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Free and open to all students, Charm School offers 15-minute classes on a variety of subjects about manners and social graces. The first Charm School was held in 1993 and was founded by the late Travis Merritt, dean for undergraduate academic affairs. In its early days, the school included classes on how to walk confidently, and even a class on bathroom etiquette. Since then, the school has become an annual occurrence that marks the end of the Independent Activities Period (IAP), and has expanded from a small, one-day event to a three-day event that has received national media coverage; it was featured on the CBS "Sunday Morning" show in March 2012.
“Charm School is a wonderful community event with a great history,” said Alana Hamlett, assistant director for student activities and the school's organizer. “It is a true collaboration with staff and faculty and alumni from all around the Institute volunteering their time to teach sessions.”
This year’s Charm School featured several days of festivities, including an etiquette dinner on Jan. 30, a reception to commemorate the school's 20th anniversary on Jan. 31, and the actual Charm School on Feb. 1. Dawn Bryan, a spokesperson and consultant on international protocol who has written several books on etiquette, as well as articles for Business Week, Town & Country, Vogue and Glamour, was the school's keynote speaker. Bryan also taught students the subtleties of business and social occasions involving food at the etiquette dinner.
“Everything was made to look and taste so special — the table setting was thoughtfully laid out and the food was delicious,” said Jacqueline Kuo, a freshman who attended the dinner. “[Dawn Bryan] was very informative and I learned a lot of important things that I would never have been able to learn elsewhere. Now I know where to place my napkin if I'm returning to the table and not to doggy-bag food if I'm at a business dinner.”
Select faculty, staff and alumni who had been or are involved in the school were invited to its special 20th-anniversary reception. “We wanted to celebrate the people who have been involved in the program from the beginning,” said Hamlett. “The reception was an intimate setting for people to share their stories about Charm School."
Dean for Student Life Chris Colombo spoke to the reception attendees, as did Larry Bacow '72, MIT's chancellor from 1998 to 2001. Bacow is a former faculty member who spent 24 years at MIT, during which time he was a great supporter of Charm School and helped it grow. After leaving MIT, Bacow served as president of Tufts University for 10 years, and is currently president-in-residence at the Harvard Graduate School of Education.
More than 80 students attended Friday's school, which offered 27 workshops on a variety of topics covering both business and social situations. Students had the opportunity to practice table manners, flirting and social graces, as well as networking, interviewing and making a good first impression. Additionally, students could finger paint their stress away, learn wedding dances and “speed friend” –– an event like speed dating, but for meeting new friends.
“It is fun to meet the diverse set of current students and to point out to them the many different ways that they can remain in touch with the Institute and observe their appreciation for the information imparted to them,” said Jorge Rodriguez ’60, who has taught the Charm School networking class for the past two years.
Upon completion of each class, students receive Charm Credits that can earn them a bachelor’s (B.Ch.), masters (M.Ch.) or doctoral (Ch.D.) degree in Charm.
“Although some of the rules can seem silly, I think it's important to know them for the real world and I'm glad MIT gives us this opportunity to do just that,” said Kuo. “Now, I feel confident that I would have proper etiquette at any dinner!”
After 20 years of teaching MIT students to be charming, the school has established a legacy of success and education. “The beauty of the program is the energy and enthusiasm that everyone brings to the event and its the reason why the program has lasted for so many years,” Hamlett said.