The Enid campus spans several buildings.

The Enid campus spans several buildings.

When we encountered a pile of well-designed entries to our NAILS Magazine Mini-Masterpiece Contest all from one school — Autry Technology Center in Enid, Okla. — we knew we’d stumbled upon a fertile training ground for great nail techs. When we contacted Autry’s Enid campus for more information,  we confirmed that this vocational high school and adult educational facility is a bright spot in U.S. nail education.

“I look for things that relate to the students,” says instructor Tammy Chastain. “The mural contest was a great way for the students to showcase their talent. The contest also created a challenge for the students, which in turn promotes learning.”

Chastain not only gave students the rules for the annual nail art contest, she critiqued their work and offered daily encouragement. “This seemed to go a long way to getting the desired end results,” the teacher and licensed nail tech says. “Working in this industry we all know that we have deadlines to meet, so I gave the students a deadline and we treated it as a real-life situation. I think the bottom line is the students really enjoy a good challenge.”   

Autry students celebrate at the state level of the SkillsUSA competition.

Autry students celebrate at the state level of the SkillsUSA competition.


In addition to encouraging her students to enter a myriad of NAILS Magazine contests, Autry students try out for the SkillsUSA competitions. Autry has had students win at the national level, where they compete against aspiring nail techs from all over the country. “It takes a lot of time, patience, and dedication from both the students and instructor,” Chastain says of SkillsUSA. “It's nothing that happens overnight. I spend a great deal of time helping the students prepare.”

Indeed, Chastain cites the amount of time she spends with the students as a key success factor. “I try to lead by example — my enthusiasm for what I do is reflected in my students and their work. All instructors at Autry Technology Center encourage students both in the classroom and in community services. We have an annual food drive to support a non-profit soup kitchen and participate in numerous other activities supporting the community.”

Students Shelby Johnson and Ariel Lack practice in the nail technology room.

Students Shelby Johnson and Ariel Lack practice in the nail technology room.


Autry Technology Center began serving students in 1967, as one of five original vocational-technical schools in Oklahoma. Autry is part of a nationally acclaimed system of 29 technology centers with 54 campuses statewide. Autry has grown to serve over 10,000 individuals annually by providing programs and services that enhance skill development and job opportunities. The school offers courses in everything from cake decorating to welding to automotive collision repair and, of course, nails. High school students enroll in Autry part-time and in a standard high school part-time to achieve a well-rounded education — while still being fully prepared for entering the trade of their choice after high school graduation.

To garner interest in specific programs of study, Autry offers “Teen Tour Week.” Chastain explains, “Our partner school 8th graders and sophomores take tours of campus each year. This helps students begin to decide on a career path and it promotes our program.” Chastain teach nail art during Autry Teen Tour, and her classes are always full, “mainly from word of mouth,” she says.

Though some states seem to be veering away from vocational high schools currently, Chastain embodies its success firsthand. “Years ago I began my career where my students are now — during high school. I received my license after completing training at a career tech. I’ve been a licensed cosmetologist for 28 years and have taught for 13, with the last seven being at Autry. During my time in the field I managed a salon, managed a school, and worked for myself. I worked as a nail tech and also did hair. I wanted to be an instructor because I felt the need to teach students the skills needed to succeed in the cosmetology field. I love teaching nails and found the need to teach salon-quality nails.”

Students Ty Dutton and Caitlin Olmstead work in the cosmetology room.

Students Ty Dutton and Caitlin Olmstead work in the cosmetology room.


Autry also assists its students with job placement. The school cultivates partnerships with local business and retains a “job developer.” The job developer’s primary role is to help students find local jobs and help local businesses find employees. “It is vital to the success of the program to make sure we are training for what our local business need — both technical and soft skills. We also work closely with our advisory council to make sure those needs are met,” Chastain says. If the results of NAILS Mural Contest are any indicator, Autry is definitely meeting the students’ and the community’s needs.

Fast Facts

Location: Enid, Okla. (+53 other campuses nationwide)
Square Footage: 190,000
Opened: 1967
Number of employees: 2 cosmetology/nail instructors; about 200 employees total
Number of hours required to complete nail course: 600

Editor’s Note: This profile is part of a series spotlighting successful nail programs. To nominate a nail program for an article, please e-mail sree.roy[at]

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