empire beauty schools, excellence in education, breast cancer, breast cancer awareness, summit salon academy, philanthropy
empire beauty schools, excellence in education, breast cancer, breast cancer awareness, summit salon academy, philanthropy

MODERN SALON's Excellence in Education annual recognition program celebrates leading cosmetology schools, highlighting innovative programs and best practices in eight categories and two divisions (single location and multi-unit schools).The 2015 Excellence in Education honorees were announced October 24 at the American Association of Cosmetology Schools conference in Phoenix, Arizona. Among 38 schools recognized, top honorees were named in each category.

In this Excellence in Education Spotlight series, MODERN SALON connects with each of the top honorees to further explore programs and how schools are collaborating to develop the future of professional beauty.  Here, a closer look at the 2015 top honoree in Community Involvement, single location.

Community at the Core

At Summit Salon Academy in Tacoma, Washington, getting involved with the community is a core value. The school’s community projects are not only unique, but each one holds special meaning to the staff and student body.

The project Summit owner, Michael Shea, is most proud of is his school’s participation in the annual Justice and Soul Fashion SOULstice event. This fashion show is dedicated to raising money to fund operations at a cosmetology school in Cambodia. The school provides sustainable skills to young survivors of sex trafficking.

“The event started here in the Pacific Northwest,” Shea says. “A local salon owner, Matthew Fairfax, started it about five years ago and now lives in Cambodia. Lots of salons participate in the fashion show, but we were the only beauty school. We presented two models, and our students owned it. It’s a great cause—the money raised is funneled into the academy in Cambodia, where they teach young people a trade to get them out of sex slavery.”

At the end of the night, the second-annual event hosted around 550 attendees and raised more than $75,000.


Models styled by Summit Salon Academy students at the Justice and Soul Fashion SOULstice event.

Summit students also get involved with a community-based breast cancer research organization called Wings of Karen. The academy has raised funds through donations from students, staff and the community, but most notably, by participating in the Wings of Karen’s annual 5K walk/run.

“We do a fashion show a month before the walk to build momentum,” Shea says. “Then we all dress up—you have to decorate a bra to wear—and more than 3,500 people from the community participate.”

Shea says one of the reasons they chose Wings of Karen was for the direct results they see in the community.

“About 96 percent of funds go to research,” he says. “The organization is all volunteer driven, so the funding stays in the Northwest and goes to highly targeted research projects.”


Summit Salon Academy at the Wings of Karen’s annual 5K walk/run.

But perhaps the most personal project Summit has taken on is as a sponsor of a Ms. Wheelchair America contestant, who was also a client.

Jenny Lee Adams began coming to the academy as a guest when it opened in 2006. Adams was born with birth defects including no legs and no arm on one side and a short arm on the other side.

About four years ago, a student came to Shea and asked if the school could help sponsor Adams in her quest to be Ms. Wheelchair Washington. The salon sponsored her, and Adams won.

“She qualified to go to Ms. Wheelchair America, so we did some fundraising to help her get to the pageant,” Shea says. “And then one of our students independently paid her own way to the pageant to be Jenny’s stylist.”

Adams has gone on to be a motivational speaker and even written a couple books. And Summit continues to support her Inclusion Revolution platform with fundraising events and services.

“We strongly believe you need to be part the community, and giving back is a vital part of our industry,” Shea says. “Students bring new causes to us all the time, so we know we’re making an impact.”

For other schools who want to get more involved in their communities, Shea advises choosing something meaningful that will resonate with students.

“Breast cancer, domestic violence, sex trafficking, hunger issues—they all have impacts in our collective world,” he says. “Make a difference!”

School Spotlight: Summit Salon Academy

Location: Tacoma, Washington

Owners: Michael and Karen Shea

Established: September 2006

Average enrollment: 105-110

Best student perk: “We combine good technical training with superior business training," Shea says. "We teach a system to our students that was developed by Summit Salon systems, with whom we are closely aligned."

AACS member? Yes; joined in 2009

What is one big idea you've adopted from an AACS event or talking to another AACS member? "We talked to some really interesting vendors at the recent event, including Oozle Media. I feel like they have really unique perspective on the beauty industry."

What are you planning for your school in 2016? “We’ve been on iPads for about 18 months, but we’re in the middle of an initiative to make it even more interactive and a bigger part of the student process. We want to gather better partners and software and apps that will be more impactful so students can use it in their professional lives when they leave the academy."

What schools or educators inspire you? “I have a good friend in Buffalo with a Salon Professional Academy. I spend a lot of time and effort with them. We’re also close to another Summit Academy in Tampa and the whole Summit group itself."

How did you celebrate your Excellence in Education award? "The award was unexpected and very rewarding. We notified the staff and have shared through Facebook. We formally announced to the student body at our monthly all-student gathering,"