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VOL. 133 | NO. 2 | Tuesday, January 2, 2018

The Nerdy Side Of Memphis Gets Social

By Andy Meek

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Dr. Stephanie Madden, an assistant professor in the journalism department at the University of Memphis, has seen the creative and offbeat sides of Memphis since moving here with her husband in May 2016.

Those sides have been revealed through a chapter of Nerd Nite that Madden – who teaches public relations research and writing for strategic media, among other courses in the public relations major – founded here. Nerd Nite is another version of similar events Memphis has experienced examples of, where the formula consists of meeting somewhere cool to listen to speakers give compelling presentations on whatever topic interests them.

Ignite Memphis and TEDxMemphis are other examples. Nerd Nite is very much a Ted-like event – in this case, attendees gather at Rec Room on the last Wednesday of the month for drinks and learn in a casual environment. Three speakers are invited to give 18- to 21-minute mini-lectures on any topic they’re passionate about.

There were 11 such gatherings in 2017. Examples include the presentations in October by representatives of the Society for Creative Anachronism – basically, according to Madden, people who want to recreate and reenact pre-17th century Europe.

“There’s this whole contingent in Memphis who do that, and they took over our October Nerd Nite,” Madden said. “There were three speakers from that group, and they talked about everything from sword fighting to mead-making to basket-weaving, all from a historical perspective.

“Something I’ve really loved about Memphis is how people have come out and supported this idea. I’ve made a lot of friends through Nerd Nite, just because they were happy to have a space where they can come together and talk about different things. I think there are a lot of really interesting pockets to Memphis that don’t necessarily get talked about.”

Nerd Nites are held at more than 100 cities around the world, in basically the same format. There are often bands and other fun things scheduled, like trivia – in Memphis, the event has teamed up with the local Cerrito Trivia event before.

Earlier this month, Nerd Nite gathered at FedExForum prior to a game between the Memphis Grizzlies and Boston Celtics, assembling early to play video games and board games and to hang out with friends before the public arrived for the game.

Madden and her husband are leaving Memphis soon for jobs at Penn State, but she said local educator James Weakley will be taking the reins so that Nerd Nite in Memphis doesn’t miss a beat.

Weakley said the events are “a fantastic opportunity to both learn about topics or opportunities you’ve never heard of, from understanding our aquifer system to bitcoins and the local maker and coding communities, and to share that same knowledge with members of the local community. We always invite our audiences and community members to submit their proposals to memphis@nerdnite.com and share their passion with others.”

In addition, he said, many members of the Nerd Nite community here also now speak and network outside of the monthly events.

For Madden, it’s been an original, one-of-a-kind way to get to know a city she’s come to love over a short period of time.

“When (my husband and I) were coming here, we’re both in our 30s, and making friends in your 30s can be challenging,” she said. “I looked to see if there was a Nerd Nite in Memphis and discovered that there wasn’t. So that sort of became a pet project, seeing if it would be something of interest to people.

“I reached out to Rec Room on a recommendation from a student. They loved the idea and have been a great partner to work with over the past year. They donate the space in exchange for us bringing out a crowd. It’s been really great working with them and getting to know the Memphis community that way. I’ve just enjoyed getting to know the sides of Memphis that aren’t sort of the dominant ones you hear about, and to integrate with the community that way.”

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