With only a few days left to apply for the Leo Passage Runway/Editorial Scholarship, we wanted to share Alaska Gaxiola‘s story. Despite fleeing Hurricane Irma, she still took the time to answer our questions! We were thrilled to hear that she was okay, and we are happy to tell you about her experience last year when she won the Leo Passage scholarship. This year’s winners can expect a similarly amazing experience. The scholarship is valued at $7500 and includes an all-expense paid, five-night, six-day trip to America’s Beauty Show (ABS) in Chicago next spring.

BCL: When did you decide to become a hairstylist?

AG: I’ve always wanted to be a stylist. It took me a while to actually take the plunge and enroll in beauty school but when I did, I excelled! I took every opportunity to learn, every opportunity to create fashion shows, any opportunity to expand my portfolio. It was the best decision I’ve ever made, I never felt more complete!

BCL: What kept you from enrolling in beauty school?

What kept me from enrolling was outside influences, I was younger and everyone would tell me how being a hairdresser wasn’t a successful career. It wasn’t until I put my foot down, stood my ground and enrolled that I was genuinely happy! Everything everyone was feeding me went out the window. I was able to express myself, and make people’s faces light up and keep coming back. Since I enrolled in beauty school until now that I’ve graduated, I have been apart of a lot of things that I’m proud of and can tell anyone who’s in school now or who has doubts to keep having that drive and trust yourself. If it wasn’t for me following my dreams I would have never had the chance to go to Chicago and work in the Pivot Point Studio and create a look for ABS, or be a part of all the local fashion shows in Oregon and even be a hair model for Trend Vision 2015! There are so many opportunities that I am forever grateful for by just taking one step in the right direction.

BCL: What was it like working with the Pivot Point team?

AG: Pivot Point was the best crew to work with, they really took care of us and enlightened us with all the creative tips. I learned so much in that one week we were with them, they showed us how to make a mood board, what to look for when picking a model to represent your work, how to pin-point the exact feeling or inspiration to match each of our looks, but still be original and have our own touch. They taught us techniques for cuts and color placement. They gave us certain words to play off of and gave us the chance to express ourselves.

BCL: How did receiving the Beauty Changes Lives scholarship change your life and career?

AG: Beauty Changes Lives was really a blessing for me. At the time of my application I was so devastated because I was having such a hard time, financially, to pay for my schooling, I prayed so much and spoke into existence to everyone that asked me how the scholarship was coming along that I would win. I wanted the experience more than anyone. My passion for the hair/fashion industry was what was driving me to keep my hope! After I had received the good news and after the week with Pivot Point, America’s Beauty Show and meeting with Lynelle Lynch, I was absolutely blown away! I realized how many opportunities and how many successful people there are just by doing hair! I was so motivated and still am. My goal is to be a celebrity stylist and it will happen!

BCL: How has beauty changed your life?

AG: All things beauty makes me want to keep pushing to be a well rounded stylist. I am always wanting to learn something new. Beauty gives me a sense of excitement, it could be midnight and someone asks me to play with their hair and throw on some color, or give them a whole new look, and I’m all in! I have been able to speak to a couple celebrity stylists and they have given me some valuable advice. This industry is very competitive but very rewarding, and I’m ready to keep growing!

You can follow Alaska on Instagram @_missalaska and feel free to reach out to her. She’s always looking to network or collaborate.