Three College of DuPage Cosmetology students have earned spots at the SkillsUSA national championship in June after taking top prizes at the state competition. This is the third consecutive year COD students earned top scores.
Competing in post-secondary categories, Mandy Hill (Glendale Heights) and Jason Kelly (Lisle) took first in Esthetics and Cosmetology, respectively, while Maria Vasquez (West Chicago) took second in Cosmetology.
The 54th Annual National Leadership and Skills Conference will be held June 25-29. National champs then travel to the world competition in Russia in September 2019.
Cosmetology instructor Melissa Victor said she is thrilled with her students' performance at SkillsUSA, which brings together more than 1,000 career and technical education students to compete hands-on in 100 different trade, technical and leadership fields.
Victor, a trained SkillsUSA coach, worked with high school cosmetology students for 14 years at Technology Center of DuPage before bringing the Skills program to the College.
"There are very few opportunities for post-secondary students to showcase their trade, so bringing this program to COD was a passion of mine," she said. "This competition not only gives students the opportunity to practice their practical, hands-on skills, but they are also learning how to conduct themselves in a business-like setting to prepare for the workplace."
Students go through a rigorous interview process, prepare a resume and master various soft skills to showcase their professionalism leading up to and during the competition, said Cosmetology instructor Jaime Ezra.
"Throughout the year, Melissa and I stress the importance of practicing real-life scenarios that could happen in the workplace," she said. "Since our students work in the salon on campus, they are able to get that hands-on experience and interact with real clients."
For Hill, competing was something she had never done before.
"In a field like cosmetology, many people assume I'm an extrovert, but I'm inherently an introvert," Hill said. "Competing is out of my comfort zone, so I'm glad COD gave me this opportunity. I would have never done this on my own."
Kelly was a comforting team member to compete alongside because this was his second year competing at SkillsUSA.
"The nerves weren't there for me this year," Kelly said. "I knew what to expect going in, so my confidence gave me a leg up from my competitors."
Hill and Kelly are both unique to the COD Cosmetology program because they are both seasoned professionals who decided to come back to school to further their careers. Hill has 11 years' experience in the beauty manufacturing business, but wanted to enhance his practical and technical skills, like cutting hair.
"We are both the odd ones out since we are older than most of the people in our program," he said. "I came into this program with a lot of knowledge about the industry, but what I got out of the program exceeded any expectation I had. Ms. Ezra really built up my confidence."
After graduation, Kelly plans to advance his career in the beauty manufacturing business, while Hill plans on working in a salon or doing freelance work. However, she has recently given more thought to teaching.
"Ms. Victor and Ms. Ezra are both relatable and easy to talk to," she said. "I've learned about all different facets of the industry from them and grown as a professional. More importantly, they have treated me like family. It would be cool to give back, like they do, through teaching."
The Cosmetology program at College of DuPage provides professional-level skills in the field of personal beauty. Students gain knowledge and skills in a broad range of disciplines including aesthetics, business, chemical processes, hair design, nail technology, safety, salon operations and sanitation. Students are eligible to apply for a cosmetology license from the state of Illinois upon successful completion of the program.