illustration of one head with a speech bubble facing another head with a thought bubble

Calling All Introverts

Course helps students with personal success strategies, professional development skills, and a graduation requirement
LISTEN 06:38
March 28, 2024

Q: What do Audrey Hepburn, Bill Gates, Eleanor Roosevelt, and Mahatma Gandhi have in common? 

A: They’re each extremely successful in their chosen field—and famously introverted.

Guiding introverted students toward their own paths of professional accomplishment is part of why N. Aaron Deskins, professor in the Department of Chemical Engineering, created the class Success for Introverts, offered annually in B-Term since 2021. The course fulfills a wellness and physical education credit, which students need in order to graduate. But it also equips students with important practical skills, a sense of community, and so much more. 

Long mischaracterized as a synonym for shyness, introversion is a basic personality type marked by the need to turn inward to regain energy. Extroverts, on the other hand, get energy from external social interactions. 


headshot of N. Aaron Deskins, who created the course Success for Introverts

Professor N. Aaron Deskins

Almost all of the students who have taken the class have identified somewhere on the introvert end of the personality spectrum, according to Deskins, who says he is also an introvert. “It’s an opportunity for them to realize they’re not alone and that it’s okay to be an introvert.”

Deskins’s co-teacher Kristin Boudreau, professor in the Department of Humanities and Arts, adds, “The goal is for students to learn something about introversion, about the chemistry and biology behind it, and how it shows up in social life and how it can hamper somebody. But we also really want them to understand that there are real strengths to introversion and that it’s another form of diversity.” 

All of that is helpful for introverted students preparing for careers in the modern workplace because often physical office layouts, as well as reward and promotion systems, are designed for those who gravitate toward social interactions and frequent collaboration. 

Before they even get that first job, though, WPI students must navigate the university’s signature group projects, which can prove especially challenging for introverts.

“There’s evidence of people being marginalized on teams because of gender, because of race. It’s also because of personality styles,” says Boudreau, who identifies as an introvert. “Extroverts tend to take control, and if introverts don’t speak for a while, people stop looking to them to speak. Then they get marginalized and feel discouraged, and there’s a cascading effect because the introverts don’t learn—and in turn don’t teach their peers.”

The goal is for students to learn … how [introversion] shows up in social life and how it can hamper somebody. But we also really want them to understand that there are real strengths to introversion and that it’s another form of diversity.
  • Professor Kristin Boudreau
  • Department of Humanities and Arts

Educating others is a big part of what senior Connor Peavey wanted to achieve with his final project for the course last fall. Peavey, a self-identified introvert double majoring in computer science and interactive media and game development, also runs the popular YouTube channel Animated Ginger

For the final project in Success for Introverts, he created a video analyzing the Pokémon franchise’s decision to retire the boisterous original protagonist, Ash Ketchum, and replace him with Liko, a quiet, introverted girl.

“By making a video that I could also post on my channel, I killed two birds with one stone,” Peavey says. “But, actually, it’s a really interesting time in the Pokémon world because the switch to focus on an introverted character has come with a lot of backlash from fans. I realized I could use some of the stuff I learned in this class to not only create content that I was happy with, but also educate people.”


headshot of Kristin Boudreau, who co-teaches Success for Introverts

Professor Kristin Boudreau

Deskins and Boudreau both loved Peavey’s project. 

“It’s such a beautiful piece of argument using evidence, but I also thought it was brilliant the way Connor applied something he learned to something he’s clearly interested in,” Boudreau says. “And because he’s got a YouTube channel and thousands of subscribers, he’s getting our message out in ways that Aaron and I never could.” 

The video was viewed about 30,000 times in the first month after Peavey posted it. “The overall fan response has been very positive,” he says. “A lot of viewers are saying it resonated with them, which makes me really happy to see.”

Peavey was also happy that the course provided him with some practical skills like breathing exercises that he can use during situations he finds stressful. 

Because there are different types of introversion and everyone occupies a unique spot on the introversion-extroversion spectrum, there is no single method that will effectively help every introvert recharge their inner battery. But for many introverts, simply knowing that others are experiencing similar stressors can be helpful. 

That’s the other big part of why Deskins created the course. “With my own experience as an introvert, I know what the uncomfortableness of life can be,” he says. “And when we ask the class, for example, ‘How many of you don’t like to go to parties?’ and most people raise their hands, it’s a sign of solidarity—a sign that, ‘Hey, I’m not weird because I like certain things and don’t like other things.’”