Parking Lot Regatta to celebrate fun, form and function

Assistant Professor of Art Ryan Buyssens, right, works with student Kennon Gilson on his human-powered vehicle.
Assistant Professor of Art Ryan Buyssens, right, works with student Kennon Gilson on his human-powered vehicle.

By Jim DeLa

If you’ve been around the welding workshop on the Caples Campus this semester, you’ve seen a group of students working an unusual project. Taking old bikes, scraps of metal and furniture to make human-powered vehicles, they’ll be racing Monday, Dec. 2 in the culmination of their sculpture class.

The Parking Lot Regatta will be held at midday in and around the Caples parking lot, says Ryan Buyssens, an assistant professor of art and the race’s organizer.

Buyssens says he got the idea from a raft race he participated in in graduate school. Besides being fun, it united the community. “What a great thing to be doing,” he said, adding he is using the race to teach some basic concepts. “Creative problem solving is the key,” he explained. The students were given a set of rules to follow. “The vehicles had to have three or more wheels, they had to be human — or nuclear — powered,” he said. “They also had to have a theme — some sort of visual or audible aesthetic, not just pure function.”

Transfer student Kennon Gilson was hunched over his five-wheeled invention recently, trying to find the perfect spot to place his pedal and gear assembly. “I’ve been working on it, just during class, since the beginning of the semester,” he said. “But this month I’ve been putting in a bunch of hours on it.”

Gilson said his vehicle has stuck close to his original design. “It’s pretty much how I envisioned it. There are some things I added to make it work better. I added more wheels for stability.” He says he’s learned a lot about time management. “You have to figure out how to get around obstacles and budget time for that.” He said his bike will have an animal theme by the time he’s finished.

Another student, Cindy Kim, has a kitchen-inspired creation. A tricycle front wheel and handlebars has been welded to a body fashioned from a hand truck and wire shelf. A silver bucket provides a place for the rider to sit. The pedals were made from spatulas; the entire vehicle will drag silverware dangling from the undercarriage to produce wind chime-like sounds when in motion.

“Not only did they have to learn welding and metalworking skills, they also had to learn mechanical skills, and understand a mechanism,” Buyssens said.

“They had to learn how to take chains apart and understand gear ratios. They had to learn a little about about ergonomics, how their body fits in with this machine. It gets really multifaceted. I don’t think we’ve really focused heavily on one area more than another, other than form vs. function and metalworking.”

The race will take place during the class Dec. 2 between 11:50 a.m. and 1:50 p.m. The campus community is invited to watch and cheer the racers on.

— Jim DeLa is digital communications coordinator at New College of Florida.


Located in Sarasota, New College of Florida has educated intellectually curious students for lives of great achievement since its founding in 1960. As the State of Florida’s designated honors college, New College provides an exceptional education that transforms students’ intellectual curiosity into personal accomplishment. The 110-acre campus on Sarasota Bay is home to more than 800 students and 80 full-time faculty engaged in interdisciplinary research and collaborative learning. New College offers nearly 40 areas of concentration for undergraduates and a master’s degree program in Data Science.

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