I had submitted this to QST for review, but apparently SueAnne Griffith’s piece (August 2017) was already in the pipeline ahead of mine. Granted, that assumption also requires that my submission was worthy of publication, but… I’m going to embrace the hubris that it was. 🙂
So, to keep it from going to waste, I am posting it here for your consideration.
Finding the Next Generation
Through the years, I have been involved with many aspects of student organizations, both as member, officer, and now advisor looking to revitalize the club at my alma mater. Because of this, I have experienced many different styles of recruiting with varying levels of effectiveness. Now, I want to share my experiences in hopes of aiding the growth of other clubs as well.
Every campus has a special place where students gather. For my campus (Go Bobcats!), it was by “the fountain.” For others it may be the quad, student center, or tailgates. But the simple fact is, most institutions will not be willing to allocate a permanent space, and definitely not funding, to a group with only a few members. So recruitment must become a priority.
The Collegiate Amateur Radio Forum at Orlando Hamcation provided some great ideas, but more can be done. Here are some tried and true methods that have been proven effective time and again.
Information tables are a college tradition, but most fall short of perfection. There are elements that will make your effort standout from the crowd. First, it needs to be catchy. Have a well designed banner so people know who you are – they can readily be found online for less than $50. Have plenty of brochures and handouts as a takeaway item. Many are available from the ARRL, but it is also quite easy to adopt them to your campus.
Approach your local radio club for start-up assistance. See if they can provide go-kits for a demonstration on the table. A portable antenna will certainly be an eyecatcher among other groups who are tabling as well. They may even be willing to provide some funding for handouts and giveaways, which leads to the number one method of getting a college student’s attention: freebies!
Students love free food. It could be pizza, candy, or bags of chips or crackers. The one caveat to this, especially if you are in the south, is to avoid chocolate. It can quickly make a mess if left in sunlight or high temperatures. You can also consider koozies, frisbees, or flash drives (pre-loaded with some club fliers and information, of course).
Have volunteers rotate between talking on the radio and talking to passers by. Some should be in front of the table so it appears friendly and engaging. Be prepared to talk to students in all of the programs offered by the institution, not just STEM. Criminal justice and government majors will likely be attracted to the emergency communication and public service aspects. Journalism, marketing, and communication students will likely be interested in how it ties into the technology used for broadcasting. And yes, STEM students will be interested in the technology and maker aspects.
Keep in mind diversity at your table. Volunteers from your local club are great, but they are just a start. Do your best to also have college age volunteers. Get the YLs involved. If someone’s grandchild is popular in Greek Life or athletics, offer him a lunch to spend an hour with you.
Outreach is only the first step. You can have a table with dozens of people surrounding it the entire time period, and it still be a failure. Don’t just give out cards, have people sign-up for an email list. You could even include a drawing for a gift card to a local restaurant or the campus bookstore. Then use that information.
Send out an email to everyone who stopped by thanking them for their time and inviting them to follow your club on social media. Let them know about upcoming events and talks, or license classes. Remember, just because they may not be interested in getting licensed right now, they still may show up for discussions specific to their interest.
Overall, remember to make it fun. College students have enough serious topics to face on a day to day basis. Set up the demonstrations like a mini-Field Day or special event. This is the generation of the smartphone, so instant communication will not impress them. Show them how amateur radio is different, fun, and experiential. It truly is a hobby with something for everyone. It’s just a matter of helping students find something that sparks their interest.
Daniel R. Simpson, K4DRS was first licensed at 11 years old and was active in amateur radio and other student groups in college and graduate school. He can be reached at P.O. Box 1882, Milledgeville, Georgia 31059 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.