Whiskey Quebec Four Alpha, or WQ4A, is Martin Community College President Dr. Hutchins’ call signal. He is an amateur radio operator, a hobby which required him to study and pass a licensure test with the Federal Communications Commission. Three to four nights a week, he talks with people all over the world, from Australia to Mongolia and New Zealand to Japan.
I learned this fun fact about President Hutchins while I was visiting Martin Community College in late August as part of EducationNC’s blitz of all 58 community colleges. I had the chance to sit down with President Hutchins, who made the move from Sampson Community College to Martin Community College six months ago.
As a new president, Dr. Hutchins is trying to get to know his faculty and staff better. Most people get to know the president, he figured, but it isn’t as easy for him to get to know them. So, he told all full-time faculty and staff members that he wanted to meet with them individually over the course of his first few months.
During those meetings, he asks them several questions to get to know them better: Where are you from? What is your family like? What was it like when you grew up? Where did you go to school? How did you end up at Martin Community College? What do you love about Martin Community College? What do you love to do when you’re not at work that I would never know unless you told me?
I decided to ask Dr. Hutchins those same questions. Here are his answers (edited for clarity and length).
Where are you from?
My dad grew up in Florida with a brother and a sister, and they were orphaned. My dad grew up in the Florida Methodist Church children’s home. So my dad did not grow up with a mother and a father. As a kid growing up, I knew that, but I didn’t really understand. I didn’t understand how that impacted my dad.
My dad went and served in World War II as a Marine, and he fought at Iwo Jima. He came back to Florida and went to the University of Florida, and he got a bachelor’s degree in agriculture. The University of Florida is located in Gainesville, Florida, and he moved about 20 miles to the north to a little town called Starke, Florida.
Starke had one high school in the whole county, Bradford High School. My dad taught at that high school for 32 years. So that’s where I grew up.
What is your family like?
The city of Starke had a population when I was growing up of about 5,000. I went to the same high school my dad taught at, and that’s a unique experience. There are no secrets. He knows everything that you did before you get home. I think I grew up with a love of teaching because that’s what my dad did.
My dad was the FFA advisor (Future Farmers of America). Growing up, I had two sisters, an older sister and a younger sister, but I felt like I had 500 brothers because all the boys that my dad taught were constantly at our house. They were needing my dad’s help or wanted to talk to him, so I felt like I had a lot of brothers.
What was it like when you grew up?
When I was probably 9 or 10 years old, my dad thought I was old enough to start helping him. The school owned a 200-acre farm called the school land lab. They had about 50 head of Angus cattle. They had, I think, 180 acres in planted pines, and then they had a large area for crop production. On the weekends and in the summers when no students were in school, my dad still had to maintain the farm, so I grew up working on that farm. I learned to drive on a tractor before I ever drove a car or a truck.
I kind of thought growing up my dad made me do that because I was free labor. Sometimes I kind of resented it, but after I became an adult it hit me that what my dad was doing was teaching me a work ethic. He was trying to instill in me an appreciation for work and an appreciation for agriculture.
I spent four years in the Future Farmers of America, became a chapter president, a district president, and I ran for state office. I was the state public speaking winner for the state of Florida when I graduated from high school. It was just a great experience. I learned parliamentary procedure. I learned to be comfortable speaking in front of groups of people, and that’s helped me my whole life.
Where did you go to school?
I am a product of the Florida community college system. I went to Santa Fe Community College for two years and transferred to the University of Florida.
When my older sister graduated from high school, she went straight to the community college. I love my sisters dearly, and I always and still believe to this day that my older sister is one of the smartest people I know. She had such a great experience in her first year at community college that I just knew that’s what I needed to do. My parents didn’t say go to the community college or go to the university. They didn’t say where to go. They just encouraged us to go to college because they knew it was the key that would open up opportunities for us to be successful.
I love the University of Florida. I had a great experience there finishing my bachelor’s degree, and that’s why I wanted to go back there to get my doctorate.
How did you end up at Martin Community College?
I came to North Carolina seven years ago and became president of Sampson Community College. I was at a point where I either wanted to retire or find something new. My wife really liked the area, so she said why don’t you apply for the president position at Martin Community College. I started in March.
I will tell you this, and I try not to wear my religion on my sleeve, but I firmly believe that our path in life is not our own. I think our path in life is God’s path for us, and I feel like God provides a pathway for you to be where he wants you to do some errands for him. I don’t know what those are, but I don’t think that I ended up here because I wanted to be here. I think it was part of God’s plan for me. I hope in the years that I’m here that I’m able to accomplish what God wants me to do.
What do you love about Martin Community College?
I have been so impressed with the people in this community. They are some of the nicest people I’ve met in my life. The faculty and staff are committed and passionate. The board of trustees — you can just feel in the room how much each one of them cares about the community college and the importance of this college to its service area.
What do you love to do when you’re not at work that I would never know unless you told me?
I’ll tell you two things. Number one: over 30 years ago, I took a group of Boy Scouts to a hand radio operators house to see a demonstration of amateur radio. To get an amateur radio license, you have to pass exams and get a license from the Federal Communications Commission. I’ve talked to people all over the world, both voice and Morse code. I’ve talked to people in Australia and New Zealand. You name it, Mongolia and Japan. Because of visiting that guy’s place, I just fell in love with it. I told my wife I wanted to study and get into amateur radio. So that’s one of my hobbies. I’m an amateur radio operator. My FCC call signal is WQ4A, which stands for Whiskey Quebec Four Alpha.
A few times a week, when I think it won’t bug my wife too much, I go to the place where I have all my radio equipment, and I try to talk to people all over the world. It’s a lot of fun. Some of the folks that I talk to, I talk to them every week, three or four nights a week in what’s called a net. Other people that I talk to, it’s like going fishing, you never know what you’re going to catch.
Probably one of the more interesting things that I do is I do amateur radio via satellite. There are low Earth orbiting satellites that you can bounce signals off of and communicate with each other. You have to have specialized equipment to do that, and I enjoy doing that.
Number two: I’m not a very good golfer, but since high school I’ve loved to golf.