Once Harold Nevels decided on a fashion career, nothing could stop him--not the fact that he is a prison guard at night and a housefather by day, nor the fact that he is 10 years older than most of his fellow students.
"Once I got into it, I was like full speed ahead," Nevels said in explaining how he won this year's Outstanding Student Award in Home Economics at Mt. San Antonio College in Walnut. He is the first man ever to win the annual award.
Nevels doesn't mind that home economics is considered a female domain, that fashion design begins with sewing classes and that women have outnumbered him 24 to 1 in some courses.
"I was ready to commit myself to learning," said Nevels, 29, who has attended Mt. San Antonio College off and on since 1983, juggling his studies with daytime care of his two small daughters and working the graveyard shift as a correctional officer at the California Institution for Men in Chino.
"At one time, a lot of people were skeptical," Nevels said. "That first day in beginning sewing, I think I scared the instructor as much as she scared me. It was called clothing construction, and I didn't know I was going to learn how to sew. She told me to set up a sewing machine, and I said, 'What sewing machine?' "
But the following year, Nevels was chosen outstanding student in clothing and textiles, and this year he was named a Mt. San Antonio College Student of Distinction, an honor bestowed on only 24 students out of the college's enrollment of 20,000.
The Outstanding Student Award in Home Economics is given by First Interstate Bank to the "home economics student completing a majority of classes in the subject area who has shown academic achievement, leadership and professional attitude and active participation on campus and/or community."
Carol Harsha, instructor in fashion and clothing, said Nevels is "goal-oriented, enthusiastic, responsible, and he gets along with everyone. The other students know he does a lot and deserves recognition."
"I've always loved clothes," Nevels said. "I always wanted to change the way men's clothes were. They've been so stagnant."
Nevels said he enjoys wearing non-traditional clothes in vibrant colors. He picks out most of the clothes his wife and children wear.
After learning to sew, he made some pants for a final exam, converted women's clothing to men's by reversing jacket buttons, got into the intricacies of tailoring from a muslin pattern and started a wardrobe counseling business.
He said he intends to be a fashion designer and hopes to get a job with a professional after he graduates in 1988.
Meanwhile, he picks up his daughters, Monica, 7, and Tikisha, 5, from school and cares for them in the afternoons while his wife, Maria, works as a manicurist.
"My wife thinks I work too hard, but this is what I like to do," Nevels said. "I function on little sleep. I might as well use up all the energy I have now."