Meet the Board

Sonja Koukel, PhD, (NM) Vice President for Professional Development

I am delighted to have this opportunity to share a bit about myself with the NEAFCS members. Since 2006, I have been a member of the NEAFCS organization. My leadership roles within the organization during the past six years have included: President, Alaska Affiliate; Chair Elect, Registration Sub-Committee; Chair, Registration Sub-Committee; and, currently, Vice President for Professional Development.

About my background: My father was in the military but our family didn’t do much relocating as he worked for NORAD during the Cold War. His job required remote locations that included stints in Alaska and Greenland. Most of my childhood I spent in Colorado until we moved to Florida when I entered middle school. After graduating high school, I moved to Las Vegas, NV, where I lived for about 25 years. Overall, I have lived in Kansas (where I was born), South Carolina, North Carolina, Colorado, Florida, Nevada, California, New Mexico, Texas and Alaska. I enjoy change and the challenges relocating brings.

Prior to Extension, I held several jobs that I enjoyed and learned skills that helped direct my decision when I decided to enter college. When I moved to Las Vegas, NV, I entered the restaurant/food service industry. I’ve worked in every front-of-the-house position including manager of a family-style restaurant. When I left the business, I used my experience in clothing construction to teach sewing classes which led to a position as store manager of an independent fabric boutique in Las Vegas, NV. It was after my youngest child graduated and moved out of the family home that I decided to go back to school and earn my degree in Family & Consumer Sciences Education.

I was a non-traditional student at New Mexico State University where I earned a B.S. in FCSE. Many opportunities came my way and I attended graduate school at Texas Tech University, Lubbock, where I worked as a research specialist in the FCS Curriculum Center. I earned both a M.S. and a Ph.D. in FCSE from TTU before taking my first job with Alaska Extension. In that capacity, I was employed as the home economist for the Southeast District living in Juneau, the State Capital.  For six years, I served over 40 communities (some with populations as small as 80 residents) scattered across 500 miles of territory with no road system. Visiting the villages was done via limited commercial airline, but most often with float planes, bush planes and the ferry system (Alaska Marine Highway).  My husband, Rick Nickel, and I loved our time in Alaska enjoying salmon and halibut fishing and exploring the beauty that is Alaska.

In 2010, I began my employment with New Mexico State University as the Community & Environmental Health Specialist. I wear a second hat as well, that of Co-Director of the Food Safety Initiative through the Southwest Border Food Safety & Defense Center. This is a collaborative partnership between NM Department of Agriculture and Cooperative Extension.

If you’ve taken the time to read this far into the article, I thank you. These are exciting times for Extension. There are so many new and challenging aspects to all of the programs we offer community members. I look forward to working with all NEAFCS members in providing direction for the Professional Development Committee. Please contact me with your ideas. All suggestions and input are welcome.


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