• MIT Financial Aid Director Daniel Barkowitz lays out a few fool cards from different decks of tarot cards. Barkowitz teaches two courses during the Independent Activities Period -- one on financial aid and one on tarot.

    Photo / Donna Coveney

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  • Photo / Donna Coveney

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Staffer teaches financial aid -- and tarot

Since he started at MIT in 2002, Financial Aid Director Daniel Barkowitz has used the January Independent Activities Period (IAP) as a time to share his interests -- both professional and personal.

In "Financial Aid 101," which started on Monday, Jan. 9, Barkowitz walks students, staff and faculty through the mysterious and sometimes daunting world of financial aid for school.

Barkowitz shifts gears to teach his other annual IAP offering, "History and Mystery of the Tarot," which started Tuesday, Jan. 10, but is still open.

The tarot is an illustrated deck of 78 picture cards, which are examined for guidance on the future. Each illustration is of an archetype and each archetype means something in the reading. For instance, one of the 78 cards is the fool. Though each deck illustrates the fool in a different way, the meaning -- exploring new possibilities and beginning new journeys -- is universal.

For Barkowitz, a tarot enthusiast who started studying the cards when he was a junior in high school, the opportunity to connect with students, staff and faculty on a more personal level is part of IAP's appeal.

"IAP really gives everyone the chance to get out of the daily rut," Barkowitz said.

Class members are required to bring a deck of tarot cards. Barkowitz recommends the Rider-Waite deck -- a popular learning deck. Each deck is different, which is part of what drew Barkowitz to the tarot in the first place. "It is neat to see how each artist designs the deck," said Barkowitz, who has collected dozens of the decks over the years.

Now in its fourth year, the popular four-session course offers a full history of tarot as well as instruction on how to read and use the cards.

In the first class, Barkowitz discussed tarot's possible origin as a card game. Subsequent classes will be more discussion-driven, he said. The class will explore different artist interpretations of the cards and will learn to use the cards as "fortune telling" devices.

Barkowitz's class attracts between 20 to 30 students a year and is filled with both experienced readers and beginners.

IAP offers Barkowitz a chance to share a personal passion with others and form new relationships, he said. "I see it as a way to have fun with a group of students."

He said it is the relationships he builds and the joy of helping students learn new skills that keeps him coming back to teach each IAP.

"It is a wonderful opportunity," Barkowitz said. "IAP really shows the diversity of what MIT can offer."

The tarot class meets Tuesdays at noon in Room 2-131 through Jan. 31.

Financial Aid 101 has two sessions left: Thursday, Jan. 19, and Monday, Jan. 23, both at noon.

Contact barkowitz@mit.edu for more information on both classes.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on January 25, 2006 (download PDF).

Topics: Education, teaching, academics, Independent Activities Period, Staff


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