Jen Westley, Cosmetology 2001

Like many students who gravitate toward Career Technical Education, Jen Westley wanted to hit the ground running after high school. Westley’s challenge was that she didn’t know what she wanted to do.

“I was looking for something different,” says the 2001 Prairie High School graduate.

When she saw a poster at her high school’s career center about the Cascadia Tech Cosmetology program (then called Phagan’s Beauty School), it just clicked.

“My aunt and cousin were hairstylists, and I was already doing hair at home. I thought, ‘I could do that.’ It gave me a direction,” recalls Westley.

Westley enrolled in the program, which was located at the Phagan’s Beauty School site off Fourth Plain at the time, and she committed herself to her chosen career 100 percent. She would attend classes at Prairie in the morning, go to Cascadia Tech in the afternoons and then work as a receptionist at a salon until 9 p.m. each night. She earned all the hours needed to test for her state cosmetology license at Cascadia Tech, and once she received her license, she moved up as a stylist at that same salon.

Westley was not content to just cut and style hair all day, however. She had developed a lifelong love of learning and wanted to be able to offer more advanced services to her clients.

“It’s hard to get advanced training at a salon,” she explains. “I learned really fast that if you want advanced training, you have to work for the training company.”

Westley pursued those advanced trainings and worked in a station at Hockinson Hair 4 All to be closer to home. When she was just 22, she took out a business loan and partnered with the owner of Hockinson Hair 4 All to move the salon down the street and expand it.

Five years ago, Westley bought out her co-owner, changed the salon’s name to Platinum Inc and remodeled it. She and her staff of three specialize in advanced cosmetology techniques like hair and eyelash extensions and permanent makeup, in addition to the traditional salon offerings. They keep their skills sharp by inviting manufacturers to hold trainings on new products and by learning from each other. All of the stylists at Platinum Inc are encouraged to teach a class to the others once a month on a particular technique or skill of their choice.

“I don’t think anyone should stop learning,” says Westley, “and we can learn so much from each other.”

Now Westley is starting an apprenticeship program at the salon, and she plans to partner with Cascadia Tech to find recent graduates who are eager to gain additional salon work experience and learn advanced skills.

Since she graduated, the Cascadia Tech cosmetology program has moved into a new building on the Cascadia Tech campus, but it continues to run a salon that is open to the public. Westley believes it is crucial for potential stylists to get that kind of hands-on training as early as possible—to learn that working in a salon is not just about the skills to cut hair, but that everyone has to take a turn running the cash register, folding towels and cleaning up too.

“The [Cascadia Tech] cosmetology program is so valuable because it is run like a salon,” says Westley. “It’s also a great opportunity to find out if that’s what you want to do without incurring student debt. It opens up opportunities for people who can’t afford a tech school.”