Students at City College’s Cosmetology Academy went from working on clients in a busy salon last semester to styling plastic mannequin heads at their homes, but this online semester has given them a chance to learn a new trade on their own terms.
City College esthetician graduate Jennifer Niccoli decided to come back after five years away from school to study cosmetology, taking advantage of her extra time during the pandemic.
She said she jumped at this opportunity “because I have been there before through [the program] and they have just done such a good job and I know that they really, really care about their students.”
Classes were abruptly transitioned from in-person to online in March, challenging instructors and students in the cosmetology department especially because classes are designed to be a hands-on learning experience.
“To go from being able to grab the comb and show them how to hold it, we had to teach, we had to find new ways to reach them,” cosmetology Instructor Sarah Jackson said.
Along with the challenges of finding new ways to teach what was traditionally a hands-on curriculum, there were also technical challenges in adjusting to this new online format.
“For me, it was definitely learning how to navigate Zoom and being on the computer all the time; but I feel like as a whole [department], we really rallied around each other and supported each other,” Jackson said.
“The teachers have just done a fabulous job kind of shifting it into an online course,” Niccoli said. “It’s more one-on-one than when I was in school because I had to be one of 30 some-odd students with one teacher and this way the teacher can pull me up on the screen.”
Taylor Orth, another student currently enrolled in the cosmetology program, said she struggled to adjust while navigating the course online.
“It’s kind of confusing a little bit in a way but the instructors make it really easy for us to understand,” Orth said.
But if it was up to her, she said, she would prefer the traditional in-person instruction for the class.
“I like the environment and the salon setting, so it gives you that experience with customers and clients.”
For the future, she is looking forward to a hybrid option of the cosmetology program because she said she feels like “it’s a lot easier in person.”
City College offers both esthetician and cosmetology programs, which were each approved to go hybrid in the spring.
“So hopefully our COVID numbers stay low enough that we can stay on that track,” Jackson said. Still, students who are not comfortable with in-person classes will have the option to continue online.
Due to the decrease in enrollment during the rise of COVID-19, at least two sections had to be canceled during the second fall session, preventing any additional incoming students from entering the cosmetology program.
“We really are a thriving department and it’s been sad to see our enrollment go down and how much COVID has affected our program,” Jackson said.
“I want to encourage people to know that we’re still doing it, you know, and they’re learning.”