2019-04-01 / Shorts

Geek Out

Monthly Nerd Nites at Webster’s encourage people to share their passions.
By Lauren Fox

At first thought, Socrates and hip-hop might not seem to have a lot in common.

But according to Joshua Wretzel, there’s a connection between the ancient Greek philosopher and the movements within modern-day African-American music, such as jazz and hip-hop.

“One of the things that seems to be really important for hip-hop is people being cool,” Wretzel says. “The coolness is inherent in the music, and Socrates is really cool.”

Wretzel, an assistant teaching professor in philosophy at Penn State, is one of three self-proclaimed nerds who’ll give 20-minute presentations at the third Nerd Nite at 7 p.m. April 10 at Webster’s Bookstore Café.

In February, Webster’s hosted its first Nerd Nite, an event that features speakers sharing their passions as attendees kick back to listen while sipping a craft beer.

Elaine Meder-Wilgus, Webster’s owner, says a nerd is someone with a passion that “gets their pulse going.”

Nerd Nites are not exclusive to State College, says Stephanie Madden, local Nerd Nite “co-boss” and assistant professor in Penn State’s Donald P. Bellisario College of Communications. Nerd Nites originated in New York City in 2003, and every month, people are nerding out in more than 100 cities around the globe.

The core idea stays the same: three speakers at each event — plus beer — but each community has the power to make Nerd Nite their own beyond that.  

The speakers’ topics aren’t just stereotypically nerdy things, such as video games or comic books; rather, people are invited to expound on anything that they’re nerdy about.

In addition to Wretzel sharing the connections he’s found between Socrates’ rebellious behavior and the rebellion laced throughout hip-hop, Penn State meteorology professor Jose Fuentes will talk about how fragrances and other organic products humans use on a day-to-day basis are confusing bees, and Colleen Connolly-Ahern, associate professor in the College of Communications, plans to guess what historical couples would have had for dinner.

Nerd Nite is “really trying to expand the idea of what a nerd is, as well as try to bring a positive spin to it,” says Madden, who stood on the Webster’s stage in February to share her knowledge on craftivism: “encoding messages in different art to make a statement.”

Because political activism is traditionally considered masculine, women turned to crafting as a way to spread their messages, Madden says, dating all the way back to the Underground Railroad when women made quilts with messages encrypted in them to direct slaves to freedom.

Nerd Nite is “about passion, it’s about engagement and, for me, it’s really about community building,” she says.

What makes it unique, Meder-Wilgus says, is the events are designed to build communities of people who seemingly have nothing in common, in contrast to most community-building events, which are catered to a specific group or interest.

“Everyone has something they can nerd out about,” Madden says.•SCM

What: Nerd Nite
When: Second Wednesday of the month
Where: Webster’s Bookstore Café

Return to top