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Myrtle Beach hair design college owner focuses on holistic beauty education

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MYRTLE BEACH — Nancy Poole still hears the echo of her mother telling her to always try to make a difference, no matter how small of a difference it is — and she takes that to heart every day.

Her mother died of breast cancer when Poole was 14, but she lives on through Poole with this ideal.

One of the main ways Poole focuses on making that difference is through her work at Strand College of Hair Design. When she opened the college in 1993, her first class had six students, and she taught cosmetology during the day and esthetics at night.

Now, nearly 28 years later, Poole has more than 60 students and the college offers cosmetology, esthetics, massage therapy and teacher training classes. Poole’s focus over the last couple decades of teaching has always been on building a stronger educational foundation, and making sure her students can do more than just pass the state board exam.

“I am not saying there's not a lot of good schools around because there are, but (it) was not, at that time, educational geared,” Poole said. “There was very little strong foundation in education and theory in the science of hair, skin and nails.”

Poole teaches advanced beauty classes three days a week while continuing to manage the college, which involves taking care of the business and social media sides of the school as well. She answers tens of hundreds of emails a day, she said, and is always making new goals for herself to improve the quality of the education she gives her students.

This amount of responsibility takes a lot, and she often takes the job home with her, physically and mentally. She finds solace, though, not only in her strong faith in God, but in knowing she is setting her students up for ultimate, well-rounded success that goes beyond technical abilities.

This, she believes, is what sets her apart from other schools: her approach to the beauty industry as a whole, including the business aspect.

“They can be the best creative person in the world, but if they don't know how to run their business, they don't know how to work with their clients, they don't know how to pay their bills, they don't know how to order properly and not understock or overstock, and be able to do their home expenses, plus what they can do to run that business, the business is gonna fail,” Poole said.

Ashley Bonass, a 2014 alumna of Strand College of Hair Design, came back to teach at the college in 2017. She returned to teach after a few years working in a spa because she wanted to do what Poole had done for her: motivate and share her knowledge with young professionals.

Bonass is also inspired by Poole being a fellow female instructor. She empathizes with the struggles of being a business woman, and respects how Poole carries herself and the college.

“She's very passionate about it, she's devoted her whole life to this industry and she's always open to continuing to educate me,” Bonass said. “I always go to her for advice on what to do in the classroom or what to do if I have an issue with a student, and she's very devoted to business and it's helped me become the instructor that I am today.”

Education is one of the things Poole values most in life, no matter the subject matter. She always knew she wanted to go into education as a career, but she never thought it’d be in cosmetology.

During the first years of the Strand College, Poole was attending Charleston School of Law, commuting back and forth while also building her own business. Though she could have continued on with her law degree, she ultimately decided to drop it after a year and a half and focus solely on the college.

Though this decision was not an easy one for Poole, she knew it was the right one because of the difference she was able to see she was making with students at the college.

“The thing that really kept me in it and continues to keep me in it is to see a student have the lightbulb moment, the moment where something truly connects with them and they understand something and they see that what they're doing is progressing positively,” Poole said. “It really is something that can change your life, because when they connect all that together, and they experience a good moment with a client, they made this person look better (and) feel better all at the same time, it is a great feeling.”

Poole’s dedication to education does not stop in the classroom either. Each year, she gives her students the opportunity to travel to large conventions to compete, meet others in the industry and build connections for future jobs or other opportunities. Strand College does fundraisers to reduce the cost for students to attend these conventions, and Poole loves being able to offer her students that extra step toward their career.

“It gives them that opportunity to see (others) in action, to see the potential of what their career could do, as well as compete against other people from all over the United States,” Poole said. “That can not only inspire the students that have gone with me through the years, but encourage them with their own abilities to step out of the box, and become the best that they can.”

In an already all-consuming, lifestyle-oriented job, Poole was uncertain how the beauty industry would adapt to COVID-19. Learning how to use chemicals to dye hair and teaching massage therapy are not things she thought would be easily accessible through a webcam.

She cites her strong faith as something that has helped keep her afloat while adjusting her curriculum to COVID-19. It is by the grace of God, she said, that she has been able to continue providing classes online and in-person, and she was pleasantly surprised with how well online formatting for classes worked.

“I had to keep students safe, I had to keep my staff safe, and I still do every single day. But at the same time, I felt I needed to keep education going and not just stop classes, and not stop people from going towards their goals for their futures in their careers,” Poole said.

Looking at what goals she has for the college going forward, Poole would love to focus more on teaching classes to foster the next generation of beauty industry educators. Though she knows the impact she has been able to make on her students, she wants to further that impact to branch into students who will be learning from her former students, and so forth.

“I really want to see me professionally moving more in the direction of working with instructors to help them become the best educators that they can be, and be more available for all students instead of just in the classroom with one particular group,” Poole said.

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Follow Demi Lawrence on Twitter @DemiNLawrence.

Demi Lawrence reports on Georgetown County for The Post and Courier. She graduated from Ball State University in 2020, and previously was an intern at The Herald Bulletin in Anderson, Indiana and Indianapolis Monthly.