From taxes to spaghetti, Nerd Camp helps students navigate the real world

Photo courtesy of Sydney Cope

Courtney DuChene

coduchene@ursinus.edu

According to oxforddictionaries.com, “adulting” made the shortlist for Oxford Dictionaries Word of the Year in 2016. The website, which catalogues the evolving nature of language and its practical use, defines the word as “the practice of behaving in a way characteristic of a responsible adult, especially the accomplishment of mundane but necessary tasks.” However, many students use it as a way to describe the unique feeling of having to take on adult tasks while still feeling unsure of how to navigate the adult world. Ursinus theater professor Dr. Meghan Brodie hopes to alleviate this anxiety through her Nerd Camp sessions.

The sessions, which have been taking place on Fridays at 2 p.m. throughout the semester, are meant to help students with professional development and prepare them for life after college. Brodie described them as “a series of what I affectionately call ‘adulting’ sessions.”

In each Nerd Camp session, she teaches students a variety of practical skills – some theater-based, some not – that the college curriculum doesn’t necessarily include, such as how to build a resume, write a cover letter, apply for a credit card, complete tax forms, prepare for an audition, or even boil pasta.

Brodie started Nerd Camp as a no-shame way for students to come together informally and learn skills that they may not have been taught.

“I don’t want anyone to be embarrassed to have to say, ‘No I don’t have a checkbook, or know how to balance a checkbook,’” she said. “It’s a totally safe space for students to admit that they don’t know how to boil water to make spaghetti.”

Some of Brodie’s inspiration for the sessions came from her own life.

“I remember when I was applying to graduate school it [was] a daunting task and it’s scary, but I had advisors that helped me through it,” Brodie said. “I had a lot of folks who helped me when I was both an undergrad at Ursinus and a graduate at Cornell,” she said. Brodie graduated from Ursinus in 2000 as the college’s first theater major.

Junior David Walters has attended several of Dr. Brodie’s Nerd Camp sessions this semester.

“Initially, I went because I had to for Theater 100, but then I just kept going because they were really fun and informative,” he said.

Walters has picked up several new skills from the sessions.

“I kind of learned how to do taxes. I learned more specific rules for auditions, like how you should dress, how you should act, what you should say. I learned about a few theater graduate schools.”

The sessions are held each semester on a rotating basis. In the past Brodie has held a resume building session, an audition workshop, a lesson about academic and theater etiquette and many other topics. Although Brodie is a theater professor, each of the sessions–even the theater-themed ones–are designed to be accessible to all students.

“Even though we talk about how ‘My parents want to know what I’m going to do with a theater degree,’ we also talk about how much your major matters versus your degree, what a liberal arts degree means in the current marketplace, [and] how to market yourself and your skills regardless of your major to expand the opportunities for jobs,” she said.

Brodie is also open to student ideas for future sessions. “I’m on it. I will make a hand out,” she said. “I will research it. I will put it together.”

Brodie’s favorite session is titled “Post College Life Hacks.”

“I never know what students are going to ask, so it’s exciting and it’s not even as academically-oriented, which is fun,” she said.

Walters agreed that the “Post College Life Hacks” session was valuable.

“You should absolutely attend that session. It was really helpful and eye-opening for me when I went,” he said. “You shouldn’t be afraid to go because everyone there is just as lost as you are.”

He remembered having a positive time with the other students at the event as well.

“I remember having a good laugh over how much everybody didn’t know about life after college, especially taxes,” he said.

The talks are a casual and informal.

Walters said, “You can ask whatever questions you want and you’ll learn a lot, but it’s not very high stakes.”

Post College Life Hacks, the final Nerd Camp Session for this semester, will be held on Friday, March 31 at 2 p.m. in Kaleidoscope 215. Dr. Brodie encourages all students to attend and to watch out for future Nerd Camp sessions. She also wants everyone to know that there is candy available at every Nerd Camp session.