meeting minutes email sent to the alumni to remind them that their alma mater is active. This gives them a sense of accomplishment that their work in the club was worthwhile and leads to more engagement (aka donations and sponsorships) from the alumni base.
I’m only partially speaking for myself, as an alumni. When I was a member, the alum bothered me for updates. I gave in, and it was a very good thing – see the next section for why.
2. Update your shack
A basic HF station is a must-have, which means pursuing a relationship with the University facilities department to allow for an antenna (see #8.2).
Also keep your shack clean. Having a shack that looks like this might mean it’s super active, but clutter can be deterring and stress-inducing.
People are very willing to donate used equipment to clubs, so it behooves the club to follow step 1, 6, and 8 to make your alumni and community aware of your activities. It’s rarely a good idea to solicit donations (read: beg) unless you’re really pressing for equipment. We got:
Just from having an frequently updated alumni email list (see #19) and good relationships within the EE department (see #8.2).
3. Build cool club projects
We collaborated with IEEE to create the “Hide and Seek” program. Imagine an easter egg hunt, but with low-power 80m beacons instead of easter eggs hidden throughout campus. Participants are given a small receiver which begins beeping within 30ft of a beacon. They find and keep the beacons which have various point values assigned to them based on their difficulty. This was a huge event for both W0EEE and IEEE, because not only could you participate for points to bid on things like XBox games and quadcopters, but also learn how to design, layout, procure, and solder the beacons and receivers together.
There’s tons of other stuff that’s out there to build, so my other recommendation is to have tools and an electronics workbench for members to use.
4. Be aggressive in seeking out potential members
#3 was a big draw for meetings. So was free pizza.
I took money out of my pocket to buy pizza for meetings and used personal print quota to print flyers for meetings and events. It was worth every penny to me. Costs were recouped eventually by paying myself back (keep your receipts!) from money gained through donations and membership costs. Which brings me to #20.
But first lets continue with W9WSW’s list:
5. Hold weekly open shack nights
Know one thing when holding meetings: consistency is KEY. Students are regimented individuals, who prey on consistency so they can efficiently schedule their busy lives.
5.5 Pick a good time to meet
For years W0EEE meetings/open shacks were at 7pm on Thursday, and like a contest station running CQ, this was our time to meet, which was not contested by other big clubs and teams. Eventually, a bigger station ran W0EEE off frequency, so the time had to be changed.
Use When2Meet to plan a time to meet if your current time isn’t working so well.
And if you have to cancel a meeting, don’t forget to let everyone know as soon as possible.
Bonus points for streaming your meeting (see #16).
6. Brand, brand, brand
Branding is important.
Branding is really important. And it’s easy to ignore it, thinking your totally awesome programming or events will make up for the lack of having logos and flyers.
A brand gives your organization a major edge in competing with other interests, aka, homework, studying, and other student organizations. It shows an essence of personality and professionalism.
A logo of our mascot, Joe Miner, was edited with permission long ago for use by the radio club. Unfortunately W0EEE doesn’t have a proper logo, though I tried to make one once in PowerPoint. It’s ugly as hell.
How do you avoid having ugly logos? I suggest going to r/freedesign or fiverr and work with a professional. Otherwise, keep it simple!
Branding is not just logos. It’s keeping to the promise of the product you’re delivering. That product is an amateur radio experience. Having consistent meetings, participating and leading regular events, and staying true to your clubs mission is all part of that hook.
7. Get people licensed
This year W0EEE began a licensing class, and its in progress. It is one of the best moves to make
Until then, the Rolla Regional Amateur Radio Society (RRARS) held classes, and did test sessions about 5 or 6 times per year in the electrical engineering building on campus.
It also helps if you can subsidize the cost of licensing, and better yet incentivize it with free handheld radios, 1 year of free membership, or something entirely different. This comes at a cost though, and depends on what money your club has in the bank.
8. Make Connections
90% of knowledge is knowing the right people. And 90% of the time, your alumni are those people.
For example, here’s some notable people from Missouri S&T:
Ward Silver, N0AX (author of innumerable ARRL articles and books)
Tony Parks, KB9YIG (founder of FiveDash who makes the famous Softrock SDR kits)
Knowing these guys have been immeasurably helpful in the revitalization of W0EEE, especially Ward since he always was willing to help and kept my motivation up with his impressive knowledge of ham radio and his deep understanding of the state of the hobby.
8.1 How to find your alumni
Go through your university’s alumni department records.
