If anyone needs proof that one student on the Simpson campus can make a difference, escort him or her over to the bicycle rack north of Dunn Library.
Unless someone is using them – and based on early results, someone probably is – five bicycles will be available for use, by students, faculty or staff, around the clock. For free.
Those bikes are there because Gaston Akerman had an idea.
Akerman is a senior from Buenos Aires who is majoring in criminal justice. He expects to graduate this December.
About a year ago, while working as an undergraduate assistant for Campus Security, Akerman thought the campus needed a project that would unite the student body.
“All of the students, we have our little groups,” he said. “But this is one service that everyone can use. Even though we are all different, we can all use a bike. I think it brings the campus together.”
He proposed the idea to the Environmental Awareness Club, a student group devoted to promoting sustainability. The club requested funds for the bicycles – they cost about $200 a piece – from the Student Government Association, which approved the project.
“This was really all him,” Ryan Rehmeier, assistant professor of biology and advisor to EAC. “This was all his idea.”
Rehmeier said the bicycle project reminds him of another student-led initiative – to install hydration stations around campus
“Everyone thinks, ‘I’m just one person, I can’t do anything,’ but if you’re willing to put in the work and are motivated to stick with something, it can definitely come to fruition.”
Akerman said he hopes the bicycle project will encourage other students to bring their own bikes to campus.
What makes the bicycle project somewhat unusual is that there are no locks, nor any sort of check-out required. The honor system is in effect.
“There’s a lot of trust involved,” Akerman said. “Now we’ll just have to rely on the students’ maturity.”
The program began at the beginning of May, and Akerman describes it as a rousing success so far.
“I’ve received a lot of positive feedback,” he said.
Freshman Emma WitbolsFuegen from Kansas City used one of the bicycles to run errands for opera props.
“They’re a really nice ride,” she said. “It’s nice, because I don’t have a car, and I also prefer to get exercise when I can. I’m impressed that they actually put it into action.”
Having arrived on campus from Buenos Aires, Akerman said he understands what it’s like not to have a source of transportation. Many students do not have vehicles.
“When the new YMCA opens, the bikes will help students go there,” he said.
“I think it opens up some more mobility for students on campus who are here without a vehicle,” he said.
Akerman hopes his idea will prove so successful that other bike racks – and more bicycles – will appear on campus.
Like a nervous parent, Akerman he admits to feeling anxious when he walks by the rack and sees that it’s empty.
“I’d like to know what they are,” he said. “I’m hoping that they’re being used for a good reason. I don’t want to see them thrown in anyone’s lawn. Mostly I’m just happy the students are using them.”