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Once an IAP Tradition, Cham School Fades Away

By Eric Sit

The MIT community will need to search elsewhere to discover charm and grace, as MIT's charm school drops off the list of activities being offered during this year's Independent Activities Period.

Charm School was a fun and lighthearted part of the January term. It provided a fun way for students to ask some serious etiquette questions, polish their social skills, and have a bit of fun. Students could go from booth to booth and earn a charm coupon for each lesson completed - 6 subjects would yield a bachelor's degree, eight a master's, and twelve a PhD in charm.

Former Dean for Undergraduate Academic Affairs Travis R. Merritt founded the school in 1993 because he was tired of hearing the generalization that MITpeople can't function socially. Merritt has since retired and could not be reached for comment.

Lack of resources kill activity

The closing of charm school can be traced at least in part to the many transitional problems created by Reengineering at MIT said Program Administrator of Undergraduate Academic Affairs Marshall Hughes. The office which coordinates IAP has been acutely affected as a result. "We've become so understaffed," he said.

Organizing charm school last year was an overwhelming effort, Hughes said. The understaffed IAP office and the lack of student organizers were main factors in the closing of Charm School, he said.

"If a student had stepped forward and volunteered to organize charm school, then there would be a charm school this year," Marshall said.

Students miss Charm School

Disappointed students were surprised to hear that there would be no charm school this year.

Many students complained that they did not even know that charm school needed a student organizer this year.

"Charm school was a good idea," said Catherine M. Bambenek G. "They taught you things that you don't normally learn in a classroom," she said.

Even Charm School's national reputation failed to earn it a backer. The event was covered by news departments around the world, said Maitreya J. Dunham '99. CNN once did a segment covering the event.

Credit courses encroach

Even though Charm School may have disappeared momentarily, IAP has found a niche in the MITcurriculum, and the MIT community seems to be happy with it, Hughes said. However, its reputation as a time for exploring of extracurricular activities to round out a student's education may be slowly fading.

Since its inception, there has been a steady increase in the number of credit courses offered during IAP.

There has also been concern about the increasing number of of required classes offered only during IAP. Both Mechanical Engineering and Physics require majors to take certain classes that are only offered during IAP.

Hughes agrees with these student concerns. The twelve unit credit limit prevents students from overworking themselves during IAP, he said. It also serves to prevent the faculty from requiring too many credit courses during IAP.

"I would have liked to have seen more humanities classes offered," Marshall said. This would better aid in rounding out an MIT education, he said.

Another significant administrative development of this year was the IAP guide's move to the world wide web, Hughes said. In this form, it is much easier to search for activities and post updates. Current IAP information can be found at

Unique IAPactivities are offered

Students disappointed by the disappearance of the MITCharm School may be able to seek consolation through the many other offerings held during IAP.

The seductively named Flirting 101, which explores the relationships between men and women, will be offered on January 20.

Those interested in learning how to program should consider Crash Course in C - Caffeinated. "It's the entire C programming language in three hours," said Kai-Yuh Hsiao '99. "I know SIPB people who are coming just to watch me speak," he said.

Students looking for intellectual stimulation and salivating for adventure can participate in the institute wide IAPMystery Hunt on January 16. They will compete to find a hidden coin by solving mind-bending paper, audio, video, and Internet puzzles.

The IAPMystery Hunt has traditionally been organized by the winner of the previous year's mystery hunt. This insures very unique and ingenious adventures every year, said organizer Deborah A. Levinson '91.

"It's the longest running IAP event at MIT," Levinson said.

The hunt often involves uncovering MIT trivia, exploring obscure parts of the campus, and not sleeping. More information on the IAPMystery Hunt can be found at

The artistically inclined should be sure to seek the Beginning Glassblowing class. Participants will learn to make beautiful blown objects such as glasses and vases.

Those interested in the mystical and abstract may wish to look towards the course in Palmistry. By studying the lines and markings on the hand, participants will attempt to better understand themselves and others.