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JEFFERSON CITY, MO, NOV. 10, 2020 – Michelle Soenksen, senior naturalist and resource interpreter at Sam A. Baker State Park in Patterson, Missouri, received the 2020 Master Front-line Interpreter Award from the National Association for Interpretation (NAI). The award will be presented during the 2020 NAI virtual national conference streaming Nov. 10-13. The annual conference provides participants with professional skills and ideas and networking opportunities with others in the fields of environmental, cultural, historical and recreational resource interpretation. This year’s conference focuses on the theme of "Virtually: New Beginnings".

Soenksen’s lengthy resume includes interpretive work at four Missouri state parks and as a college instructor, all of which gave her a wide array of experiences. She has touched many people with her interpretation, with her passion for the resource and her genuine caring for her audience.

"Thank you to my friends and family who have supported me, as well as the many giants in the world of interpretation who have mentored and inspired me along the way," says Soenksen. "I feel blessed to know there are individuals who believe in me and consider me worthy of this award. I thank the staff with Missouri State Parks, past and present, who have been like family for the past 20 years. Because of their leadership, I have had the opportunity to serve and be a part of a team, working together to preserve and interpret Missouri’s finest natural and cultural resources."

Soenksen is not just going through the motions. Interpretation is more than just a job for her and she is a quiet force in interpretation. She is organized, versatile and has flexibility in style and subject matter to make valuable connections with her audiences. She thrives as an interpreter and mentor. Knowing what it was like as a seasonal interpreter herself, she made hiring her own seasonal park staff and training other Missouri Department of Natural Resources staff a memorable experience. Like many, she makes the most with what she has and is strong in spirit. Despite personal and professional adversity, Soenksen has never lost her spirit or her passion, and her legacy endures as an interpreter and mentor.

"Michelle is a true leader on our team," says Missouri State Parks director Mike Sutherland. "Her passion and knowledge about Missouri’s resources are both great examples for all of us to follow."

The Master Front-line Interpreter Award is presented to an NAI member who has worked for five or more years in the profession and whose current duties are at least 60% front-line interpretation. The member must demonstrate a mastery of interpretive techniques, program development and design of creative projects. Soenksen is one of two recipients for this year’s award.

The National Association for Interpretation (NAI) is a not-for-profit 501(c)(3) professional association for those involved in the interpretation of natural and cultural heritage resources in settings such as parks, zoos, museums, nature centers, aquaria, botanical gardens and historical sites. For more than 50 years, NAI and its parent organizations have encouraged networking, training and collaboration among members and partners in support of their mission: inspiring leadership and excellence to advance heritage interpretation as a profession. NAI’s growing network of members includes volunteers, docents, interpreters, naturalists, historians, rangers, park guards, guides, tour operators, program directors, consultants, academicians, planners, suppliers and institutions. NAI has 7,000 members in over 30 countries with three international affiliate organizations: NAI-Greece, NAI-Korea and NAI-China. For more information about the NAI or the Professional Awards, contact NAI Deputy Director, Paul Caputo in Fort Collins, Colorado at 1-888-900-8283 or visit

Sam A. Baker State Park is located Route 1 Box 18150, Patterson, in southeast Missouri. For more information, please contact the park at 573-856-4411.

For more information on Missouri state parks and historic sites, visit Missouri State Parks is a division of the Missouri Department of Natural Resources.

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