H. Gray Underwood founded beauty school to help at-risk students
H. Gray Underwood has an open-door policy. The students at his cosmetology school have just as much access to his office as they do to a flat iron (for hair straightening). Underwood is the founder and executive director of The Cut Beauty School, on Cedar Road in Cleveland Heights. Students regularly go in and out of Underwood’s office to discuss everything from their academic progress to their weekend plans.
Underwood grew up cutting hair and soon discovered that he enjoyed doing women’s hair more than men’s. After getting his cosmetology license, he opened his own salon. The shop did not stay open very long, and he began working for Gillette promoting the company’s products and teaching cosmetologists how to use them. While working for Gillette, Underwood wrote Hair Cutting Simplified. But he soon discovered that the people who were making the most money, and the biggest difference in the industry, were those who owned beauty schools.
In 1995, Underwood opened The Cut Beauty School. Cut isn’t an easy requirement trade school. Applicants must have a high school diploma or GED; apply for financial aid, if needed; pass a personal interview; and fulfill a laundry list of other requirements.
The program is designed as a 12-month, 1,500-hour course of study, which is more than the average 900-clock-hour school year at most universities. Students are graded on both the hands-on portion of the program and written exams. Evaluations occur at the 450-hour mark of each student’s school year. At any given time, some students will have more hours than others.
Underwood once was where his students are today. Eighty percent of his students are considered at-risk youth. Underwood opened The Cut Beauty School because he remembered growing up feeling that his future prospects were dim. Cosmetology took away those negative feelings and he hopes it gives his students the same hopes and aspirations that it gave him.
Christina Sanders is a senior at Cleveland State University and a FutureHeights intern.