November 21, 2022
An increasing number of Olin Collegiate Amateur Radio Club (OCARC) students are learning hands-on and improving their skills, while also providing important public services. Just this fall, students volunteered at three local events - the most ever for the Club in one semester - and they plan to do more volunteering this spring, most notably for the Boston Marathon in April.
The Olin Collegiate Amatuer Radio Club (OCARC) was founded in 2019 under the mentorship of Professor Whitney Lohmeyer. Since then, members have volunteered for a variety of service events – including the Cystic Fibrosis Cycle for Life, the Head of the Charles Regatta and the BAA Half Marathon this fall.
Club member Zachary Sherman '23, says it can be difficult for organizers to find enough amateur radio volunteers to help with communications for public service events like these, but that's where the Oliners come in.
"When we volunteer, we fulfill that need while demonstrating to the local community that Olin students are passionate, capable, and responsible."
"Olin is all about hands-on education and community engagement," he added.
In fact, the Club recently received positive feedback about their ongoing community participation from Dan Loveman, K1DSL, start segment coordinator for the Boston Athletics Association (BAA) Communications Committee, who praised the fact that the Olin students "have shown up to support the Marathon in increasing numbers over the last couple years" and that "events like the Boston Marathon simply can't happen without dedicated volunteers like [the OCARC] team."
"When we volunteer to do communications for public service events, we're learning through experience, improving our radio skills, and providing an important service to race leaders and the Boston community," says Zachary '23.
Besides fulfilling the need for radio communications volunteers and providing returning student volunteers like Zachary '23 experiential learning in real-time, these public service events are also key launch pads for first-year students.
"Despite having my amateur radio license for a few years, I didn't have many opportunities to use it before joining OCARC. The Cystic Fibrosis Cycle for Life was my first event as an amateur radio volunteer and a great example of harnessing technology and amateur radio for a good cause," says first-year student, Carter Harris '26.
That event was particularly challenging for the student volunteers because the course was quite large, spanning 65 miles. So they did what Olin students typically do - they improvised and built a solution.
"To make sure we could talk to other volunteers all around the course, we built our own antenna! I really enjoyed learning about how radios work," added Carter '26.
Six OCARC students also volunteered at the Head of the Charles Regatta on October 21-23, including Phillip Post '25 who enjoys the experience of waking up at dawn to plan out the day with fellow volunteers.
"I love spending the day on the Charles River supporting the Boston community. There really is no experience like waking up at 4:00 a.m., jumping on a small boat and coordinating with other race volunteers to make sure each rower has their best race!" says Phillip.
Part of the experience is working with new people from a variety of backgrounds around a common goal.
"I especially enjoy meeting people from all walks of life. Some of them are local lifeguards, others are retired professors, and some are competitive rowers themselves. Despite our different backgrounds, we all come together to support the event. That sense of community and shared mission is something that keeps me coming back to volunteer year after year," says Phillip.
In addition to the sense of a shared mission and real-world opportunities to hone their skills, volunteering for public service events like these also expose the Club members to the wide range of uses for ham radio in daily life.
"It was exciting to see how amateur radio can be used for so much more than I expected!" says Ethan Chen '25, who worked at both the BAA Half Marathon and Head of the Charles Regatta relaying information to race officials and volunteers about runners requiring medical attention and supplies that needed to be replenished.
To date, supported in part by funds from a 2021 Amateur Radio Digital Communications (ARDC) Grant under Professor Lohmeyer, nearly 50 members of the Olin College community have become licensed ham radio operators - with all licensing at Olin taking place through New England Sci-Tech. This includes: 35 students, 4 faculty and staff and 11 alumni.
The future of amateur radio at Olin looks bright. Next semester for example, OCARC plans to install a repeater on the roof of the Miller Academic Center. The repeater will be linked to the New England Sci-Tech repeater network, allowing the Club to communicate with other local ham radio operators.
"This is an exciting time for amateur radio, especially for engineers. Want to track high-altitude balloons or talk to astronauts? Want to send emails through radio frequencies or talk to people in distant places? If so, amateur radio is the technology for you," says Zachary.
"We will continue making contacts with other ground stations (and maybe even astronauts!) through the repeater on the International Space Station. We also look forward to volunteering for our third Boston Marathon and other public service events in the spring."