Etiquette, Flirting, and Clothes Take The Spotlight at IAP Charm School

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Partners line up to practice their technique during ballroom dance lessons at MIT’s 16th Annual Charm School on Jan. 30. Other events on Friday included a library etiquette class and a discussion on table manners.
Vibin Kundukulam—The Tech

Is it possible to earn a degree from MIT in a single afternoon? On Friday, close to 100 students, faculty, and alumni did just that during the 16th annual Charm School, held at the Stratton Student Center. And unlike MIT’s School of Engineering, Charm School boasted an admissions acceptance rate of 100 percent.

Charm School’s 20 classes covered topics ranging from “Flirting 101” to “How to Engineer Your Workout” and “Ballroom Dancing.”

The school marked its class-changing times the old fashioned way: Assistant Dean of Student Activities Jed Wartman rang a rusty bell atop the second floor stairwell.

Jeffrey Quinlan, friend of Stever Robbins ’86, taught a class called “How to Throw a Party” in the Coffeehouse Lounge. There, students learned how to be successful hosts, make conversation, and organize parties. Quinlan also offered tips on how to stay socially engaged at a party: “In order to keep any conversation going,” he advised, “just repeat the last two words someone says to you in the form of a question.” When making small-talk, Quinlan outlined allowed and forbidden conversation topics: while current events, the weather, and hobbies are all allowed, potentially controversial topics like religion are forbidden.

Just across the way, William Hecht ’61 taught a class on bow-tie tying and suspender selection. Dressed in a perfectly tied seashell bow-tie and brightly colored floral suspenders, Hecht has been teaching the class every year since Charm School was established in 1993. He explained how Charm School was first held in Lobby 7, and the attendance of classes was exclusively determined by the number students who passed through the building. As a proud graduate of the School, Hecht is impressed with how it has evolved over the years.

Upon completion of a class, students received Charm Credits, which advanced them toward Charm degrees. To earn a bachelor’s (B.Ch.), masters (M.Ch.), or doctoral (Ch.D.) degree, students needed to receive six, eight, or twelve credits, respectively. Charm School also offered a leadership concentration, which was awarded to students who completed four of eight designated courses.

At 4 p.m., classes ended and commencement commenced. Unlike in previous years, degrees were not handed out at commencement. Instead, they were allocated through the Charm School website, where students could print their certificates.

To celebrate commencement, students filled Lobdell to enjoy music, free food, and an unexpected speaker: Christopher Follett ’07, who competed in season five of the Beauty and the Geek reality television show. In his commencement speech, Follett reflected on his experience and described a few situations in which he needed to use charm to advance toward the $250,000 prize. Follett did not win the competition, but he was happy to talk about his experience on the show. He said that he once explained tectonic plate theory using a hard-boiled egg.

Other classes offered at this year’s Charm School included “Flirting 101,” “How to Engineer your Workout,” “Buttering up big shots,” “Formalities,” “Overcoming shyness,” and “Ballroom Dancing.” Last year, approximately 800 students, faculty, and staff attended Charm School.

Prior to Friday’s classes, the organizers of Charm School held several other IAP workshops, including one called “Dress for Success” that took place in the J.Crew store at the Cambridgeside Galleria. Assistant director of the Student Activites Office and director of Charm School Paul Spangle said that he was happy to learn that brightly colored socks are fashionably appropriate. “I always get comments about my bright socks when I am working in my office,” said Spangle.