Go through any old HF logbooks you may have lying around
8.2 Build relationships with the university – student funding, faculty, facilities, department chairs…
This should be #1. You won’t be able to install anything, do events with the university, promote meetings, order pizza, get roof access, get student funding, find avenues for equipment and monetary donations, and much much more if you don’t network.
A good piece of advice is to develop a rapport with your EE department chair. This can make or break a radio club, and in the case of CalPoly, really make the club and subsequently get HUNDREDS of students licensed through ham radio based curriculum. That’s awesome!
9. Create an endowment to provide ARRL memberships to student hams
I think this should go the other way – the ARRL should provide memberships to student hams by default. If Chick-fil-A can giveaway a free sandwich every Thursday with every meal, the ARRL can subsidize a handful of memberships for students. Perhaps lite memberships without QST, OR send extra copies of QST to the college radio club for students to read and give students members-only access privileges to the ARRL web.
10. Have a visible presence at campus events
Every university has events for student organizations to show their stuff. Ours is called MinerRAMA outside in the Fall, and in the spring there are about five Preview, Registration and Orientation days (PRO days) which are a low-key version of MinerRAMA that takes place indoors.
On the table, we have our old sign, QSL cards, tons of radios and CW keys, our awards,one HF rig on and monitoring 14.300, and a tablet running SDR software or digital mode software, or WebSDR, and a tri-fold sign with a bunch of photos and information.
11. Put an APRS beacon on your mascot
This is creative! W0EEE’s never done this, but W8MSU has…we should try it!
12. Great clubs have great programming
W0EEE was heavily involved with IEEE and often did technology demos to dozens, sometimes hundreds of students. W9WSW’s text hits the nail on the head.
13. Repurpose recent ham magazines as giveaways
W0EEE has a backlog of QSTs going back to the 80s and they’re for use by members to read, although we’re tempted to trash them all. What better way to get rid of them than through a giveaway? Although they’re not quite recent…so.
#9 tells you my opinion on how ARRL should approach student membership.
14. Setup a Remote Rig that students can check out
The easiest way to get students on the air is to direct them to WebSDR and now, the home of OpenWebRX, SDR.hu.
If your club has a PC-controlled HF station (better yet a FlexRadio), you should remote-ify it. This makes it fun and easy for members to play radio from the comfort of their dwelling. It’s pretty complicated to set this up, and you also need to worry about lightning protection and FCC regulations.
15. Create Special Events Stations
In other words, operate outside, and post it to your university events calendar. Don’t forget to get permission if needed. Typically, we discover we needed permission after the fact. It’s okay to beg for forgiveness 🙂
16. Stream your meetings
My recommendation is to use Google Hangouts to allow people who don’t want to leave their room or alumni to join meetings, and have them posted to YouTube afterwards as a sort of digital trace of work done. This falls into #17 too.
17. Create a digital resource library
W0EEE has a google drive accessible by members, which contains all the meeting minutes, rosters, presentations, photos, documentation and manuals, logs, website information, design information, and more. Missouri S&T is closely integrated with Google Apps & Services, and it basically gives teams near unlimited storage. If you don’t have this, I recommend buying a Dropbox or Google Drive account for use, or if you’re handy, setting up a “shack server” if your IT department allows it.
18. Reach out to the ARRL
This falls under #8 too, especially since N0AX was a close advisor to the club and was directly connected with the ARRL. The league was quick to provide free promotional materials (flyers, pens, bookmarks, stickers, etc), licensing books, and handbooks. I went to Dayton one year, and they literally sent me off with a stack of books and said “Here. This is for W0EEE.”
19. Keep Alumni Engaged
Alumni are a source of inspiration and motivation through expertise in both technical and historical fields. It’s hard to move forward when you walk into a room full of tens of thousands of dollars of ham radio equipment, all with various history, electrical modifications…and even then you might not know you have a storage outbuilding on someones farm somewhere, or club antennas installed on a tall TV tower dozens of miles away.
Alumni are also a primary source of help, both hands-on, like winning CW sweepstakes (thanks Ward), consultation, and most of all, funding.
20. Keep Costs Low
This goes without saying: because college students are cheap.
21. Be transparent
This is good advice for every endeavor. Being open, honest, and transparent allows for better relationships with members, faculty, the college, and alumni. This is done through regular newsletters, social media updates, lots of photos, and
22. Have a club repeater, and Echolink it, and run a net, and use it.
Our club has this, and we’re guilty of basically never being on it. This frustrates some people. Try to make it a priority to run a short weekly net, perhaps just after your regular club meetings. Be friendly too.
23. Don’t be afraid to ask for help from everyone
Speaking for all collegiate ham radio clubs, we alumni are eager to help in any way.