Words: MASONRY Magazine
Photos: Jennifer Key
Editor’s Note: In our first GEN NXT of the year we sat down with Jennifer Key, a student enrolled at Cape Fear Community College in Wilmington, North Carolina. Jennifer has been working in masonry since her freshman year of high school and was one of the 2020 Mortar Net Mason Apprentice Scholarship recipients. We’d like to thank Jennifer for taking the time to share her story with us as well as JagClamp for sponsoring this important series.
MASONRY Magazine: Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
Jennifer Key: My name is Jennifer Key, I’m 18 years old, I started in masonry as a freshman in high school, and am currently enrolled at Cape Fear Community College in Wilmington, North Carolina.
M.M.: I know you mentioned that you started your freshman year, but what made you interested in the masonry industry and how did you get started?
J.K.: Well, I first signed up for culinary class, and I was told it was full. Then, they wanted to put me in a broadcasting class, but I didn’t like that idea. So I said, “Can you put me in the masonry class?” So they put me in masonry, I just fell in love with it.
M.M.: Did you work on projects while you were in school? What are your favorite projects?
J.K.: My favorite projects are probably the ones working with my classmates, and the competition projects. There were plenty of those! My friends and I started building a fence, and we didn’t quite get to finish it, but that was one of the best projects.
M.M.: Can you tell us about your instructor Fred Mason Jr. and how he’s helped you in the industry?
JK: Well, as a freshman I honestly didn’t think I belonged in masonry. He kept giving me the projects to do, and just kept telling me, “you can do it”. He believed in me when I didn’t believe in myself.
M.M.: Do you have any family members in the industry?
J.K. Yes, I do! My aunt Natitaly Razo works for Brodie Contractors.
M.M.: Yes, we interviewed Natitaly last year, and she mentioned a niece in her interview. That’s awesome that the two of you have masonry in common. Has she given you any tips or help?
J.K.: She has not taken me on the jobsite because she’s in the office now. But she gives me a lot of tips. She told me to not let any of the guys tell you that you can’t do something just because you’re a girl. She also said to just believe in yourself, do what you want to do, and not let anyone else tell you what you want to do.
M.M.: Can you tell us about your experiences being a woman in the industry?
J.K.: During the competitions, all the guys just look at you like you’re not supposed to be here. But you just keep to yourself and then let your work show them what you can do. It is difficult because sometimes it makes you feel like you don’t know what you are doing, but then you just show them that you do.
M.M.: What competing was like?
J.K.: It is definitely nerve-wracking. Once I’m there and doing my project, I just zone out and focus on what needs to be done. After everything is done and I’m with my friends, and we talk with some of these big companies, it is a great feeling.
M.M.: How did you prepare for those competitions?
J.K.: It was a lot of practicing and effort. The different projects that we had during competitions are all so different, so I had to come up with different ways to complete the practice projects to be ready for the competitions. For example, it could be the littlest thing like spreading the mortar, and the faster and faster I practiced doing this, the better I got. It helped me a lot.
M.M.: Do you think it is important that there is female representation in the industry?
J.K.: Yes, I think it’s very important to have female representation in the industry. It’s nice to see other women and girls in the industry because it can feel like a “man’s world.”
M.M.: Where are you taking masonry courses?
JK: I’m currently enrolled in college and taking classes in project management.
M.M.: Tell us more about your classes?
J.K.: Out of all the courses I’m taking, I prefer to take more project management classes and see myself taking more courses like these when I can.
M.M.: Where do you see yourself in five to 10 years?
J.K.: I’d like to either have my own business or work with my aunt on some projects.
M.M.: What is going to keep you interested in the masonry industry?
J.K.: Honestly, I just like everything about masonry, so any and everything will keep me in the masonry industry.
M.M.: This year you were one of the recipients of the Mortar Net Apprentice Scholarship Program. Can you tell us what it was like to win?
J.K.: It was shocking. I didn’t think that I would get that scholarship, but it was such a great feeling.
M.M.: What are your plans for the next year?
J.K.: Hopefully to start working by myself, doing small jobs, and then just growing from there.
M.M.: What advice would you give to someone interested in getting into the masonry industry?
J.K.: I would say to believe in yourself, believe that you can do it, even if you don’t think so. I was there, I knew I didn’t believe in myself at first. After a while, you just need to believe that you can do it and you will.
M.M.: What is your favorite motivational quote?
JK: I like the quote “to believe in yourself”. That’s just something I’ve always said for the past four years.
M.M.: It is a good quote to have. I find that the most simple quotes that you can remember are usually the best. Do you have anything else that you wanted to add?
J.K.: I’d like to thank everybody that has pushed me and kept me going, especially my instructor Fred Mason Jr. for everything that he has done for me, and continues to do for me.