The ‘Cosmo girls’ of Fairbanks

Amber Sandlin / Sun Star Reporter
March 1, 2011

UAF Community and Technical College is currently conducting a review of the pilot program for cosmetology. Seven months into their third year, the new class of 18 students is driven by a passion for the art and community of hairdressing. Due to it being a pilot program, the university is looking at cosmetology to determine whether they are going to continue it in the future.

The program, directed by Tina Christopher, began three years ago. Members of the Fairbanks community asked UAF to start the program due to the lack of training facilities for future cosmetologists. Before, aspiring cosmetologists had to ask licensed beauticians and barbers to accept them as an apprentice for a minimum of two years. Only one apprentice per licensed cosmetologist is allowed.

In order to become a cosmetologist, one must take the State of Alaska Board of Barbers and Hairdressing Exam. Not just anyone can take this exam. One must first complete 1,650 hours of practical and theoretical training. That is approximately 218 days, seven and a half hours a day.

“It’s been a challenge [because] this is not an easy program,” Christopher said, standing in a room filled with busy women affectionately nicknamed “Cosmo girls.”

In the program, the women learn as much about the human body, such as muscles and bones, as the nurses in the nursing program; they must learn anatomy before they are allowed to work in the beauty world. In the classroom, every student is performing some task. Nobody is sitting, all are in uniform.

“This is my community and I love [the community],” said Louise Morris, an instructor at the cosmetology program. “That is why I do it.”

This 13-month program starts in July and ends in August the following year. They hope to change start the program to September, and end in July or August, completing exactly 12 months.

Community is a main drive and passion of these students and instructors. In previous years, they have traveled to Nenana for a day and provided perms and cuts for the local community. The students discovered a girls’ boarding school and proclaimed, “We want to go there!” Tina Christopher said. “So they went, and had a blast!” Helping small cities and towns with no salons has been just a small amount of what the students have done for the community. They have helped in the “Connect homeless connect” program in Pioneer Park, and did a half-time show for the Roller Derby girls, among other things.

“[Cosmetology] isn’t an easy thing, you know,” Christopher said, “You’ve got to be tough as nails.” She told a story of a woman from the Dominican Republic, a janitor and mother of six children. The woman had started off speaking broken English, and by the end of the 13 months, she was determined to take the State of Alaska test in English “She said ‘I’ve already learned this in English, I’m not going to re-learn it in Spanish!’ Now that woman was tough as nails.” Her husband and children had moved their schedules to support their mother in her dream of becoming a “Cosmo girl”.

Mothers who pursue their dreams are common in the beauty industry. Susan Merrill, a 37-year-old wife and mother of four, had dreamed of becoming a cosmetologist since she was in high school. Originally from Colorado, she married young to a man rooted in Alaska. The timing wasn’t right to return to school until now. “It was a family decision,” she said.  “It wasn’t just my husband and I, the whole family agreed.” She hopes to turn her rental home in Salcha into a salon, naming it “Salcha Cuts.”

Most cosmetology students are looking for the freedom to break away from the traditional nine to five standard jobs, to take control of their schedule and work when they want. “Every student that wants a job, gets a job,” Christopher said. Of this program’s alumni, three are now managers of salons around Fairbanks. Last year, every student graduated from the program. Christopher has full confidence that every student this year will graduate as well.

The cosmetology program is difficult to get in to. Out of the 200 prospective students Christopher sees in a year, only 50 will be interviewed and only 18 will be admitted.

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