Eight students and recent graduates of William Paterson University’s communication department are spending the last week of June in Vieques, Puerto Rico to continue the volunteer work they started there in January. Accompanied by two faculty and two staff members, the group’s primary goal is to assist WVQR 90.1 FM Radio Vieques, the community radio station serving Vieques, in its recovery from the devastation of Hurricane Maria.
During the follow-up mission, WVQR and the University’s radio station – 88.7 WPSC-FM Brave New Radio – signed a memorandum of understanding, establishing an official sister-station relationship. For now, the staff and students who operate Brave New Radio – named Best College Radio Station in the US by the Intercollegiate Broadcasting System in 2012, 2013, 2017 and 2018 – will create original programming to be carried by both stations. The content will be designed for young bilingual audiences in Puerto Rico and the New York metro area. In the future, programming will be shared both ways, with Radio Vieques content also airing on Brave New Radio.
WP’s initial trip was part of a service-learning course created by communication professor Lori Ramos, who has long-standing ties to Vieques. Moved and motivated by their trip in January, the group decided to return this summer. Joining Ramos for both the first and second trips are fellow communication professor Diana Peck, an expert in international and community media; WPSC Station Manager Sebastian Escobar ’15; and Dante Portella, an audio expert who works with the University’s information technology staff.
Students who took part in the winter course and affiliated mission are also back for this trip, even those who have since graduated. They are students Tiernan Doyle ‘21, Nick Gomez ‘19, Jacob Martinez ’18, and Matthew Mullins ‘19, as well as May 2018 graduates Michele Ciz, Shaney Lara, Aziza McGill Ayinde and Thomas Smith.
A video the volunteers produced about their first trip to Vieques.
The students and alums bring a wealth of expertise to Vieques. Some have held leadership positions at the campus radio station, others are officers of the University’s amateur radio club – bringing together students with an interest in ham radio – some are social media specialists, and others are broadcast journalists. The broadcast journalists have taken the lead in documenting both missions, interviewing residents and reporting on life in Vieques post-Maria.
Matthew Mullins and Tiernan Doyle check new ham radios with a local.
Outside of the work with Radio Vieques, WP’s team is collaborating with locals to design and implement a ham radio network. “This will be a crucial means of communication for the island during emergencies when power and phone lines are compromised,” Professor Peck explains. Mullins and Doyle are working with area ham radio operators and funding organization Vieques Love to acquire equipment to build the network, license local operators, and distribute radios.
Shaney Lara on air with Radio Vieques
The WP team is also assisting Radio Vieques with community outreach, organizing specialized programs to help local youth learn about professional communication and get involved with the station. Lara is serving as WP’s project specialist for these efforts, and is subsequently staying in Vieques through August to see the initiative through. Among other tasks, Lara will run workshops, in conjunction with the Boys and Girls Club, on how to use social media in professional settings and how to obtain internships. She will also host a regular show on WVQR, “Gozando con Shaney,” with urban and Latin music, news, games and more, all targeted to a young listening audience.
To learn more about WP’s efforts in Puerto Rico, or to donate to the Vieques Recovery Project organized by Brave New Radio, visit https://www.gobrave.org/vieques/.
William Paterson University
300 Pompton Road
Wayne, New Jersey 07470