Thursday, May 6, 2010 | 4:09 p.m.
Shortly after Sandy Dunham moved to Southern Nevada in the 1970s, she found herself a single mom with two young daughters to support. Daunted, but fiercely determined, Dunham explored her alternatives, which she admits were somewhat limited at the time.
“I’ve always been interested in the beauty industry, and when I moved to Las Vegas I wanted to enroll in beauty school, but I never had that opportunity,” said Dunham, a native of New York. “I was looking in the paper and there was an opening for a receptionist at the Academy of Hair Design and I almost begged for the job, because I really wanted to get into the industry. I thought maybe I could go to school at night.”
That goal did not pan out for Dunham, but she did land the receptionist position, and later took jobs at other local trade schools in admissions, financial aid and administration, broadening her understanding of the management side of education.
Then, in 1981, the owner of AHD asked Dunham to return to the academy as a partner. Dunham bought her out two years later, and became the sole owner of the cosmetology school, which was originally founded in 1970, and is accredited by the National Accrediting Commission of Cosmetology Arts and Sciences.
“I didn’t even think it would be possible,” said Dunham, who now serves as director of AHD. “I was divorced with two young kids and no money whatsoever, and she just made it work for me.”
More than two dozen years later, Dunham still operates AHD with that same spirit of support, arming her students – many of whom are fresh out of high school – with the tools, knowledge and skills they will require for success in the field of cosmetology. Besides technical and practical training, students receive instruction in business and salon management, which has helped many AHD graduates realize their dream of spa/salon ownership. The academy also offers a lifetime placement service.
“There’s always going to be a demand for this industry, because people are always going to want to feel good about themselves,” Dunham said. “There will always jobs for hair dressers, manicurists and aestheticians.”
Among her accomplishments, Dunham and AHD actively supported legislative action and lobbied for AB531 and SB531 in 1995. As a result, cosmetology schools were approved to teach a hair designing-only course, a shorter version of the complete cosmetology curriculum.
“It’s 1,200 hours versus 1,800 hours,” said Dunham, who conducted a statewide survey prior to pushing for the legislation. “That was quite an undertaking, but I wanted to find out how many people were using their entire cosmetology license — hair, nails and skin care — and it turned out that 90 percent were doing hair only. We were one of the first states to have that law, and we had a lot of help from the Nevada State Board of Cosmetology.”
The academy occupies 13,500 square feet, has approximately 175 students, and employs 18 individuals, including both of Dunham’s daughters, one as an instructor, and the other in administration. Dunham’s son-in-law serves as CEO of the family business, and Dunham’s granddaughter sometimes watches over the reception desk.
A women’s advocate, Dunham said some 90 percent of her students are female.
“I think it’s very important for all women to be self-supporting no matter what, and we try to help them achieve that goal,” she said.