Be the Geek

‘Be the Geek,’ another way of saying ‘be the change,’ wins $5,000 campus grant

Computer Lab Manager Nancy Molina, visiting Facebook’s headquarters in January 2017 to see a former UC Davis co-worker, saw a quote on the wall that said, “Be the Nerd.” “A woman had told [Facebook founder] Mark Zuckerberg that she tells her granddaughter to date nerds because they might turn out to be as successful as him,” Nancy explains. “He responded that her granddaughter shouldn’t date the nerd, but should be the nerd.” And his advice inspired the quote.

Later that month, the quote also helped inspire the name for a UC Davis Diversity and Inclusion Innovation proposal, “Be the Geek,” created by this team in Academic Technology Services (left to right, in photo): Paul Ver Wey, Tim Kerbavaz, Nancy, Margaret Merrill and Fernando Socorro. Their proposal won a full $5,000 campus grant.

"Congratulations!" says the email from Brittany Derieg, assistant director in Office of the Vice Chancellor – Student Affairs and Campus Diversity. "This was a highly competitive process, with only 28 percent of proposals awarded." The D&I grants support ideas “that promote and enhance diversity and inclusion at the university,” says the Division of Student Affairs website. The campus is awarding $50,000 in grants, at up to $5,000 per project.

The ATS team’s proposal says the project will “create a multimedia dialogue about diversity and inclusion, and how members of our UC Davis community promote it and live it.” They’ll seek participation from faculty, staff and students, with the work culminating in two exhibits this November: one public, and one for selected participants that will include a videotaped exercise and discussions regarding “the overall topic, and how to apply it to our lives.”

“Everyone had ideas for the project,” says Nancy, who (with Margaret and Fernando) presented the proposal with other D&I grants finalists in March at the ARC. “We just sort of combined them into one event that would combine our skills and technology.”

“Geek” refers to the slang term for technologists.

“I was asked to sit on a diversity committee for my department,” Nancy said at the ARC. “I honestly didn’t know how I could help. Our department has around 100 student employees from diverse backgrounds. I see the fear our political climate has created for them. How could a group of geeks with different technology backgrounds possibly help them feel accepted?

“That’s when I thought, why can’t we be the geek? Be the knowledge that overcomes hate and prejudice.”

“At Facebook, I was incredibly inspired by the effort put out to create a workspace where everyone felt accepted,” Nancy says. “I like the idea and the comment that Mark Zuckerberg had. You are the change. That’s what we’re trying to be.”

Look for updates when the display goes public this fall.