New hair care program flourishes amid COVID-19, Wilson prepares for grand opening

student standing over mannequin styling its hairMia Wilson stood at her kitchen table on a Tuesday evening in April with her mannequin in one hand and her laptop in the other. She was connecting to a Zoom call with her two instructors and nine classmates to practice hair care techniques in their new virtual classroom.

Wilson, 31, had always wanted to work in a salon environment, she said, so COVID-19 made the experience more challenging, but she and her classmates were determined.

“Some nights we would all be on a Zoom call together, other nights we were recording videos of ourselves washing hair for a homework assignment,” she said.

Wilson enrolled in Durham Tech’s Natural Hair Care Specialist course, which launched in January 2020, and had to adapt to the new normal of online learning in the wake of COVID-19.

“Our instructors really pushed us and we encouraged each other along the way. It was like a family. We all stuck through and no one dropped out, despite the challenges,” Wilson said. “I was determined to finish the class because I wanted to do hair so much.”

The new course started in January with 10 students and ended in July with the same. By August, nine students had already passed the North Carolina Board of Cosmetic Arts written exam with a final result pending and practical exam scores being posted.

“COVID presented many challenges. Students were growing weary toward the end of May, but everyone persevered,” said Maria Steele, Director of Cosmetology. “They were able to see past their circumstance and reach their goal – all during a pandemic.”

Steele said most of her students who become Natural Hair Care Specialists also want to be small business owners.

“I think COVID has affected so many large businesses, that people want to start working for themselves,” Steele said. “Becoming a Natural Hair Care Specialist allows them to be entrepreneurs.”

This also was Wilson’s goal.

After earning her diploma in the Adult High School program at Durham Tech in December 2019, she received a $1,200 scholarship and enrolled in the Natural Hair Care Specialist course.

“This class was one of the best experiences ever. It opened so many doors for me. I didn’t realize how big it would be,” Wilson said. “Ms. Steele told us that we could make a lot of money and ever since she’s been in this industry she’s never been unhappy. I took that and ran with it. Even though there’s a pandemic, this has turned out to be one of the best years of my life.”

Wilson’s entrepreneurial spirit was most evident after she passed her NC state board exams.

“The day after I took my exams, I registered for my LLC. That same night I started looking for a salon to rent on Craigslist,” Wilson said. “The day after that I met with the owner of a building on Guess Road that rented out single salon suites. By August 4, the salon suite was mine and on August 19 my LLC was approved.”

She has a clientele list ready to go and is planning a grand opening in September.

Natural Hair Care Specialist is a 300-hour course designed to teach students how to care for natural hair without the use of chemicals and hair color. The style techniques include braiding, twisting, wrapping, extending, and locking natural hair. The second cohort started July 6 with 13 students – the current maximum due to COVID.

“I’ll take everything I learned at Durham Tech into my new business,” Wilson said. “They taught me exactly how a salon should be run.”

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