Rising above

Mentors help student overcome homelessness, build a brighter future

Writers: Tiffany Acosta and Darrell J. Pehr
Panorama, October 2015

Caleb Sokoll '14 credits the mentors in his life -- including the faculty of New Mexico State University's College of Engineering -- with helping him overcome early challenges and begin a promising career.

Caleb Sokoll ’14 credits the mentors in his life — including the faculty of New Mexico State University’s College of Engineering — with helping him overcome early challenges and begin a promising career.

No one can anticipate what tragedies they may face in life. The death of a parent. A family member ravaged by mental illness. The shock of homelessness.

Any one of these could be a stunning obstacle, but all three at once? And how could a 14-year-old boy possibly cope with such hardships?

When his father died on Thanksgiving Day in 2003 and his mother’s mental illness became so uncontrolled that she kicked him out of the house, Calb Sokoll ’14 found himself living in an alley with no hope for help.

But the tragedies the 14-year-old had to face so early in life gradually gave way to opportunities thanks to generous neighbors, teachers, professors and mentors. Ultimately, those opportunities led to a top-level award upon graduation from New Mexico State University and the start of a promising career as an engineer.

“The biggest key, I think, to anybody’s success, if they are honest with themselves, is the people who are willing to support them,” Sokoll says. “For me, that was a huge part of not getting trapped in a bad cycle. It was a lot of people taking an interest in my life when they didn’t have to and pushing me toward success.”

The first to extend a helping had was his Deming, New Mexico, neighbor, Maria Guadalupe Lucero.
“She had five boys already and was a single mom,” he says. “She allowed me to come in and be number six for a while.”

The next helping had came the following year from his eight-grade shop teacher, Jerry Montes, his wife, Christina, and their children, Diego and Kaitlyn.

“They have been a huge part of life since I was 15,” he says. “They are the ones who made sure I didn’t stray too much while I was going to high school and junior high. They are the ones who took me to college and dropped me off at the dorms and made sure I was doing all right.”

Caleb Sokoll works on a project at NMSU's Manufacturing Technology and Engineering Center, where he was hired as a freshman.

Caleb Sokoll works on a project at NMSU’s Manufacturing Technology and Engineering Center, where he was hired as a freshman.

Sokoll credits the Montes family and Christina’s parents, Ray and Dora Trejo for guiding him toward and education.

“They didn’t want me to get trapped in a cycle or in prison or a grave. They wanted to see me succeed,” he says. “I can remember Ray, every day, saying, ‘Kid, you have to get an education. You can’t sing and you can’t dance, so you have to get and education.’”

Phillip and Victoria Ryder also reached out, providing a home for Sokoll for a couple of years until he graduated from high school.

After graduation, Sokoll found another home in NMSU’s College of Engineering.

“Honestly, getting into college — I was very shocked that I even belonged there,” he says. “I didn’t feel like I was going to be smart enough in college. I didn’t feel like I was going to be able to succeed because I felt I was probably going to be at a disadvantage compared to everyone else.

“The engineering Technology Department made me feel very at home and very much like I could succeed and achieve something,” he says.

Sokoll admits that his first College of Engineering professor, Eduardo Gamillo, set him on the path to the career he has today.

“Right away in class, he recognized that I was eager to do well and coming from a bad spot in life,” Sokoll says. “He suggested I try to get a job at the Manufacturing Technology and Engineering Center within the department.

“Because of his advocacy for me, as well as that of Professor Anthony Hyde, I got a job there, and it changed my life,” he says.

“Caleb has all the excuses to be on the wrong side of town,” says Gamillo. “He has overcome all of that to be the complete opposite. he used all of that energy for good.”

Sokoll says the job at M-TEC prepared him for engineering and gave him the drive to learn the trade of engineering, rather than just trying to get a degree.

In addition to his professors, Sokoll says M-TEC Manager Charlie Park became a prominent force in his life that continues today.

Sokoll was named the College of Engineering's outstanding graduate in December 2014.

Sokoll was named the College of Engineering’s outstanding graduate in December 2014.

“He was more than just a boss,” Sokoll says, “he was a best friend and a person I could always rely on for help and advice.”

With the experience he gained from working at M-TEC since his freshman year of college, Sokoll says he has the confidence to offer advice on design and manufacturability and troubleshoot problems in his current position.

“It really set me up to start my job running instead of having to play catch up when I got into the professional world,” he says.

Sokoll earned his bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering technology and was name the College of Engineering’s outstanding graduate in December 2014.

This summer, Sokoll started work at a leading research and development and engineering laboratory as a design engineer after being recruited to the laboratory by an NMSU Foundation board member. Sokoll is working in mechanical design and computer-aided drafting support.

Now that Sokoll has started his career, he says he hopes his future includes the dream of a home and children.

“I haven’t always had a stable home life, a place I can really call home. I’ve always been the subject of the good graces of other people. So for me, purchasing a home is a very big deal,” he says. “And I wouldn’t mind having a couple of brats running around to give them a childhood I didn’t have, and make sure they have the things in life that I didn’t and teach them a lot of the valuable lessons that I had to learn the hard way.”


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