A catalyst for passion

Scissors snipped about freshly shampooed mannequin heads. Riverside City College students in black uniforms stood by their stations, hard at work, talking softly with their neighbors as they styled. 

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By Samuel Finch / Features Editor

energy (Allison Perez / Photo Editor)

By Samuel Finch / Features Editor

Scissors snipped about freshly shampooed mannequin heads. Riverside City College students in black uniforms stood by their stations, hard at work, talking softly with their neighbors as they styled.

Their instructor, Marsha Brown, assistant professor of Cosmetology, paused to watch and offer guidance to each.

“I love the fact that students are so excited,” Brown said. “They’re excited, they’re energized, they’re energetic. They haven’t been in the industry, so they don’t know what their expectations are at this point, and so helping them prepare to be successful in the industry I think is probably the most exciting, that I can share in developing that aspect of their career. They really energize me.”

Brown, who went through the Instructor Training Program at RCC and was recently tenured as a full-time instructor, switched to teaching after many years working in a salon.

“I was in the industry for about 35 years, working behind the chair, and I just decided that you reach a certain age where you say, ‘I want to try something else. I want to try something different,'” Brown said. “So, having been in the industry for that many years, I thought I’d try the Instructor Training Program. I went through the program here and you have to complete 600 hours before you can get your credential. It was kind of like a career change, but staying within the same educational area.”

RCC’s Cosmetology Program consists of five nine-week sessions, beginning with A and ending with E. Students work through either the daytime program, finishing in a year, or the evening program, finishing in about a year and half.

“When they start with the first level, they will learn basic sanitation and disinfection, they will learn basic hair cutting, they will learn chemical services, the very basics of them,” Brown said. “Then as they progress through each level, those areas are expanded upon. They still have the same courses that they’re going to be taking, subject wise, but they just learn more and more with each level.”

“When they progress to the upper levels, it’s more about building a portfolio, business practices, how to deal with the public, how to keep books, advanced techniques in hair cutting and hairstyling, hair coloring,” Brown continued. “It just gets progressively more involved as they move through the program, but the ultimate goal is for them to be able to pass the state board examination and get their license. That’s what the program is all about.”

In addition to a wide array of practical courses, students study various theoretical subjects, including chemistry and anatomy.

“But it’s all very relevant to what we do,” Brown said. “We’re working on clients and we need to know everything there is to know about the areas we’re working on.”

Brown primarily teaches the second, or B, level students. One such pupil, Kristine Bulkley, spoke of her reasons for joining the program.

“What actually brought me here was that I wanted to do special effect make-up and I wanted to be able to do all of the horror films,” Bulkley said. “I’m in love with zombies! Those were my goals, but after being here, I started to fall in love with hair. I would always do my own hair, but I never really felt like doing other people’s hair, and I never really took into consideration how it could actually be a big part of my life.”

Once she receives her license from the Board of Barbering and Cosmetology, Bulkley hopes to earn a degree in Marketing and return to school for special effects.

“When I’m older, I’d like to have my own business for special effects, hair, and make-up and all that, just an all around, general thing,” she said.

Across the room, Bulkley’s classmate Scott Tracy discussed his time with the program.

“The whole thing’s been an awesome experience,” Tracy said. “I’ve worked harder on this than I’ve ever worked on anything else. It’s been really eye-opening for me to see that I can put in eight hours a day, five days a week. It’s a full time job and I’ve never done anything else like it.”

With such a high level of hard work, Tracy has begun to find his favorite aspects of a career path that has interested him since childhood.

“It’s been really fun to learn hair cutting, just because I excel in it and it’s something I really enjoy,” he said. “It’s a bigger structural change; you can get a lot more visual changes when you actually cut off length.”

The only male student in his class, Tracy’s hopes for the future are much like those of his peers.

“Initially, I’d like to start assisting right away, maybe get into a high-end salon and learn more techniques, learn different coloring styles and different cutting styles,” Tracy said. “Then I want to get onto a cruise ship or maybe a resort and do evening styling, because they also pay you to have fun. There’s just so many opportunities. My ultimate goal is to own my own salon.”

A third B-level student, Alyese McKinney, practiced on her mannequin’s hair as she reflected on how the Cosmetology Program has allowed her to pursue her calling.

“It’s basically a catalyst for my passion,” McKinney said. “I’ve been doing this since I was 12, I’m now 24, so it enables me to keep going. It’s an inspiration for my future. Going to school for four years for psychology and just not being happy, I thought, ‘Gosh, I should do what I really want to do.’ It’s not about the money or anything, it’s really about what I want to do in life. That’s why I’m here.”

Having started at such an early age, McKinney is driven forward by her hands-on experience.

“When I was younger, I would always do my hair and people would ask, ‘Are you going to prom? What are you doing?'” she said. “I would always have my hair done and I would always look presentable. Then everyone wanted me to do their hair. All throughout high school and into college I built a little clientele and that basically got me into at least going to get my license, instead of just doing it on the side without having that professional title.”

Alongside her classmates, McKinney hopes to one day own her salon. In the meantime, she has great expectations for the rest of her time with the program.

“(I hope) that I will remain teachable,” McKinney said. “That I will never get the mind
set that I’ve reached a certain plateau. I’m always going to learn something, even when I get out of here. I’m here to keep learning, learning different styles, colors, whatever it may be, that I will not only have my passion fueled, but I will remain teachable throughout the entire program and when I leave.”

instruction (Allison Perez / Photo Editor)

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