As I write this column, I am 37,000 feet above terra firma, winging my way toward New York City, one of my favorite cities, to attend when of my favorite events — the Radio Club of America's annual technical symposium and awards banquet. This year's event is a special treat, because one of my favorite people, Carole Perry, is being honored with the prestigious "President's Award.
I spoke with Perry yesterday morning. It had been awhile since we last spoke — far too long — but she was the same as ever. If someone could bottle her energy, enthusiasm, attitude, dedication and loyalty, that person would become a gazillionaire. Perry truly is one of a kind.
The first question I asked concerned what the award meant to her. Typically, and modestly, she replied that what she found most pleasing and gratifying was that Vivian Carr, RCA's current president, would be presenting the award to her. Carr is a longtime stalwart of the RCA, and Perry told me at some length about the considerable amount of support the Carr has given her over the years. This is particularly true regarding the grassroots educational programs designed to introduce the science of wireless communications to America's youth, in the hopes that they will grow up to become tomorrow's innovators. It is an initiative to which the indefatigable Perry has dedicated herself during the past couple of years.
Perry started by targeting schools, which is the logical place to start, but now she wants to expand the program to museums. At first glance, this might not seem intuitive, but after hearing Perry's rationale, this too makes perfect sense. First, museums are the ideal place to showcase antique radios, which always grab the attention of the kids. Second, hundreds of kids pass through museums on a daily basis.
"It's the ripple effect," she said. "If you get [the attention of] even one really enthusiastic person, more will come."
Perry made sure to mention that the grassroots programs she establishes in schools go far beyond amateur radio and encompass many aspects of wireless communications. There is a practical reason for this: teachers would have to be licensed amateur radio operators, or be willing to obtain one, in order to teach the curriculum. "That's a limiting factor," she said.
The second — and more important — factor is that wireless communications today are incredibly multifaceted, and the industry is going to need succeeding generations of innovators. So, Perry's program is designed to reflect the industry. The theory is that one never knows what will spark the interest and imagination of a child, so why not expose them to as many aspects as possible? "The ham (radio) part is just the cherry on the cake," Perry said.
Perry told me that she's most proud of convincing the RCA leadership to let young innovators present at the technical symposium. Last year, 17-year-old Austin Schaller blew everybody away with his presentation on fractal. Nathan "Chip" Cohen, who holds a Ph.D. in astrophysics from Boston University and is one of the leading experts on fractal antenna technology, was so impressed that he not only has taken Schaller under his wing, he has become an RCA member and will be presenting at tomorrow's symposium, Perry said.
"There's the ripple effect I was talking about," she said.
Also tomorrow, Erin King, a freshman at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology will offer a presentation entitled, "Radios in the Stratosphere: High-Altitude Ballooning," which will examine weather balloons equipped with payloads capable of taking stunning photographs while simultaneously collecting scientific data.
I have no idea whether King also will blow everyone away, but I suspect that she might. But this I do know: Carole Perry blows me away. Next week, America celebrates Thanksgiving. I think I can speak for all RCA members when I say that we are thankful for her and all that she does.