MIT’s Charm School is a sight to behold. Students sit around tables set with plates and wine glasses, laying napkins in their laps, and clusters of young men (and some women) cram around a small mirror, untying and retying bow ties. Charm School students have a variety of classes to choose from and have the option of graduating with a BCh (bachelors in charm), MCh (masters in charm), or even a ChD (doctorate in charm); all graduates will be well-equipped to deal with most common social situations.
Organized by the Student Activities Office, MIT’s 14th annual Charm School was held Friday, Feb. 2, 2007, the last day of the Independent Activities Period. “It’s an all-office effort to get this organized,” said Patrick Raymond, program coordinator in the Student Activities Office. “It’s a lengthy process that really ramps up during IAP.” According to Raymond, the process begins with recruiting volunteers to teach classes and getting keynote speakers for the Charm School’s “commencement.”
The end result? Two floors of the Student Center decked out in silver and blue stars, balloons, and streamers. A tempting spread of vegetable platters, brownies, cookies, and drinks was set up on the third floor, and groups of about 15 or 20 were gathered at the different stations where the classes were being taught.
Emily B. Flores, Public Service Center office manager, taught a class on “How to Build Your Confidence.” While doing a skit with a student volunteer, Flores attempted to show students how not to act if they needed to show confidence. “I’m pretty OK, but Bobby Sue over there, she’s so pretty and smart, she can do so many things at once,” she said, nervously looking down and twirling her hair in her fingers.
After the skit, Flores gave students tips on how to keep their confidence level up. “Count on yourself, reward yourself, and give yourself a pat on the back,” Flores said. “And if you don’t know what to talk to someone about, remember the acronym FORE. That means Family, Occupation, Recreation, and Education.”
Downstairs, Brian Klatt of the Center for Space Research was running another popular class, “Dress for Success.” Looking dapper in a tan blazer, paisley tie, and brown shoes with dark socks, Klatt extolled the virtues of dressing well in a professional setting. “Mechanical engineering is the most formal sect of the engineering professions,” Klatt said. “If you go to a company, you see all these engineers in jeans and t-shirts, and then you start seeing full suits and ties, and you know you’ve gotten to the mechanical engineers.”
Lei Zhang G said that he found the classes enjoyable and informative. “I learned how to tie a bow tie!” he said with a huge grin on his face. He said that he found his new-found ability to tie a bow tie was the most useful, although he also attended “Dress for Success” and “How to Tell Someone Something They’d Rather Not Hear.” “I don’t know when I’ll use it though,” he said. “I would wear just a regular tie for most events.”
Zhang was not the only one learning new skills at Charm School. Corinna Hui ’09 was also taking advantage of the various events. “It’s so embarrassing, but I went to the first date presentation,” Hui said. “It was really good at teaching communication on a first date, how to let them know what to wear or that you’re not interested.”
Overall, Charm School seemed to be an enlightening experience for the students who attended. “If I had to choose events to go to, I would probably go to ‘Table Manners’ or ‘Ballroom Dancing,’” Raymond said. “They’re both practical and impractical, you know?”
The day ended with a commencement ceremony, which included keynote speakers such as Laura A. Stuart, a former sexual health educator at MIT.
“This is a great event,” Hui said. “These are skills that everyone needs that are easy to not learn at MIT. It’s a good time being Charmed!”