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Faces of CNM: Keri Payne

Meet the first woman to medal in Cabinetmaking at the National SkillsUSA Championship. Keri is a rising star in CNM’s Carpentry program.
Faces of CNM: Keri Payne
Keri is the first woman to medal in the Cabinetmaking category at SkillsUSA.

Jul 11, 2019

Keri Payne comes from a long lineage of woodworkers. Her great grandfather and grandfather were carpenters, her father and brother are woodworkers, and her sister teaches wood shop at an elementary school. So, it was only a matter of time before Keri entered the family trade.

“It’s in my blood,” says Keri. “I’ve always loved doing woodworking.”

Keri is a student in CNM’s Carpentry program studying Architectural Woodworking. She says that she never thought that she’d be good enough to compete in any woodworking competitions, much less win a silver medal at the SkillsUSA National Championships, the country’s premier showcase for students in Career Technical Education fields. This year’s event was held June 22-26 in Louisville, Ky., where more than 6,000 students competed in 103 trade, technical and leadership fields.

SkillsUSA is a national organization that supports CTE programs in public high schools, career and technical centers, and two- and four-year colleges.

“One of my instructors, Joe (Joseph Hirschfeld), pushed me to compete in the New Mexico SkillsUSA competition,” she says. “I thought it was a joke. Really? Me? Build a cabinet competitively? But I did it and I won a gold medal for it.”

By winning the gold medal in the state competition’s Cabinetmaking category , Keri qualified for the 2019 SkillsUSA National Championships.  She said it was very competitive, but she kept a cool head, worked hard and produced a final product that earned the silver medal. Keri is the first woman in the history of the SkillsUSA National event to medal in the Cabinetmaking category.

Keri constructed her cabinet from all raw materials including a hard walnut wood.
Keri constructed her cabinet from all raw materials including a hard walnut wood.

“Woodworking gives me a high,” she says. “I love working with my hands and seeing a project come together. To be the first woman to medal in this category is truly an honor. I was in disbelief when I found that out.”

Keri wants to keep the family tradition of carpentry and woodworking alive. She and her husband have made it a point to teach their young ones about woodworking and construction, and they have plenty of home projects to work on.

“My kids love getting involved with projects that we are working on,” Keri says. “They’ve even helped us knock down old drywall and helped us build the new wall frame.”

Carpentry Instructor Lee Dutcher says he couldn’t be prouder of Keri for her accomplishments.

“It’s a really big deal that she is the first woman to medal in that category,” he says. “It’s a testament to her talents and also to our amazing faculty here in the Carpentry program.”

Keri is working toward earning a certificate in Architectural Woodworking through CNM’s Carpentry program and hopes to follow in her sister’s footsteps, teaching woodworking to kids.

“I’m looking to get some potential industry experience so that I can take what I’ve learned and pass it on to a new generation of woodworkers,” she says.

Learn more about CNM’s Carpentry Program.