Kortney Jenkins' craft of intricate nail art landed her a job immediately out of high school four years ago.
Although guidance counselors and parents usually encourage high school graduates to go straight to college, Ms. Jenkins' skills not only paid the bills but earned her a comfortable living.
Now the graduate of the Aiken County Career and Technology Center hopes to pass her trade along to students who want another outlet in the cosmetology field. In her first semester at the center, part of the Aiken County school system, Ms. Jenkins already has a class enrollment topped out at 20 students, and she hopes to add more classes in the next year.
"My former teacher noticed a majority of her graduates -- about 50 percent -- were doing nails instead of hair," Ms. Jenkins said.
So cosmetology instructor Trina Greenwood asked Ms. Jenkins to join the staff part-time to oversee the start of a nail tech program, which students began applying for last school year. The nail tech course, which could only take about 20 students, received more than 100 applications.
Those chosen quickly learned that painting nails wasn't like playing beauty shop at home. The course requires 450 hours of practice and passage of a board exam to receive a license.
"There's a lot of book work and writing, and we have to learn about diseases that can come from unkept nails," said Ashton Murphy, a Silver Bluff High junior.
Ms. Jenkins said that although students learn proper techniques for manicures and pedicures, the program requires a lot of knowledge of anatomy, chemistry and biology.
"You need to know if someone is diabetic because you don't want to cut their nails too short. And you don't want to massage a pregnant woman too much because it could cause contractions," she said.
Ms. Jenkins also passes along her knowledge of nail design. Nail art brings more clientele and better income, Ms. Jenkins said.
"We start off with simple designs, like lines and dots. I just tell them that the difficult designs is all the simple stuff put together; they can do it," she said.
Students paired up in class for practice in August, and they have been honing their skills the first weekend of each month since then with a public clinic at the career center.
"I encourage my clients to come because while I can't do their nails, they are still getting my quality of work because these girls learn what I know," Ms. Jenkins said.
Ms. Jenkins said a graduate can bring in as much as $32,000 in the first year of work.
"People will pay to get their nails done every two weeks, but they won't get their hair done but maybe once a month or every six weeks. They'll keep coming back."
Reach Julia Sellers at (706) 823-3424 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Aiken County Career and Technology Center hours:
Noon to 2 p.m. Wednesday-Friday
9 a.m. to 2 p.m. first Saturday of each month