In honor of National Women in Construction Week (March 6 – 12, 2022), BlueScope Construction is highlighting Jennifer Morrison, our Director of Construction. Jennifer is integral to BlueScope Construction’s ongoing success, and an inspiration to future construction leaders.
For Jennifer, her passion for construction stems from being around the industry at an early age.
“My grandfather was a dozer operator and my uncle owned an earthmoving construction company that did a great deal of heavy highway work with a concrete batch plant, and I thoroughly enjoyed the massive operation and the results,” Jennifer says. “And I come from a blue-collar family. To me, the outdoors were always my playground and digging in the dirt was so cool.”
Jennifer worked alongside her father building things in his shop.
“Even before second grade I was building things out of blocks and nailing things together,” she recalls. “I always loved to know how things worked. I would take things apart just to figure them out. I just was so intrigued by that.”
She credits her parents, who supported her unconditionally, and a “great” physics teacher for encouraging her to continue to explore how things work.
Jennifer knew her family would not be able to afford to send her to college, so she accepted a four-year, full scholarship in musical theater to the Chicago Musical College (she was recruited for her performance as Mary Magdalen in a touring production of Jesus Christ Superstar). At college, she discovered the teamwork and collaboration that she loved about high school musical theater had turned to cutthroat competition. While in Chicago she was spending more time on science and math classes and knew that was where her real interests lay. She gave up her scholarship and returned home to attend the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s College of Engineering. During her first year at Lincoln, she worked to pay her tuition and living expenses; in her second year of school, she was awarded a four-year scholarship from the Associated General Contractors of America which covered her tuition. “When I learned about the degree in construction, I thought, ‘this is really me,’” Jennifer says.
While in school, Jennifer cut her construction teeth on capital improvement projects for the university, providing purchasing and design work. One big project included the installation of ground source heat pumps for existing buildings and installing a cooling tower.
Her first post-school job was as a field employee at Butler Construction, which would later become part of the BlueScope family. Her early turnkey projects included Parrot Athletic Center at the University of Kansas, where she served as Assistant Superintendent. “We built a building on top of the existing building, and underneath the addition, we installed a big box culvert so that all the water from the hilly topography of the campus could flow under the building,” Jennifer says. “And during that time, I was also working on my MBA, so I would go to the site during the day and then run home at night and go to school.”
Jennifer’s role evolved from Project Coordinator to Project Manager, which meant she was often the lead company representative at project meetings and negotiations. “I was a young kid out there and you had to prove that you could deliver what you said,” she says. She did, and she was soon assigned to work across the country for other companies such as Walmart.
After the birth of her first child, and through the birth of her third, Jennifer continued to provide vital construction services for Butler Construction, including managing projects in China – from home. “I would get the kids to bed and I would be calling China, and work through the night and then get up and start the day,” she says. Her career evolved later into a consulting company offering construction services to a range of developers in the south and upper east coast and a local site contractor.
When BlueScope Construction invited Jennifer to return, her first major turnkey project was with the Government Services project building 15 aircraft weather shelters for Elmendorf Air Force Base in Anchorage, Alaska.
“That was such a flippin’ awesome project,” Jennifer says. “The Air Force personnel were so great, and I was able to carry out the project from cradle to grave: propose, design and build.”
Since 1990, Jennifer has worked on over 80 construction projects, including FedEx distribution centers, Procter & Gamble facilities, the US Coast Guard Fast Response Cutter Support Facility, and the Dr. Richard A. Schoettger Research Building at the Columbia Environmental Research Center.
Working with a variety of clients requires ongoing learning, which is something that resonates with Jennifer. “You learn so much from the company you’re building for,” Jennifer says. “I’ve learned about wet labs and the multiple types of water that are used in research. I’ve learned about lasers that read packages from six different directions for package sorting and many other manufacturing processes.”
The opportunity to learn on the job isn’t limited to specific projects. “One thing I always emphasize in construction is, always ask questions,” Jennifer says. “If somebody comes up to you and tells you that they know everything about construction, you turn around and go the other direction because no one knows it all and there’s always something new to be learned. Make sure you listen to everything and learn from that. It will come in handy on some other project down the road. You might be thinking, ‘Oh, they’re talking about something that is not in my scope of work, I don’t need to listen.’ That’s free education. Take every opportunity to learn. Watch other people succeed or fail and learn from that.”
“Construction isn’t easy,” Jennifer says, “but that’s kind of what I like about it, too. It’s not the same thing every day. When you arrive at a project site and you actually see what the team has been planning for and what started as a concept, and it’s actually standing in front of you, that is so, so rewarding.”
BlueScope Construction is fortunate to have the immense talent and skilled leadership Jennifer brings to our team.