Talk Nerdy to Me
By Catherine Monroy
Nerd: An unstylish, unattractive, or socially inept person. Though this may be the common perception of what a nerd is, this is not always the case, and some are trying to change that definition. Nerd culture is up and coming in Boston, a city that is home to many colleges, universities, and tech startups.
“It’s a hub for where that innovation takes place,” says Ethan Gilsdorf, author of Fantasy Freaks and Gaming Geeks, which is a novel that discusses Nerd culture. At schools like the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Northeastern University, students are known for building robots and hacking into each others computers.
In Boston, nerds seem to fall into two categories.
“There are people who are into comic books or manga, or the science section,” says MIT professor Scott Aaronson. The comics, cosplay, and graphics are representative of one side, while the other gravitates toward the intellectual.
The tech-oriented group consists of the academics like mathematicians, engineers, and scientists. Tufts University professor Karen Panetta, who holds a doctorate in Electrical Engineering, is the founder of the organization “Nerd Girls”, where she recruits female college students who plan on pursuing engineering careers.
“We celebrate individuality. We celebrate you,” she says.
Organizations and clubs like “Nerd Girls” serve as outlets for young students to freely express their interest in engineering, science, or math. Students are becoming more involved with the maths and sciences, and go on to pursue careers in medicine, mechanics, or civil engineering and more. Panetta and her “Nerd Girls” have built solar panels, assembled solar cars, and installed LED lights in lighthouses, which are used as their main power source.
On college campuses, Nerd culture has also made its way into academic curriculum. At Bentley University, comic books have been used by professors as course material. The decision by Bentley, a business-oriented university, to add Nerd culture into its curriculum is a step in a different direction from past years.
“Nerds are much more accepted,” says Amy Galante, who is a librarian at the university. Just recently, the library installed a comic book/graphic novel section, which is accessible to all students and staff. Galante adds, “It’s just as important for us to have literature and film and TV that can help students unwind.”
Hugh C. O’Connell, professor at the University of Massachusetts, Boston, also includes sci-fi literature in his courses. He says that in these classes, he and his students have recently “discussed issues of globalization through science fiction.”
O’Connell sums up Nerd culture this way: “A Nerd is almost like a position of coolness, a position of power — cultural power.”