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Carnegie Mellon grad student hoping to be crowned 'King of the Nerds'

| Tuesday, Feb. 4, 2014, 9:00 p.m.
Trae Patton
Katie Correll, 24, of Oakland, is a competitor on the second season of the TBS hit reality show “King of the Nerds.” Her nickname is “The Maniacal Engineer.”

Nerdiness has lost its ... well, nerdiness, says a Carnegie Mellon University graduate student who is seeking to be the world's coolest nerd.

Katie Correll, 24, of Oakland, is a competitor on the second season of the TBS hit reality show “King of the Nerds.” Correll, whose nickname is “The Maniacal Engineer,” competed in the Los Angeles-area “Nerdvana” last summer with 10 other contestants who are vying to be crowed the ultimate nerd.

Hosts and executive producers Robert Carradine and Curtis Armstrong — actors in the “Revenge of the Nerds” film series — lead the intellectual contestants with group and individual challenges. The winner — named on the final “Crowning the King” episode set to air March 13 — will win $100,000.

Correll, who typically leans to the shy side, heard from the show's scouts, who contacted Carnegie Mellon's Entertainment Technology Center in search of a contestant like her — an engineer with both left- and right-brain talents. She says her friends keep her from covering her eyes when she watches episodes of “King of the Nerds,” which airs at 10 p.m. Thursdays on TBS.

“It hasn't really hit me yet,” says Correll, a native of Yardley, Bucks County. She fell in love with Carnegie Mellon when she came to Pittsburgh during her undergraduate years for a robotics internship. “I think it will be real to me if someone who isn't my friend recognizes me from the show. I've been afraid of getting any attention from it. I just usually keep to myself.

“I'm really glad I did the show, though, because I wanted to reach out to young girls and put out that message that science isn't just for the boys,” she says. “It's not un-cool.”

The word “nerd,” Correll says, has become chic and cool, in a way, and describes a smart and passionate person.

“I really just see (nerd) as an adjective,” she says. “It's really not an insult or a derogatory comment.

“You could be nerdy about cooking or fashion or anything,” Correll says. “It's just described as a really strong passion. You care so much about something that you really don't care what people think of it.”

Correll earned her undergraduate degree in mechanical engineering from the Cooper Union in New York City, and is set to graduate in May from Carnegie Mellon with a master of entertainment technology degree.

Correll jokes about her “mad scientist” nature, which combines her passion for engineering with seemingly unlikely partners: puppetry and the arts. She uses engineering techniques to design puppets, which often have intricate mechanisms for movement. Correll's background includes an internship with the Broadway production of “The Addams Family.”

Correll is working on a school project: putting together a play with a humanlike robotic actor.

“What I do is take things I learned in mechanical engineering and apply them to things you don't think of engineering doing,” she says.

Correll's dream is to become an “Imagineer” for Disney, building things like animatronic figures that use engineering and robotics. This semester, she is working as a lab associate with Disney Research.

Kellie B. Gormly is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at kgormly@tribweb.com or 412-320-7824.

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