September 25, 2020

BY WHITNEY SOUTH

Who says nerds can’t party?

As the boss of Kitchener-Waterloo Nerd Nite, Charlotte Armstrong has made it her mission to bring together men and women interested in science and nerd culture with events where anyone can fit in and even learn a little something, all while enjoying a pint.

“As nerds our nature is generally introverted,” she said. “We may not have the best social skills, but I want people to come out and get to know each other and have fun.”

Nerd Nite is an international non-profit organization that holds monthly events in more than 50 cities around the world. Despite its humble beginnings in a Boston bar in 2003, the events have grown to 15 cities on three continents.

After attending a Nerd Nite event in Toronto, Armstrong took matters into her own hands and began planning something a little closer to home.

“I was going to Toronto all the time for these events as well as other nerd culture celebrations and I started thinking,” she said. “This is the technology capital of Canada and we have such a strong nerd community, why aren’t we doing that here in Kitchener?”

Armstrong launched her Nerd Night in March 2012 at the Rum Runner Pub in downtown Kitchener, becoming the event’s second Canadian chapter.

“It’s just a really great opportunity for people to talk about their passion and make new friends,” she said. “This is a very science rich and academic-focused community and if you can learn something in a pub while drinking and eating chicken wings, who wouldn’t want to do that?”

After a long process of communicating with the inventors of Nerd Nite, based in New York City, Armstrong was able to prove she could make the grade.

“They wanted to make sure I was the right type of person to be a boss and organizer,” she said. “One of the qualifications was that I had to be a curious person, someone who would be able to jump on stage and be organized but also quirky and nerdy.”

According to Armstrong, the true definition of a nerd is someone who has an inordinate amount of knowledge about a subject they’re passionate about. It’s that passion that drives the Nite’s audience members to become presenters, regaling the group with 20-minute lectures on everything from snails to Robocop.

With women making up 50 per cent of Nerd Nite’s monthly audience, Armstrong’s vision of an environment where everyone is respected equally is attracting guys and girls with various interests.

Catherine Williams attended her first event after hearing about Nerd Nite from friends.

“The way they spoke about it and described what the event was like, I knew it would be something I would enjoy,” she said.

Williams said like most areas typically dominated by men, women aren’t always willing to admit their nerdiness.

“Often it means you don’t fit in with other women or even with guys who are nerds,” she said. “But at Nerd Nite most of the speakers have been female so it has provided a great venue for girl nerds to be taken seriously.”

Armstrong’s talents aren’t limited to just one night a month; her resume boasts titles such as co-ordinator of the Southern Ontario Science Fiction Festival and founder and co-ordinator of the Southern Ontario Space Research and Technology festival. She’s also a member of the Royal Canadian Astronomical Society, the Canadian Space Society and the Waterloo Space Society.

Regardless of her leadership in the community, Armstrong said she hasn’t always had an easy time from her male peers.

“The science fiction festival almost didn’t happen,” she said.

While trying to organize the event with clubs in Toronto, Armstrong found most club presidents were interested in more than just sci-fi.

“They’d all ask me if I had a boyfriend,” she said. “I was treated badly to the point there were some clubs I didn’t have participate because I’m creating these events for people to enjoy, not to meet guys.”

Most assumed she wasn’t the one in charge.

“I kept thinking how ridiculous the whole thing was and I was very discouraged, but I was determined to prove myself,” she said.

Ryan Consell is an author, artist and engineering researcher as well as one of Armstrong’s co-hosts for Nerd Nite.

After a chance meeting at a pub, Armstrong invited Consell to a gingerbread house-making party the following day. Instead of making a house, they made an All Terrain Scout Transport from Star Wars and a friendship was born.

Consell said Armstrong is a brilliant leader but often chooses to share the spotlight.

“She likes to push other people into the spotlight while she makes everything happen from behind the scenes,” he said. “She’s excited about everything and is very good at making other people feel appreciated and important.”

Armstrong’s continuing mission is to break down barriers between the scientific community and the public so that everyone can celebrate scientific and technological growth around the region and in Canada.

As a nerd girl, Armstrong said she’s excited about the changes she’s seeing in the community.

“I really think there has been evolution and I’m excited about the future of nerd and geek culture for women and for everyone,” she said. “It’s only going to become more awesome the more girls are involved in it.”

Noting that men should realize that more women getting involved in nerd culture means more events as well as more interesting points of view, Armstrong is proving a woman can be a leader in the nerd community.

“We are the planners, the ones who are going to make things happen and the guys will benefit,” she said. “There are so many events and conventions out there now and with almost all of them there’s a strong female behind it.”

The next Nerd Nite event will take place Wednesday, Jan. 30 at 8 p.m. at The Rum Runner Pub, 1 King St. W., in Kitchener.

For more information on Kitchener-Waterloo Nerd Nite, visit www. http://kw.nerdnite.com or check them out on Facebook at facebook.com/nerdnitekw.