It’s happened to many of us: We sit down at a fancy table to enjoy an even fancier dinner and find there are what seems like 50 different forks lying in front of us. All eyes seem to be glaring intently into our very beings, trying to gauge how badly we’ll mess up when we grab the fork we hope will be the right one for this amazing soup. Then we ask ourselves, “Why are we using a fork for the soup?”
These are the kinds of situations that can really come back to bite, especially at formal events. And it’s the reason why MIT Charm School has been a longstanding offering during the Independent Activities Period.
Founded in 1993 by the late Travis Merritt, Charm School aims to help students understand what it means to "act professionally," and to better prepare them for a future of networking and business attire.
“We want to make sure that when students leave campus they are as well rounded as possible,” says Joel Pettigrew, program coordinator for the Student Activities Office. “We’re giving them top academic learning, opportunities to get involved, and chances to lead organizations on campus. Charm School gives them the tools that any adult can utilize in the future.”
This year's classes were taught mostly by MIT professors and employees, focusing on teachable skills such as table manners, interviewing skills, and even dating. And while the format has, for the most part, stayed the same over the past few years, this year's iteration was spread out over the course of a week rather than a single day.
“This year we wanted to go with quick hits throughout the week,” Pettigrew says. “Changing it to shorter events throughout the week, instead of a one day multi-hour event that students didn’t want to commit to. Then we finished up the week with our ‘Charm School Finale’ in Lobdell. We held mini-sessions on how to tie a bowtie, how to give a handshake, drinking etiquette, how to dress, marketing, and more.”
A number of Charm School events address social interactions that may be challenging to nagvigate. To better support attendees with different personalities, this year a networking class was scheduled in two sections, one for extroverts and one for introverts.
“I think that networking — and being good at it — is often seen as a skill that only extroverts are good at,” said Leah Flynn Gallant, director for student leadership and engagement and leader for the Extroverted Networking class. “This might intimidate those who are introverted and/or more reserved. We wanted to make sure that both types of folks realize that they can be good at networking, regardless if they are shy, but they can also help each other out navigating the ‘small talk.’”
This winter's unrelenting snowstorms did a number on the scheduling of Charm School events. In fact, the networking event mentioned above will be rescheduled for later this month; those interested should monitor the Charm School schedule for updates.