New extension agent takes over
December 18, 2019
Susann Mikkelson took over Dec. 2 as the family and consumer science extension agent at the Quay County Cooperative Extension Service, but she said she's not trying to “wipe the slate clean” from her long-serving predecessor.
Brenda Bishop retired from that post in July after 32 years in the extension office in Tucumcari. Mikkelson indicated she would consult with her from time to time.
“I'm not looking to fill Brenda's shoes,” Mikkelson said in her office Thursday while taking a break from online training. “She's still here; she's still going to have quite a presence in the community. I think it a gift she's still around and accessible to me. But I know I will have to blaze my own trail, so to speak, and move forward with new and exciting programs.
“My goal is to do quite a bit of evaluation and get a lot of input from the community on what has worked well, what is ready to be retired or changed, and what's missing that we can offer.”
Mikkelson said she anticipates a three- to six-month transition before going full-bore into her vision for the office. Among the ideas she's considering are risk-management programs and succession planning for small businesses and ranchers, plus master food-preserving classes.
The extension service had anticipated a process as long as six months to find a replacement for Bishop. Mikkelson was on the job about four months after Bishop departed. Mikkelson noted the timing is good, as this is a slow time of year for 4-H and other rural programs.
Mikkelson hails from a ranch near tiny Datil, New Mexico, in Catron County, where her great-great grandfather was one of the original settlers there. She attended Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff and received a bachelor's degree in communications and public relations. She earned a master's degree in leadership and policy, with an emphasis in rural development, at DePaul University in Chicago.
Before coming to Tucumcari, she served for 14 1/2 years as a cooperative development specialist for the Denver-based Rocky Mountain Farmers Union that included New Mexico as part of its territory. She eventually moved to Socorro and Raton to help care for her ailing parents until they died. Other jobs included the chamber of commerce and a newspaper in Socorro and at Los Luceros Historic Site in northern New Mexico.
Mikkelson said she's been a longtime fan and participant in 4-H programs and extension services. She had a relative who was a longtime extension agent in neighboring Union County, and her experience with the Rocky Mountain Farmers Union put her in touch with many extension agents in New Mexico, including Quay County.
When she decided to look for a position with a cooperative extension service, Quay County was on her list of strong possibilities. It also helps she knows a local connection – her uncle is married to the sister of Quay County commissioner Sue Dowell.
“This community I find in particular to be committed, energetic and passionate, and I know the extension programs here have been very strong,” Mikkelson said.