Beyond the Hill

Living the charmed life: MIT offers students non-academic classes to better interpersonal skills

Micah Benson | Art Director

In a generation of emails, tweets and texts, some college students may struggle with the everyday “charm” of making a good first impression, how to tie a bow tie or ease the transition from college campus to the workplace.

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology has expanded its students’ education outside of the classroom with an Independent Activities Period, a four-week, non-curriculum-based term before the spring semester, according to MIT’s website.

For the period, students can choose from more than 700 classes on virtually anything from academic to non-academic, one of them being the Charm School, according to MIT’s website.

As the Charm School celebrates its 20th year of operation, it continues to grow and offer students free classes to develop skills in stress relief, networking and business and dating etiquette.

“With the technology nowadays, everyone is using social media, emails and texts, and forgetting how to interact face-to-face,” said Crystal Eusebio, a graduate intern in the Student Activities Office at MIT. “So seeing that technology is a huge aspect of the campus, the MIT students may or may not know how to make small talk and I believe it is an important skill to have in order to make a connection on a date, or a friend, or for networking purposes.”

Eusebio later said in an email that the IAP is effective because it offers a fun learning experience to students at a time when they have no other commitments. The Charm School is particularly popular because it offers a range of skill sets that cannot be attained in the classroom.

The popularity of the program proves its effectiveness, said Lauren Piontkoski, the area director of Residential Life Programs at MIT. Piontkoski teaches “The Bostonian’s Guide to Slang and American Idioms” at the Charm School.

“I wanted to put this course in Charm School to give students a platform to really dissect the language that they don’t get the opportunity to use every day,” Piontkoski said. “International students only get the English language when spoken to or on sitcoms. This gives them a setting to make friends and have a partner to talk one on one.”

The Charm School’s success can be attributed to its “festive atmosphere” and “humorous and irreverent tone,” according to the school’s website.

“This gives students the chance to organize their own schedule for once,” Piontkoski said. “It also presents a professional development opportunity for the staff.”

The Charm School also focuses on aspects of adult life that can affect work performance, such as stress and dating. A dating etiquette workshop teaches students to transition from flirting to building a strong relationship.

“These classes provide students the opportunity to improve,” Eusebio said. “They learn how to make small talk like they would on the Internet or texting. They learn how to start a conversation and guide a conversation.”

Eusebio is teaching “Fingerpaint Your Stress Away” in order to help students understand where their stress is coming from and how art therapy can help relieve it.

The Charm School continues its “humorous” tone by giving students the opportunity to earn a bachelor’s, master’s or doctoral degree in charm by taking six, eight or 10 courses, respectively.

The Charm School not only gives students unique skills and opportunities to network, but it also gives students an edge, said Alana Hamlett, co-director of the Charm School, in a Jan. 5 article published in The Star Tribune.

“This is one additional tool that will give you an edge,” said Hamlett in the article. “The key to being ahead is having those interpersonal skills and being able to work a room.”


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