Q&A with Nerd Nite Miami’s Laura Chaibongsai and Melissa Blundell-Osorio

 

laura and melissa

Calling all Miami nerds: Join us for a night of three fun-yet-informative 15 minute presentations across all disciplines at a special edition of Free Community Night: Nerd Nite at PAMM on Thursday, February 1.

It’s no secret that learning is more fun with a drink in hand. Grab a beer during our happy hour on the terrace, sit back, and learn about Florida’s nutty legal system, the Hurricane of 1928, and how humans look to nature to get inspiration for new technology.

We chatted with Nerd Nite Miami co-organizers Laura Chaibongsai and Melissa Blundell-Osorio about how Nerd Nite Miami started, what visitors can expect, and more.

PAMM: How did you both meet and how did Nerd Nite Miami come to be?

Blundell-Osorio: We actually met because of Nerd Nite. I moved to Miami about four and a half years ago from New York. When I was living in New York, I would attend Nerd Nite in the city. When I moved here to Miami, I checked to see if there was one that I could go to, but there wasn’t. So, I reached out to the main Nerd Nite organizer about helping to set one up here in Miami, and then Laura had done the same, and he put the two of us in touch.

Chaibongsai: I got involved because my brother-in-law started Nerd Nite Austin and is the Nerd Nite web manager. He knew that through my real job, I do public science events and I’m the outreach manager at the University of Miami’s marine science school on a program called CARTHE (Consortium for Advanced Research on Transport of Hydrocarbon in the Environment) and through that, I’m used to running these kinds of events. So he said, “You should start a Nerd Nite in Miami.” So just like Melissa, I went to Matt, the big [Nerd Nite] boss in New York, and discussed starting Nerd Nite in Miami and then he introduced me to Melissa. So, the great part about it is that I come from a marine science background and Melissa comes from a psychology background. Because we come from two very different worlds, it really has made Nerd Nite Miami very special.

Blundell-Osorio: My background is more psychology. So, it’s nice because we are pulling from different circles when we are looking for speakers. Our Nerd Nites, I think, are pretty well-rounded in terms of topics. There’s a little bit of everything, which I think makes it interesting and brings in more people because there are people who come every month because they love the event and they like the atmosphere and interacting with people there. And then there are people that come because there are certain topics that draw them in. But then, since they do three topics at every Nerd Nite, they also get to learn about two other subjects that they might not have been initially attracted to. So I think that’s something that I really enjoy about our event.

How do you curate the speakers?

Blundell-Osorio: When we started, there was definitely more reaching out to our friends and being like, “Hey, do you wanna present at Nerd Nite?” Now, we do get a lot of people who come to us because they’re interested in speaking. We’re actually booked a few months out, which we love. We love that people are excited to present and share what they’re nerdy about with an audience. Sometimes, we still reach out to our friends because we know people who are smart and interesting, and we believe they will do a good job. But, we do have a lot of people reaching out to us now to present.

Talk to us a little bit about the current Nerd Nite lineup that’s presenting at PAMM.

Chaibongsai: One of them is Dani Washington who I have known for many years, since she was an undergrad actually. She has such an amazing personality! She’s just fun to be around. She’s smart, entertaining, and a great presenter. She’s a TV host, so she’s use to speaking in front of small groups, large groups, thousands of people. She’s going to talk about how humans look to nature to get inspiration for new technology, and it’s a neat topic. She’s a new Nerd Nite speaker, she hasn’t presented before at Nerd Nite but, I know her and I know she’s amazing.

Ta-Shana Taylor is a veteran Nerd Nite speaker. I believe this will be her third. She knows all about Nerd Nite. She was super supportive of Nerd Nite Miami in the very beginning, and she has a really interesting background. She teaches geology at the University of Miami, but she also leads Outdoor Afro hiking expeditions. She used to work at the science museum doing minority leadership and educational programming, so she’s got a really interesting background and she knows Nerd Nite really well. She’s speaking about the Hurricane of 1928, which doesn’t seem like a really happy topic, but I have no doubt that she’s going to make it very entertaining nonetheless.

Blundell-Osorio: Sara is a very good friend of mine. This is her second time presenting at Nerd Nite. She’s a public defender and a community organizer. She’s presenting on the nuttiness of Florida’s legal system. [She’ll talk about] strange laws, laws and sentences that don’t make sense, just kind of the absurdity of Florida’s legal system.

For those who have never been to Nerd Nite, what can one expect?

Chaibongsai: Nerd Nite is like TED Talks with beer or Discovery Channel with beer. They can come and expect to listen to three informative-yet-entertaining presentations. They’re going to come away with having learned something new and interesting, and also having had a good time. Part of what we say in the introduction when we’re starting off Nerd Nite is that the drinking is just as important as learning because they go so well together. It’s always encouraged that people have a beverage and enjoy it. When they come to these events, it’s a really great mix of a social event where they can hang out with like-minded people, and also, be intellectually stimulated, so they learn something new and interesting while they’re having a good time.

What does it mean to you both to have Nerd Nite at PAMM?

Chaibongsai: The regular Nerd Nites are the second Thursday of every month at Gramps. We feel it’s really important to be a consistent presence. Hopefully people have it on their schedule and they know once a month they go to Gramps and they attend Nerd Nite. But, we also feel it’s really important to reach new audiences. By going to PAMM, we are introduced to [the museum’s] regular attendees who go to the museum’s evening events as well and introduce them to Nerd Nite, and hopefully vice versa. [We want to] bring our regular Nerd Nite audience out of Wynwood and bring them to PAMM and show them the beautiful museum, and hopefully they’ll come earlier and participate in the actual museum and the art. Just being outside with the beautiful setting, learning, and having a drink, it’s just an experience. It was really, really a great night last year and we’re excited to go back.

Blundell-Osorio: I also think there’s something there about bridging the two cultural communities in Miami. Which I think PAMM is definitely a hub for a lot of great activities in the city, and there’s a lot happening in Wynwood. To be able to join the two for an event and bring this event that’s very much part of Wynwood into PAMM, for me, is also a really fun aspect of it. Nerd Nite is not specifically about art, but it fits in with what PAMM is doing and what PAMM is offering, I think it’s really cool for an art museum.

Any advice for those looking to start Nerd Nite in their cities?

Chaibongsai: I think every town should have a Nerd Nite.

Blundell-Osorio: You know what’s interesting actually, Florida is doing very well in terms of number of Nerd Nites.

Chaibongsai: That’s just what I was about to say! Right before us, Nerd Nite Orlando started, and then last year Nerd Nite Ft. Lauderdale, Nerd Nite Vero Beach, and Nerd Nite St. Petersburg. They’re starting to pop-up throughout Florida and across the world. Anyone can start one, just like Melissa and I did. For someone who wants to start a Nerd Nite, just contact the big boss and make it happen.

Check out our interview with Nerd Nite speakers Ta-Shana Taylor and Sara Yousuf.

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