Patterson, a licensed cosmetologist, pushes back the corner of a woolly hot-pink throw rug which matches her woolly hot-pink bedspread to expand the hair-cutting niche set up in her corner room on Ellingsons fourth floor. Barefoot, she drags her desk chair to a small area between the rooms two closets.
The tile floor, full-length mirror and black plastic gown she uses to cover me give the space a salon feel, while a nearby lamp with multicolored flower-shaped lights and the chatter of Pattersons friends remind me that I am in a dorm room.
Russian worship music plays softly in the background. Her parents sent her the record from Moscow, where they live. Patterson does not speak Russian fluently, despite the 12 years she also lived in Moscow, but she is interested in improving her language skills.
She smoothly pauses between snips of her specialized shears to discuss her Intermediate Russian course with a classmate waiting his turn for a cut.
Patterson became interested in cutting hair her sophomore year of high school when some friends enrolled in cosmetology school. She decided to take a year off before college to do something constructive that could help her for the rest of her life.
"I think it was the best thing in the world for me to be away from home for a year before I came to college, Patterson said. I just felt so much more ready to deal with the challenges.
Patterson spent that year living in Cary, N.C., and attending Mitchells
Hairstyling Academy, where she completed the required 1500 hours of training in 11 months. Patterson spent 300 of those hours practicing on mannequin heads and fellow students.
She spent the remaining hours on "the floor" at a clinic where students give manicures and pedicures in addition to cutting, perming, waxing and coloring customers hair.
Now Patterson practices on St. Olaf students, and estimates she has given between 15 and 20 haircuts since starting college. She has not done coloring, which especially interests her, because Northfield does not have a beauty supply shop.
"I think that if I hadnt come to college, I would have gone on to become a color expert," Patterson said.
Skin, however, is Pattersons primary interest. "If I actually did some professional work, Id be interested in working in a spa, where I could also work with skin. Im not too impressed with salons and their working atmosphere." Eventually, she hopes to become a registered dietitian and cut hair as a home-based business.
My haircut is finished, and Patterson moves on to her classmate. She keeps up an easy conversation with him as she trims away with her $300 shears. She explains that though the shears were expensive, the revolving thumb allows her to use special cutting techniques without having to switch between different shears.
"A lot of professionals do this," Patterson said, and she demonstrated by holding his hair with the comb and motioning with her shears. "This is called point-cutting and it prevents straight lines and just kind of lets the hair flow more naturally."
The shears also allow Patterson to cut hair with her left-hand, and they help prevent carpal tunnel syndrome, too. She is proud of her "special tools," the shears and a large-toothed comb, which she uses to do "any kind of haircut" on both men and women.
The fact that she finished her cosmetology training and final exam faster than most students is reflected in my even ends and her confidence. "This is my Vortex shears and my Cricket comb," she says with a smile, "and I can do anything with them."