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NMSU research specialist has a burning passion for chile

Date: 10/01/2013

If you can't stand the heat, you don't want the job Danise Coon has at New Mexico State University. She's a senior research specialist at NMSU's Chile Pepper Institute, where each day brings a hot new project to work on.

This is a photo of Danise Coon.
Danise Coon, a senior research specialist at NMSU's Chile pepper Institute, has worked for the university since 1995.

"What I like most about working with the Chile Pepper Institute is that I learn something new every day," Coon said. "We conduct world-renowned research here, and some of the top researchers in this field are here at NMSU."

The Chile Pepper Institute was founded in 1992 as a way for the university to work with the state's chile producers and support the chile industry. It also conducts public outreach, educating people around the state and around the globe about chile.

"We get calls from all over the world," she said. "Anywhere from Okinawa, Japan, to Hamburg, Germany."

As a student, Coon originally worked as a florist, while also taking 18 credit hours toward a degree in horticulture. Unfortunately, her 40-hour workweek began to take a toll on her grades. That's when she discovered Chile Pepper Institute director Paul Bosland might be in need of student help.

Coon became the first NMSU horticulture student ever hired by the institute. The following year she took over administrative duties for the institute, working at the shop and finding answers for chile questions that come in from around the world. She eventually earned a bachelor's and then a master's degree. Now, she is an agricultural scientist and plays an important role in all of the institute's research efforts.

"We have an extensive chile breeding program, where we work with growers to develop new varieties of plants needed for the chile industry," she said. "A lot of the things we breed for in chile include disease resistance, flavor, plant habits, as well as yield."

The institute also has a seed program, which makes seeds available to people around the world. They currently have more than 50 different kinds of rare and unusual seeds.

Coon's biggest legacy at the Chile Pepper Institute might be that she opened the door for additional students to work there as well. She estimates more than 50 students have worked for the institute since she started, in 1995.

Written by Justin Bannister

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