Under 30’s membership grew 63% in past decade.

When Ada Brown went to her first Dallas Mensa meeting, she half expected it to be full of slightly awkward geniuses with pocket protectors.  Instead, the former judge found a “lively, articulate cross section of people” she meets for dinner, aspiring author workshops, parties and game nights, says Brown, now an attorney who joined Mensa as an undergrad at Spelman College.


“Honestly, it doesn’t look like a convention out of Revenge of the Nerds,” she says with a laugh. “We do have that, but that’s not all. There’s a little of everything.”

Brown, 34, is part of a growing and increasingly visible younger contingent of Mensa, the 58,000- member “High-IQ Society.”

American Mensa says 42% of new members in 2009-2010 were ages 29-49; in the past decade, membership of people under 30 has grown 63%.

American Mensa, now 50 years old, “is getting up there in age,” says national chair Elissa Rudolph, a Mensan for 35 years. But it aims to get “more people involved and younger people more involved,” she says.

It hopes to attract some with National Mensa Testing Day this Saturday; an estimated 6 million people in the USA (about 1 in 50) could qualify, Mensa says.

To qualify, a person must score in the top 2% of the population on an accepted, standardized test. That score can come from Mensa’s own admission test or one of 200 others, such as the Stanford-Binet, the Miller Analogies Test, the GMAT or the GRE.

What’s in it for members, besides bragging rights?

A network of people with whom to share a wide range of social and intellectual activities, says Rudolph, who joined in 1975 when she was a single mother in Pittsburgh. Andrew Heffernan, 33, a reliability engineer in Albany, N.Y., appreciates the variety of people. “It’s not a professional organization, so we’re not all interested in the same thing,” he says. “Everybody has something new to add.” He was also familiar with Mensa’s “nerd” reputation but put it aside after checking out his local chapter, one of 135 across the country, three years ago.

“It’s not about segregating myself into a highly intelligent group, but learning and trying new things,” he says.

Adds Brown: “You know that the person standing beside you is going to be bright and interesting, even if you don’t share their politics or beliefs. I know I can count on having a lively discussion about something.”

Educating gifted children is of special interest to Mensa, Rudolph says; more than 1,300 members are under 18. In addition to local activities and excursions, there is a national college scholarship program (for members and non-members alike), resources for gifted children, a quarterly online magazine, Fred, and a group for teens.

Alexis Wise, 19, a member since age 14, coordinates that group via text messages, Facebook and other forms of communications, and she helps plan activities for teens at Mensa’s annual national gathering.

Now a sophomore at Yale, she says: “I have the coolest group of friends, and that’s only grown over the years. I’ve learned so much. Not the type of academic learning we’re used to in school, but learning though conversation, interacting.” 

Via USA Today