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The Best Way to an MIT Degree? Major in Charm

By Ricarose Roque


When it comes time to leave MIT, you can flaunt your brass rat to the outside world, impress them with your knowledge, and shock them with your masochistic work ethic. But do you have what it takes to master the intricacies of social etiquette and charm?

From flirting and table manners to waltzing, Charm School opened its doors last Friday, filling the Student Center with soothing jazz while educating the nerdy masses of the MIT community in the dos and don’ts of social interaction, networking, etiquette, and even dating.

In its tenth year, Charm School featured over 30 classes with 50 volunteers consisting of faculty, staff, and students.

While polishing social skills, students earned one “credit” for each class and redeemed those credits later in the day. Six credits were needed for a “bachelor’s degree,” eight for a master’s, and 12 for a “PhD in Charm.”

“Charm school is something an MIT student must accomplish before they graduate,” joked Rebecca Deng ’03, who earned her PhD in charm.

School covers every detail

Charm School offered a variety of classes, covering every possible detail, teaching students how to accessorize and dress, even offering a “conversational formula” in the class “How to Tell Somebody Something They’d Rather Not Hear.”

“I think these classes are a public service,” said Residential Life Associate Anthony E. Gray PhD ’01, who taught the Joke Telling class. “There are a lot of bad joke tellers out there in the world.”

Besides maintaining Charm School’s spirit of fun, comprehensive classes were offered in networking, interviewing, and schmoozing to “big shots.”

“I think it’s wonderful that students here are working on their social graces,” said Thomas E. Stephenson, a technical instructor who teaches the “How to Work a Room” class in Charm School. “I’ve gone to several conferences and I’ve noticed that not all the people there really knew how to work a room, especially the engineers,” he said.

Charm School also sought to polish the rhythm and beat of students, as the MIT Ballroom Dance Team volunteered its talents and offered lessons in swing, waltz, merengue, foxtrot and rumba.

“The waltz was so much fun. Now I’m really interested in doing more dance,” said Emily P. Wang ’06, who took both the waltz and foxtrot classes.

Students master art of etiquette

Etiquette classes were not limited to the usual class in table manners and formality, but also covered the fine points of cell phone and PowerPoint etiquette. With Valentine’s Day inching closer and closer, the dating etiquette class received much attention.

“It was very interesting and helpful,” said Chip Vaughan G. “It was nice to get some of the girls’ opinions on dating.”

The class covered the sensitive issues of dating such as who should take the check, where to go on the first date, what not to talk about over dinner, and whether or not you should give that first date kiss.

“It really depends,” said Lincoln Lab staff member Ryan Parks. “All in all, its really important to be yourself.”

“You could tell that the class was mostly geared towards guys,” said Sasha R. Manoosingh ’03, who offered her own suggestions during the class. “It helps the guys a lot, especially the clueless ones.”

Fashion show bigger than ever

After a long day of classes, Charm School took over Lobdell Food Court for its Fashionably Loud Fashion Show, complete with a catwalk, DJ, and clothes donated from the Coop, Tello’s, Keezer’s, and Jacob. Katie Clapp of the Campus Activities Complex, one of the fashion show coordinators, also featured her handmade handbags in the show.

The show had 14 student models strutting across the catwalk in a variety of ensembles, including business, casual, and eveningwear.

“It’s weird to see people you know in a completely different context,” said Elvio A. Sadun ’05.

Commencement followed the fashion show, with the graduation address given by “Dean of Charm” Larry G. Benedict.

“Charm school is very helpful to the students here,” Benedict said. “It offers everyday kind of advice.”

Charm School an MIT tradition

Founded a decade ago by Professor of Literature Travis R. Merritt, Charm School has become an MIT tradition, promising a lasting future in the community.

“Charm School teaches the community important lessons that everyone needs to know,” said Linda D. Noel, a Charm School co-coordinator. “It’s also a fun way for faculty and staff to interact with students in a way that they may not normally get to interact with them.”

Charm School has also received much outside attention.

“High schools have called us, telling us that they want to start their own charm schools,” Noel said. “Our Charm School has also inspired other universities.”

“When some people find out that I work at MIT, they immediately ask me if I’ve ever attended Charm School,” said Thomas E. Robinson. “It’s funny to tell them that I actually organize it.”