The Walking Nerds: What PBS and DeLoreans have to do with ASU Homecoming

The 2012 Nerd Walk will take place Oct. 27 during Arizona State University’s homecoming festivities. More than 100 people are expected to march in ASU’s homecoming parade — along with the Nerd Walk’s mascot car, a DeLorean (what else?). Last week we got a look at the winning design in the public vote among four different possible Nerd Walk T-shirts — the first 200 people to register for the event at were lucky enough to snag a T-shirt, but the rest will get cool temporary tattoos.

I recently asked Eight Arizona PBS special events promotion coordinator Bob Beard to fill us in on the history of the “second annual” Nerd Walk, what’s new this year and what he might envision for …  the future!

Nerdvana: How did the Nerd Walk come about?

Bob Beard: It started as a discussion between a few of the Eight staffers. We all kind of geek-out over the shows we air anyway, so we wanted to find a fun way that others join in and advocate for Eight and public media as a whole.

I’ve always maintained that everybody’s a nerd for something (as you have, as well) and I think public TV reflects that very well, where you can have Antiques Roadshow, followed by a discussion of M. Theory and then a documentary about typesetting and they’re all super compelling.

It’s nice to remind people how much of an influence PBS has for such diverse interests and I think putting a public face on it, with so many people literally taking to the streets demonstrates that in a really fun way.

N: What’s different this year?

BB: Last year – admittedly – I was a little overwhelmed by the response we received. So many people immediately latched on to this idea, supported it and made it their own. This year I want to do a better job of connecting people and share in all of their really interesting ideas, hobbies, research and projects before, during and after the Nerd Walk.

One of the ways we’re doing that is by crowning our Nerd-In Chief. Last year it was chosen completely at random – but this year, if someone wants to wear the sash and be our geeky grand-marshal, they have to earn it. On the Web site ( we’re asking people to tell us their nerdy superpower. We’ll narrow it down and have the finalists compete in a Nerdy talent show before the event. All of the participants can decide who will be this year’s Nerd royalty – and might take home some new knowledge to boot.

Also, I have to mention that last year another department at ASU had a DeLorean as their parade entry – and our group went nuts for it. After the Nerd Walk last year quite a few people told me, “Listen, if you’re going to do this next year – we have to get that car,” so the president of the Arizona Delorean Club is driving with us in his custom DMC-12 – and yes, it has a flux capacitor.

N: Where will it go from here?

BB: Honestly, I don’t know. Ultimately, like the station, the Arizona PBS Nerd identity kinda belongs to the people. I think we’re very fortunate to have this great group of brainy, engaged and super postive people that identify with Eight and champion public media. In my job at the station, I’m always looking to use the programming on PBS to bring people together to share their knowledge about a wide variety of topics (we did this earlier this year with the Sherlock screening where we watched Sherlock, learned about the history of the character from a Sherlock scholar, then had the Phoenix PD crimelab come out and do a forensics demonstration) As long as people are going to nerd out over something on PBS, I’m happy to bring them together.

Also, (shameless plug) I’m writing my graduate thesis on Nerd culture, specifically around the ideas of performance and authenticity in the subculture – a topic which grew out of a discussion at last year’s Arizona PBS Nerd Walk. Later this year and into 2013 , I’d love to engage the Nerd community in a discussion of what it means to be a nerd in a time where mass culture is subscribed to a geek chic narrative. I’ll be starting my research (human trials…evil laugh) and people can weigh in and follow me on Twitter at @ASUNerdStudy.


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