The Childhood Nerds of Telecom
Niki Fritz sporting her banged up knees (on the left) and wolf sweatshirt (for her 12th birthday)
By Niki Fritz
It probably comes as no surprise that I was not particularly “cool” when I was a kid. When I was young, I wanted to fancy myself a tomboy but I was too uncoordinated to be good at sports – usually I was walking around with bloody knees from spills on the black top (see photo to the right). The jocks never really accepted me although they were kind enough to usually humor me. Where my nerd really shined was anything involving the environment. I was an exceedingly annoying pre-hippy, meaning I was just uber concerned with the rain forest and any endangered species my teachers mentioned in class that day. I expressed my nerd by lecturing my friends on the importance of taking short showers and wearing an oversized sweatshirt with a bunch of wolves on it. Those were the good ole days.
Looking back at photos and remembering what a little nerd I was, I have a sense of nostalgia and – I’ll admit it – a sense of pride that I marched to my own, albeit annoying, drum. But I know I didn’t feel it when I was a youth. What I remember most about being young is how I wanted to be cool but just didn’t have the skills to pull it off. I was a nerd (or maybe a dork; don’t ask me to explicate nerd versus dork versus geek.) Recently I was chatting with some of my fellow graduate students and I realized many of us had our own kind nerdhood as children, that weird interest we were a little too into, that thing that as a kid set us apart from our peers. Here are a few of the Telecom grad student’s stories of childhood nerd.
Jingjing Han: “This photo was when we were in a local zoo. The tiger now is more than thirty years old! I was a scientific nerd. I was always looking for the reality in my toys.”
Nicky Lewis: “I was involved in the creation of a life size replica of Simba from The Lion King in 5th grade. Not my best work.”
Nic Matthews: “I’m pretty sure this was the science fair competition where 5th graders write up a brief paper on a subject of their choice and present the topic to judges. Surprisingly, it’s like the high-density poster sessions we go to at conferences. As you can see, I did my project on natural disasters and their effects on humans. It may look rough, but I earned 1st or 2nd. I can’t remember. I was a nerd because I was always into anything science. My room growing up was crazy–I had a telescope, computers, microscopes, chemistry set, robots I built, a rock collection, posters of space and DNA, and on and on. In fact, my prized possession growing up was a vial of Martian dust from a meteor. I had it bad…”
Sean Connolly: “I would say I was in the third grade when the first dreaded coke bottle glasses came. (They didn’t have the thin glass I those days.) That went well with the early pimples and braces in sixth grade. Whenever a girl spoke to me she wanted me to put in a good word with my brother.”
Anthony Almond: “I guess you could say I was a little brainiac. In that picture, it’s obvious from my glasses, lab coat, and hat that I’m dressed as a scientist. I would always do mini science experiments as a kid too. I had a book called simple science experiment with everyday materials. Sadly I was never able to prove the existence of the Higgs Boson with my experiments. I would also build things with Legos, Lincoln Logs, and Erector Sets then run simulations with the models I made. I was always striving for the best fit Lego model of real life. Clearly I chose the right career path. My child self would be very proud. “
Glenna Read: “This picture is from a piano recital. I think I was about 8. The outfit is characteristic of my style at that time. I would only wear boots and was really into vests. I also had to cut some gum out of my hair around that time and that’s how I ended up with such a short hairstyle.”
Josh Sites: “This is me (about to) sing bass in a barbershop quartet in the high school production of State Fair. I’m not up on my nerd taxonomy, but I’d say I was a music nerd. Not a band kid, but a choir kid. Is that worse? Probably. “
Stevie Stewart: When I was a child I was obsessed with computers and gadgets of all kinds. One of my favorite things to do was to type lists of things – the names of my friends, all of the places I knew, random gobbledygook – then print them out and give them to my dad with gleeful disregard for the precious printer ink I was wasting. In the image you see here, a young Stevie is diligently outlining a literature review of his favorite Power Rangers episodes. “
Ryland Sherman: “In my younger nerdy years, I went through many style changes across the range of nerd archetypes. Some years were in the ’80’s banker/spreadsheets style, while others were in the classic nerd in suit style. In high school, each year’s picture was so different that I could be mistaken for a different nerd entirely! The culmination of all that nerd style is seen in the senior photo. The pose is profound and arrogant, framing my words of wisdom for the ages.”
Ashley Kraus: “Although there were many things that made me nerdy as a child (e.g. my love for reading historical fiction and the fact that I continued to play with my American Girl dolls way past the acceptable age…), I think my hair best sums it up. You see, I was born with very thick curly hair. Thick, curly hair that would sometimes form dreadlocks because I loathed brushing it. Not only did my good-intentioned, straight- haired mother have no idea how to take care of such hair, but my sassy disposition made her efforts particularly stressful. It is very possible that pouting with a basket on my head was a direct response to my mother’s attempt to brush my hair… This story has yet to be confirmed. In any case, my mother eventually gave up and decided to cut my hair off. Into a mullet. A MULLET. Which was apparently quite a popular hairstyle at the time…for BOYS. So the moral of the story is, don’t make Mom’s life stressful. She has the power to make you look like a miniature (female) Adam Sandler.
The strangest thing about grad school is that it has not only made me embrace my former nerd but dive more deeply into nerd culture. I binge-watched BSG and played my first game of Dungeons and Dragons this summer. Now that I’m in grad school I feel like I can fully embrace all of nerdom because being a nerd is a common trait among my peers. Yes, it is true that in recent years the term “nerd” has become something accepted in the mainstream. Yes it may even be cool to be a nerd (just ask T. Swift). But I think what has really changed is that nerd in grad school really means passion; being a nerd about flow in music or video production or cognitive processes, is really about being so invested in a topic you are willing to spend 60 hours a week in the lab. Nerd now is what drives us, what fuels our studies (along with coffee and sugar) and what brings us together in this department.
Posted by Niki on 11/10/2014