EPP/MSI scholar shares research with community and regional leaders to raise awareness about air quality

EPP/MSI scholars grow professionally and strengthen career building skills during their scholarships — they complete two NOAA internships, a public service project, present at scientific conferences, and in the case of Nohemi (Perales) Beltran, present scholarship work at an intergovernmental regional meeting. Nohemi was invited to speak at the 80th meeting of the Joint Advisory Committee offsite link. The committee oversees the process to achieve cleaner air for the El Paso Del Norte Region, an air working group under the La Paz Agreement (an agreement between the U.S. and Mexico to protect and conserve the environment along the border). At the meeting, Nohemi shared the successes she’d had with raising awareness of air quality in her community as part of her NOAA EPP/MSI public service project.

Nohemi poses in a large garage with a plane that has a NOAA Logo
Nohemi Beltran, a 2019 EPP/MSI scholar, visited the NOAA Aircraft Operations Center in Lakeland, Florida, during her 2019 internship. Here she poses with a NOAA Hurricane Hunters craft. (Monica Sims)

Most scientists dream of seeing their research findings make a difference in the “real world,” whether through changes in policy or actions that individuals can take. However, the path from research to application is not always straightforward. Nohemi (Perales) Beltran, a 2019 EPP/MSI scholar, got to experience how research can be applied both in her community and throughout the El Paso, Texas, region. 

EPP/MSI undergraduate scholars complete a public service project as a requirement of their scholarship award. When thinking of a project she could undertake, Nohemi reflected on the air quality research she did with Rosa Fitzgerald, Ph.D offsite link, a NOAA Center for Atmospheric Sciences and Meteorology offsite link researcher at the University of Texas at El Paso. The ozone and pollution information she needed was not only challenging to find, but also to interpret. “I wondered [if the public could] find the information. And if they did, would they know what it meant for their health?” said Nohemi.

For her public service project, Nohemi decided to take on the problem head-on. She pulled together resources from NOAA, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, then compiled step-by-step guidance on how to use the resources. Once her materials were ready, she held workshops for other students at the University of Texas at El Paso and the public. She advertised the workshops widely through groups such as The Asthma Coalition and Sierra Club. 

The successful workshops led to an invitation to present her research at a workshop during the 80th Meeting of the Joint Advisory Committee offsite link in May 2021. The committee serves as the local community-based organization overseeing the process to achieve cleaner air for the El Paso Del Norte Region, an air group under the La Paz Agreement (an agreement between the U.S. and Mexico to protect and conserve the environment along the border). 

Presenting at the Joint Advisory Committee meeting was an opportunity that Nohemi couldn’t pass up, though she was initially nervous. “It was a bit intimidating. The mayor was there, and a huge network of researchers who have been working on this topic forever, and representatives from the EPA,” said Nohemi. She found that the committee was a platform where people of varied professions and levels of seniority came together for a common cause. The new perspective she brought was well received by the group, who eagerly asked questions and encouraged her work. They were also supportive of a plan to place air quality flags on bridges at the border to inform people about when it was safe for them to be active outside. “It was a great place to grow professionally, make connections, and ultimately have a place where NOAA could be represented,” said Nohemi.

When Nohemi started her EPP/MSI public service project, she was excited about the opportunity to share her research in a way that could make a difference in individual lives. She never expected that she’d started down a path that would lead her to a better understanding of how research informs action and even play a pivotal role in the process herself. “This meeting helped me realize that people and connections help push research forward into action,” Nohemi said.