Written by: Therese Kattner
Colleges and universities need to be intentional about creating leadership opportunities for students who define themselves as geeks, says Ryan McRae, resident director at California State University San Marcos.
A geek, according to McRae, a self-identified geek, is “someone hyperinvolved in an intellectual pursuit” that’s usually not part of mainstream culture. That pursuit often involves keen interest in specific games, movies, television series, or books.
That passion can get in the way of taking on leadership roles during college by keeping geeks from interacting with other students or discovering new interests and facets of themselves, McRae says.
“I’ve witnessed this for years,” he says. “They tend to be very insular.”
Geeks’ role in leadership
Make sure that you don’t pass over geeks when you want to fill leadership roles.
“I think geeks get passed over when it comes to leadership. I think people look at them and say, ‘They’re socially awkward. They’re only into their own thing,’” McRae says. But geeks can “really shine in leadership” when given the opportunity.
It’s often key to define what geeks’ leadership roles entail. “Whenever geeks are playing a game … they want to know what their role is,” McRae says.
Another key is to ask geeks for their feedback and their help improving a program. “At the end of a big program, I’ll ask, ‘What did you like most about this? What else could work?’ because geeks are very good at the strategy part of programming and leadership. They will look and assess what needs help and what doesn’t because when they’re in their games, their movies, that is the constant wheel that is turning.”
Tapping into interests
Another idea is to create groups and activities that tap directly into geeks’ areas of interest. If geeks don’t see any activities of interest to them, they might “delve into their online communities, stay in their rooms, and watch seasons of Buffy or Battlestar Galactica all day,” McRae says. “They can … become afraid to branch out.”
Geeks also might have difficulty engaging in conversations that aren’t about the focus of their passions, McRae says. “They might have some low empathy skills. They might have some low active listening skills. So [it’s important to] help geeks grow and mature in interpersonal relationships.”
McRae has a couple of ideas on how to help. The first idea is to create programming that is about their passions. One successful event for McRae has been a discussion about healthy dating that uses relationships between characters in the Twilight seriesas a starting point.
“Oh, man, this one packs the house, and there are a lot of angry people during this talk, but we have a really good time with it,” he says.
Copyright © 2013 NCSL. All Rights Reserved.