August 2009 Outstanding Alumnus – Autom Christensen
Northland Pioneer College cosmetology instructor Autom S. Christensen was honored as the college Outstanding Alumnus during the Aug. 18, 2009 meeting of the Navajo County Community College District Governing Board in Holbrook. Dr. Donald Richie, NPC’s Dean of Career and Technical Education, presented the award.
Married, with three sons ages 18, 15, and 10, Autom was born in Phoenix, but lived in Show Low as a child. She moved back to the Valley for a number of years where she lived “just about every place.” That situation changed when she became reluctant to let her young son play in the yard without feeling she had to watch him the whole time to make sure he was all right. She and her family made the decision to return “home” to Show Low.
Autom confesses to having a hobby her sons just hate. “I love to read, but when I pick up a book I just disappear!” Still her kids aren’t too jealous since a greater part of what little free time she has is taken up with supporting and attending their many sports activities.
As a young mom trying to develop some work skills, Autom became an NPC student in 1996, enrolling as a business major. As part of her financial aid package she was also employed in the college work study program. In 2000, after heavy duty persuasion on the part of department chair, Flo Finch, Autom became the work study for the NPC cosmetology department.
“That changed my life,” Autom says, “I kept up my business studies, but I found the cosmetology lab an almost addictive place to be with all its energy and excitement. And Flo was pushing me to enroll. I finally entered the cosmetology program in 2002.”
Even with the responsibilities of being a wife and mom and working, by then as a lab aide in the cosmetology department, Autom graduated from NPC two years later with two Associate of Applied Science degrees, one in General Business Management and one in Cosmetology.
She continued as a lab aide in the NPC program, but with her state cosmetology license in hand also took a position as a hair professional in a Show Low salon. After a year’s time she took her career another step forward by enrolling at NPC again – this time to become a certified cosmetology instructor.
Today Autom is a full-time faculty member on the NPC cosmetology team.
“It’s funny,” she says, “Ten years ago, I never even knew what I wanted to do, and I never would have imagined myself where I am today. But I love teaching; it is so fun, so rewarding.”
Autom also volunteers her time in a very special activity offered through the American Cancer Society called Look Good … Feel Better. Held at the NPC White Mountain Campus facility, professional cosmetologists help restore the self-esteem of women cancer patients who are undergoing chemo or radiation treatments. The cosmetologists introduce the women to new skin and hair regimes that help them deal with the negative changes caused by the cancer treatments. “Maybe it’s just something as simple as teaching them how to create natural looking eyebrows when they no longer have any,” Autom says, “But I think it helps.”
When asked what advice she might have for younger people about getting an education, Autom is positively exuberant. “I am the poster child for getting an education – living proof of finding a career, not just a job!” College can offer you a way to find your interest, get trained, and have a future doing something you’ll be happy doing, not just doing something to make a living.”
And NPC is happy to have Autom on staff. In fact, it was Flo Finch, head of the NPC Cosmetology Program, who nominated Autom for the alumnus award, labeling her an “intelligent and dedicated person who demands a lot from others and, most of all, herself, and who goes way over the call of duty with everything she does.”
Autom says she is humbled by Finch’s nomination. “Everybody I’ve ever encountered who works at NPC does the same thing I do, helping and encouraging the students to succeed. I am just proud to be part of that.”
As an Outstanding Alumnus, Autom receives a three-credit-hour tuition gift certificate, a $25 bookstore gift certificate and a pass to NPC Performing Arts events.
The Outstanding Alumnus Award Program honors NPC students for being examples of lifelong learning or are using their education to improve their communities. To nominate former NPC students for the award, complete a form online.