On Wednesday morning, January 3, nine students from the William Paterson University department of communication departed Newark Liberty International Airport bound for Vieques, Puerto Rico (via San Juan) on a one-week mission to help restore WVQR 90.1 FM, the community radio station serving Vieques.
Organized by Lori Ramos, William Paterson University assistant professor of communication, who has long-standing ties to Vieques, the trip is part of a service-learning course during the winter semester. The students are joined by Sebastian Escobar '15, station manager for William Paterson University’s award-winning radio station WPSC 88.7FM Brave New Radio, and William Paterson University audio technician Dante Portella.
WVQR's studio was hard hit, as was the entire island of Vieques, by Hurricane Maria in September. While the station is back on the air, it lost vital equipment and sustained damage to its transmitter. It played an important role as people on Vieques struggled in the weeks after the hurricane, informing them of where they could obtain supplies and assistance.
Through the efforts of Rob Quicke, chair of the William Paterson University communication department and general manager of WPSC, the College Radio Foundation is donating a new computer to the station and has arranged for professional audio editing software to be donated as well.
After learning about the history of Puerto Rico and the island of Vieques, students will have the opportunity to study the role of community media in times of crisis and report about the experiences of the people who have lived through the storm and its aftermath. A goal of the trip is to establish a sister station relationship between WQVR and WPSC, with a weekly hour of programming being supplied by WQVR.
In addition, students will meet with ham radio operators on the island who were instrumental in maintaining communication throughout the storm and in the crucial days immediately following the devastation it caused.
Students were chosen to participate in the course for their specific expertise. Nick Gomez '19 and Shaney Lara '18 are active in WPSC and will help create podcasts and other programming. Matthew Mullins '19 is the president of the Pioneers Amateur Radio Club, which brings together students with an interest in ham radio. Tiernan Doyle '21 is an active member of that club. Jacob Martinez '18 and Aziza McGill-Ayinde '18 bring broadcast journalism skills and Richard Potenza '19 and Thomas M. Smith '18 will assist them as camera operators. Michele Ciz '18 will serve as the social media coordinator.
In addition to their work with community media, students will assist island residents with delivering meals and other service tasks organized by local residents. Students will also have a chance to explore the history and eco-system of Vieques, including its bioluminescent bay.
The William Paterson team will be returning to Newark on Wednesday, January 10.
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