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Air Quality Internships: Working with Purpose and Passion to Clean Our Air

By Austin Pettey

Air Quality Modeling
Air Quality Modeling

It’s awesome when an incredible opportunity opens up, and it seems like all your hard work is beginning to pay off. I was recently selected as a summer intern with the Utah Division of Air Quality (DAQ). I am a third year student at the University of Utah studying chemical engineering. While taking an Air Pollution Control course last semester, I realized that I was very interested in air quality. I studied hard, got a high grade in the class, and ended up with a recommendation from my professor to DAQ when they were looking for an intern. Soon after, I was selected to interview and was thrilled to learn I landed the job for the summer. What a great feeling!

Now, things got real! I was actually going to work for the Division of Air Quality. But, what would it be like to work with them? From the outside, I had always wondered how Utah’s Division of Air Quality operated. I imagined it was a bunch of people running around taking air samples from different locations throughout the state, then trying to interpret what the readings meant. Of course, the inner workings of the DAQ are much more sophisticated and organized than that.

In the division, there are teams of people known as sections. There is a section for collecting emission estimations, one for collecting air monitor data, another to analyze the data, and a team for planning air quality regulations based on all the data and analyses. All of those sections belong to a single branch of the DAQ known as the Planning Branch.

That’s not all, though. There is another branch to design emission permits for industries. Also, another branch ensures that the permits and policies are enforced. With each of these branches having their own individual sections within them, DAQ is much larger than I expected.

I learned a lot from working with air-quality scientist Chris Pennell. He was a great mentor.
I learned a lot from working with air-quality scientist Chris Pennell. He was a great mentor.

Now, what was my role going to be as an intern in an organization such as this? The position that I was hired for was to work with the Technical Analysis section of the Planning branch. The Technical Analysis section is a team of people that perform cutting-edge research on air chemistry and air quality. Additionally, they have an arrangement to use supercomputers at the U of U’s Center for High Performance Computing to simulate Utah’s atmosphere and air pollutants. That’s right, supercomputers! They do this using the emissions data they get from other sections. These simulations are done to provide technical evidence for the Policy section when they suggest regulations that protect the wellbeing of Utah’s citizens while complying with the EPA’s air quality standards.

Not only did I get the unique experience of using supercomputers, I was also able to help my home state remain a great place to live while aiming to protect and improve the health of everyone living there. As an added bonus, I was able to learn valuable skills, and gain experience to help me prepare for entering the work force after getting my degree. It ended up being a positive experience where both the state of Utah and I benefited simultaneously.

While working with the Technical Analysis team, I was able to do numerous things I had no previous experience with. I learned the Linux operating system to help run simulations on the supercomputers. I became proficient in a computer language called Python to help analyze and organize data. I was involved in many meetings, conference calls, vocal reports, and written reports. I took part in organizing an air quality conference and attended multiple seminars, lectures, and classes. I acquired valuable time management and organization skills.

I also enjoyed meeting many great people and learning more about interacting in a professional environment. Every time I met someone working for DAQ, it was apparent they were passionate about their job. All of my coworkers seemed to have a strong sense of community and were motivated to succeed in their work. Everyone seemed to really care about my success, and I greatly appreciated their guidance.

Overall, my experience as an intern with the Utah Division of Air Quality was top notch, and I hope that the State of Utah benefited as much as I did from my work as an intern. I started down a new path life that didn’t previously exist and found more passion for a subject I was already interested in. Best of all, I gained important knowledge and experience that I will continue to build upon for years to come. I am now a large step ahead towards a great future thanks to the State of Utah and the Division of Air Quality’s summer intern program.

DEQ salutes all its interns for their hard work, dedication, and commitment to helping protect Utah’s environment. Thanks, Austin! We are so glad you were here this summer and wish you all the best in your future endeavors.
Austin Pettey

I am a third-year chemical engineering student at the University of Utah. I have a passion for the outdoors and the environment. I love to work on my ‘79 Camaro and spend time with my dogs. My fiancé and I are due to be married in July of 2017. We are loving life while working hard for the best future possible.

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