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Youth@HamRadio.Fun: From Field Day to Financial Aid -- What Amateur Radio Can Bring (besides On-The-Air Fun)


By ARRL Youth Editor Sterling Coffey, N0SSC

As I wrote about in last month’s column, everyone finds his or her own niche in Amateur Radio. It can be as simple as having an mobile rig in the car that you might turn on every once in a while, doing nothing but listen to numbers stations or regularly working the Amateur Radio satellites, or “birds.” For me, I find fun in everything!

Something that many hams and I always find interesting is listening to stories of how other people found their interests in Amateur Radio. Their experiences can vary so wildly, making them unique and persistently fascinating. My first column as ARRL Youth Editor described the experiences that rocketed my ham radio calling, so I’ve solicited accounts of your experiences and a few have made their way to my e-mail inbox. The following is an experience of Colton Cox, KF7MQU:

My Ham Experience

By the time I was 14, my parents had divorced. I was feeling down and very bored, which reflected in my grades at school. My grandfather, K7EMF, had called me for some work he needed me to do. After finishing my work, I saw my grandfather talking on his radio. Out of curiosity, I grabbed a chair and sat next to him. After he finished the transmission, he asked me if I thought it was cool. I told him, “It was pretty neat!” We began talking and he told me about the wonderful things his ham radio has allowed him to do. He explained to me that I had to get my Technician license to get my call sign. He bought me the ARRL Ham Radio License Manual and we began to study.

After a couple of attempts, I finally passed the test. It felt great to have a call sign for the first time -- I was assigned the call sign KF7MQU, which felt like a new name to me. My grandfather gave me a handheld radio to use. Along the course of studying, I met some of my grandfather’s friends. One good friend by the name of Bill, KL7DSI, gave me my first radio, a Yaesu FT-101B. It was love at first transmission.

After a few months, ham radio began to get dull for me. It felt dull to be limited to so few frequencies. Around this time, however, many doors began to open for me. I began to learn how to program PIC microcontrollers, design circuit boards and build and fly remote control aircraft. As a result I got a head start on engineering physics and my grades began to climb, as did my interest in Amateur Radio. I began to study for my General test with my grandfather. After a week I went to take the General test; when I turned the test in to be graded I knew I passed it with flying colors. To this day, I can’t thank my grandfather enough.

– Colton Cox, KF7MQU

Now at 16, Colton is still enjoying the hobby after several station upgrades like in the photos below.

An interesting trend I’ve seen in introductory experiences is the inclusion of the ARRL Field Day in their story. Field Day, an on-the-air operating event, is integral to the Amateur Radio’s public footprint, as several clubs across the nation not only get on the air and operate, but also reach out to public outlets, such as arranging local news media interviews, operating in public parks and pavilions and getting local and regional government employees to take a visit. As in my first column, I mentioned how my overnight bout on the radio formulated the foundation of my Amateur Radio career. Many others share a similar experience. Because of Field Day’s significant public exposure, many people begin their own story by visiting a Field Day site. To some, Field Day can be a life changing experience. For me, it’s helped send me to college, and it can do the same for you.

The ARRL Foundation

The Part 97 rules state how hams cannot transmit communications when the operator has an interest in being paid, nor cannot be paid to perform a service using Amateur Radio. Because of this, Amateur Radio is an entirely self-supporting hobby. Thanks to the ARRL Foundation, new organizations can receive grants to help get new hams licensed and on the air. Thanks to significant contributions, individuals can be awarded money to continue their experiences in both the hobby and their life. An example is their scholarship program.

From the Foundation website, each year the ARRL Foundation awards more than 70 scholarships to young hams who are pursuing higher education at over 50 college campuses across the nation; these awards range from $500 to $5000. Many young hams, like Michael Almeter, W4MJA, have received scholarships, thanks to their contributions to the hobby and the generous donations of hams and friends. Scholarship recipients have done everything from running a local net or participating in service activities to organizing an entirely new radio club at your school or in your community -- and more!

If you have an impressive list of activities in ham radio -- and a need for financial aid -- high school seniors and college students can apply for all scholarships for which you are eligible for with one form starting in October. If you are starting a new radio club or hosting a program to educate, license and support Amateur Radio activities, especially with emphasis on youth-based activities, click here to apply for up to $3000 in grants funded entirely by the generous donations of operators like you. If you would like to donate, click here for more information.

Aside from monetary awards and grants, many colleges and scholarship committees look at Amateur Radio as a symbol of dedication and count it as an extracurricular activity. Engineering schools like Missouri S&T take notice, since the hobby has deep roots in electronics and many hams are fans of tinkering with electronics, or, like me, tearing them apart to see how they work (and sometimes putting them back together).

Beyond college, many engineering employers take a keen eye to hams. For example, in St Louis, Boeing, an aerospace giant, has its own ham radio club, the Boeing Employees Amateur Radio Society, or BEARS. Hams are natural tinkerers like Dilbert, and the skills learned by building antennas, toying with radios and talking to the world are always in high demand in the working world. But for now, enjoy your summer.

--Sterling Coffey, N0SSC



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