Olga Navarro spent the summer renting boats, counting paddles and teaching people how to row at Boats & Bikes on the Arkansas River in downtown Wichita.
She is a senior industrial engineering major and a member of Wichita State’s rowing team who will soon leave the water for her career. While that next step won’t require her to explain water safety, it will likely require her to speak to groups, explain plans and work with customers.
Those skills don’t come naturally to Navarro, so she views her time at Boats & Bikes as a valuable real-world, applied learning experience. Boats & Bikes is a store that rents bikes, boats, kayaks and paddleboards and is managed by Shocker Rowing.
“That’s what all the teachers talk about – you can have a good idea, but if you cannot explain it, then it is worthless,” she said. “I’m really scared of public speaking, so this helps me. You have to speak with people to train them. I’m the one who has to tell the clients, so I just have to do it.”
Boats & Bikes, located in the River Vista Apartments at 150 N. McLean Blvd., will have its grand opening from 4:30-7:30 p.m. Friday, Aug. 30. Boats & Bikes, connected to Shocker Rowing’s boathouse, is part of a public / private partnership between the City of Wichita, the development group of River Vista and Wichita State. It will be open on weekends through October.
“We want to activate the river,” Wichita State rowing coach Calvin Cupp said. “If I want people to be interested in rowing and support rowing, then we need them here for other reasons. Then they’ll see the rowing, then they’ll see what opportunities there are for them to do it recreationally, or maybe their child, or maybe, if they’re coming to college, do it competitively.”
Boats & Bikes started its soft opening starting in early August and Cupp sees plenty of ways for students to get career experience. There are five rowers on staff, and he expects to hire more as the business grows.
“It’s a really unique opportunity where we have an athletic team, we have a revenue stream, we’re off-campus and we’re doing programming that is similar to what some people are doing on campus, but it’s also different,” Cupp said. “We do a lot of our own maintenance.”
Coach, Shocker Rowing
The students work in a retail setting where responsibilities range from inventory or helping customers with a life jacket to repairing equipment and demonstrating how to use the boats.
“It’s pretty much working with people, with guests, helping them have a satisfactory time,” said senior rower Nick Thompson, a general studies major, with an emphasis in criminal justice.
A student interested in outdoor activities or in the environment can find duties that fit their studies.
“It helps (students) communicate with people,” said Kaycee Miller, Boats & Bikes director of operations and assistant director of outdoor recreation at Wichita State. “They’ve never really had to work that customer-facing environment, explain procedures, explain pricing, explaining why we make people wear life jackets . . . Customer-service skills are something that almost every single job out there wants you to have.”
The event spaces in the River Vista Apartments gives the students an opportunity to help plan and work at receptions, parties and dinners.
In early August, Connecting ICT held a happy hour at the boathouse to celebrate downtown development attended by around 300 people. On Aug. 28, Shocker Rowing hosts S’mores and Oars, a free event for Wichita State students to try the boats.
“We’ve got a lot happening here,” Cupp said. “Because of the facility, because of the different groups there are opportunities to network and meet people, whether they’re business people in town, whether they’re alumni, whether they’re people in city government. That might be the connection they need to get that job or get that internship.”
Cupp sees the Boats & Bikes and the boathouse as a way for Wichita State to connect with the community. The presence on the river could help the university have a voice in the area’s future – he is involved in looking at how water activities could be involved on other parts of the river as development continues around the new baseball stadium and other places.
A percentage of the net profits go to support Shocker Rowing. The money will go to equipment, travel, meals and scholarship aid.
“We want to keep expanding and we want to generate as much revenue as possible so that when we’re out competing our student-athletes have all the resources they need to compete against any program in the country,” Cupp said.