Behind the Scenes: Cal Poly Weather Balloon Society

If there’s anything that my group and I learned during our final quarter as journalism students, it’s the importance of locking in reliable topics and sources for our stories. Christian Laubacher, Jay Serrano, Kelly Martinez and I can attest to this, considering we had our stories fall through not once, but twice. And though, yes, we only had four story assignments in total, I can’t help but feel proud of how quickly we were able to pick ourselves up and quickly come up with a back up story.

With that being said, though I had full faith in my groups ability to persevere through it all, we decided to save ourselves the stress and anxiety for this final story. Luckily, the idea of our story on the Cal Poly Weather Balloon Society was generously gifted to us by our source, David Kozuch, and Brady. We figured since the source came to our class to pitch the story himself, the chances of the story falling through would probably be slim to none.

David, an aerospace engineering sophomore and member of the club, came to our senior practicum class during our final pitch day. He showed us footage he had taken of the Cal Poly Weather Balloon Society when they launched two high altitude weather balloons. This group of students teamed up with  Project OWL, and launched the a device called DuckLink, which emitsWiFi over areas struck by natural disasters.

David Kozuch | Courtesy
A GoPro image of the DuckLink device in space.

My team and I instantly gravitated towards the story and began our research and outreach right away. The president and founder of the Cal Poly Weather Balloon Society Evan Agarwal had been interviewed by Mustang News about a different space launch at the start of this year. Therefore, we wanted to make sure we took on a completely different angle. Lucky for us, the previous story did not cover the launch of the WiFi device, so we had the liberty to cover the story however we wanted.

The process of covering the story was pretty simple, I was able to coordinate interviews with our sources with ease and the communication within our group was the best it had ever been. During the interview process, it was really heartwarming to see how passionate and driven this group of students were about the work they were doing with these weather balloons.

“Our original motivation, after we had a project a couple of months ago in January, is just how incredibly, unexpectedly fun it was to set this project up,” Jack McGuiness, the vice-president of the Cal Poly Weather Balloon Society said. “Searching for the balloon we felt like we were in storm chasers.”

David Kozuch | Courtesy Cal Poly Weather Balloon Society prepare for the launch.

Perhaps the only downside to covering this story was that their next launch is not scheduled until the fall, so we were unable to document our own footage of pictures of the launch.

“I think the biggest challenge is not being able to witness an actual launch because of the timeline so we kind of just have to picture it in our heads ourselves and look at their visual representations,” Kelly said. “As interactive, its hard because you have to think outside the box and use a combination of the meetings and then relying on the videos and pictures that they give you. “

Getting to interact with the members of the Cal Poly Weather Balloon society gave us a lot of insight on the amount of work they dedicate to these projects.

A candid shot of David Kozuch (left), Jay Serrano (top right), and Kelly Martinez (bottom right) during the interview.

“It was really great to see how passionate everyone that was working on it was and I think that really showed in the interview,” Jay said. “Really hearing them tell their story and hearing them talk about what went well really helped bring it to life for me as a reporter.”

Similarly, Christian felt that the sources’ enthusiasm made his job as a storyteller way more exciting.

“They where great interview subjects because they were super helpful and the story is really cool so I was happy to share it,” Christian said.

Even though we consisted of a group of four journalism students who have never dipped their fingers in anything remotely related to aerospace engineering during our time in college, this story gave us the opportunity to go beyond our natural tendencies. Throughout the quarter, each member of our group had their preferred beat. I gravitate towards music and arts pitches, Jay showed us his passion for sports and Kelly and Christian were interested in student life. However, this final story challenged us to step outside of our comfort zones and opened our eyes to all of the different and incredible opportunities for great storytelling.