Earlier this summer, I went out to dinner with some of our undergrads and some of our faculty. It was a great evening and everyone, students and faculty, had a great time.
At one point during the evening, the talk turned to "who was the biggest high school geek". This is a common icebreaker among techies. The conversation was high-spirited and fun, and I certainly learned a lot about our students as a result.
But it also made me realize one more way in which I don't "fit in", because apparently I was *not* a big geek in high school. At least not by the standards set by this group.
I found that our students (and my colleagues as well) had common high school experiences. Science Olympiad. Math Team. Science Fair. Band (marching, jazz, orchestra). Robotics and engineering competitions. And so on. The students who didn't know each other well previously delighted in their common experiences, and their stories typically triggered "me, too!"'s from around the table. They were in their element. It was refreshing, in a way, because I'm sure that most of them felt like they had to hide that part of themselves from their peers in high school, and now they were among peers who knew of where they came from.
But while this was nice to see, it was also, I admit, a bit uncomfortable for me. Because I was *not* that type of person in high school. I did not have traditionally geeky interests. I don't have the same shared experience with them that my colleagues do. And so while they sat there conversing easily with them about Science Olympiad and the like, I sat there and smiled and felt like a visitor from another planet.
Granted, this was a small group of our majors, and I know that our majors come from all sorts of backgrounds. Perhaps this was a representative sample of our majors; perhaps not. But the experience got me thinking about our majors (and potential majors) that, like me, don't fit the classic "geek" mold. Is this why some of our majors shun department activities and avoid the computer labs? Does this sort of chatter cause some people who are considering majoring in CS to say "no thanks"? How much does "fit" factor in to the decision to major in CS and/or to become involved in the department once deciding to major?
I don't have any answers, but this experience has gotten me thinking, again, about lab culture and department culture, and how I (and we as a department) can make the culture more welcoming for everyone...even the non-geeks among us.