PUBLISHED: 11:12 AM on Wednesday, March 1, 2006
Koukel celebrates first year with Extension

  Sonja Koukel
It's been a busy year for Sonja, make that Dr. Sonja Koukel. In December, Koukel was awarded a doctorate in family and consumer sciences education from Texas Tech University. Then in January, she celebrated her first anniversary as the Extension home economist for the Juneau District Office.

"I've always been open to challenges and getting out of my comfort zone," Koukel said.

"Little did I realize what surprises awaited me in Juneau when I moved from the Southwest - from learning how to navigate via the ferry system to canning salmon. What a year it's been."

Alaska's always been a place that held fascination for Koukel. Her father spent a year in Nome during the Cold War, and the stories and memorabilia he brought back sparked an interest in Alaska at a very young age. When the position in Juneau was advertised, she jumped at the chance.

"I really had no pre-conceived notions when I came here. I came from a land-grant institution in New Mexico, so I was familiar with Extension and had always been interested in working for Extension," Koukel said.

"When this opportunity came open, I was very excited about working in the community and to work with such a diverse area."

The needs assessment done as part of the recent strategic planning process was also a huge benefit for Koukel.

"It encouraged me to get out and talk to different people and meet with other outreach service agencies in Southeast," she said.

Koukel said that learning what people in the region considered high priority needs and seeing how existing programs parallel with what extension is doing in home economics has helped her forge new partnerships to better serve Southeast communities.

In the process, she said, she also learned something new about herself. A new-found love for food preservation. During berry season she'd go out in the afternoon and pick all kinds of berries and take them home and make jams and jellies to give to friends.

"I just found it to be so relaxing," she said.

Koukel's husband, Rick Nickel, came along willingly to the new horizons of Juneau and has also embraced Southeast Alaska. He quickly found a job and a new group of friends.

"All the guys go out halibut fishing together. He's just in heaven," Koukel said.

"We've lived in a lot of different places and I'd never heard him say 'I really love living here' - until we came to Juneau. He says that to me at least weekly now."