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Stylist shifts talents from cuisine to coiffure

Greg Pittman is finishing his course work and practical experience in the cosmetology program at Award Beauty School in Hagerstown. By the end of April, he hopes to be a Maryland-licensed cosmetologist.

Since he began as a student there in May, Pittman, 40, not only has excelled in cosmetology, but has shared his creative talents in other ways.

His previous 23-year career in the food and beverage industry has earned him a reputation with his fellow students and school staff as a great cook, events planner and window-display creator.

School dinners, special events — such as graduation and the grand opening of the new space across the street from the original East Antietam Street location— and holiday decorations have all benefited from Pittman’s special touches.

"It was my chance to show what I could do for people," said Pittman, of Mercersburg, Pa.

He was 16 when he started working as a dishwasher at the Mercersburg Inn, where his mother was a cook. He admits that quitting James Buchanan High School in 11th grade was a bad choice, although he completed the credits required to receive a diploma in 2004. It taught him to value education, he said.

In his early 20s, Pittman worked at different Baltimore hotels before settling in at the Calvert House Restaurant.

"That’s what put me on a better track. My career expanded and a lot of doors opened," Pittman said.

He’d been interested in styling hair, so when a food-related job in Texas came to an end in April 2010, Pittman moved home and decided it was time to make a change.

Pittman is expected to graduate April 11 and hopes to join the 97 percent of Award Beauty School students who pass the state boards the first time they take it.

By the time he completes the Maryland State Board of Cosmetologists examination required for licensure, he will have logged the required 1,500 hours of cosmetology school training. Once they complete 350 hours of instruction, students can work with customers in the salon, under the supervision of a licensed instructor.

As he works with Janet "Miss J.J." Fischer, the beauty school’s state board coordinator, to prepare for testing, Pittman is to begin a master educator’s program at Chambersburg (Pa.) Beauty School.

"There’s really a lot to learn from her," Pittman said.

The additional program will allow Pittman to be a cosmetology instructor, although his first goal is "three years behind the chair." Pittman said he recognizes the need to have "real-world experience" before he can teach others.

He also hopes to finish the course work to earn a degree in hospitality management, which he started online in 2004 through the Arts Institute of Pittsburgh.

"I’m happy with what I’m doing now, to get my state boards and start a career in cosmetology," Pittman said.