Heidi joined the inaugural governing board that began shaping OpenAQ as a nonprofit in August of 2017, but she first learned about OpenAQ around the time we were founded in 2015. She and OpenAQ co-founder, Christa Hasenkopf, were postdocs at the University of Colorado-Boulder, and Heidi followed Christa’s career. Spurred by one of Christa’s “calls to action” on Facebook, Heidi joined the OpenAQ community working to create awareness of poor air quality and seeking open sources of government air quality data. Her first volunteer effort was as a Wikipedia editor, creating entries on cities with poor air quality.
Heidi’s research background in atmospheric science was another reason she was recruited to the board. With a BS in Chemistry from University of Chicago and PhD in Physical Chemistry from University of Wisconsin-Madison, Heidi’s postdoctoral work focused on research to understand the influence of trace amounts of benzene in an experimental simulation of a planetary atmosphere, specifically Titan, one of Saturn’s moons, whose atmosphere is comparable to an early Earth.
Heidi served in three roles on OpenAQ’s board: first Community Engagement Officer, then Secretary, then Chair. She led “Ask Me Anything” on Slack, helped with the annual community survey, wrote blogs, and more. Given how small OpenAQ was, the governing board was a “working board,” meaning they had to do administrative work until quite recently, as well as the overarching strategic leadership and fiduciary responsibility required by nonprofit boards. Heidi learned about practically every aspect of nonprofit operations and supported many tasks.
When interviewed for this blog, Heidi said she is most proud of the role she played ensuring the continuity of the organization over 6 1⁄2 years, keeping us on track in realizing our mission. She feels strongly about listening to the community and implementing mission-aligned suggestions. Regarding board service, Heidi said, “We are behind the scenes, supporting the team and hiring people passionate about the mission into leadership roles.”
Heidi will remember the camaraderie of the board fondly, especially when they met in person at odd locations like a local library in Charlottesville, Virginia. One of her funnest experiences was attending the 2018 American Geophysical Union annual meeting where she helped to organize the session “New Directions for Open-Source Air Quality Data: Applications in Health, Air Quality, Environmental Management, and Public Outreach” and talked to people from all over the world at the poster session, hearing their perspective on what the air is like to breathe where they live and what they are doing about it.
As our interview closed, Heidi said, “Air pollution is a problem that has so much impact on people’s health, way of living, and on our climate. I hope we can make significant strides because it affects everyone no matter who you are or where you live. I believe it’s something we can fix and that we can all do something.”
Heidi’s ask of the OpenAQ community is to help us fulfill our role in this worldwide effort, including supporting OpenAQ financially.
Heidi is currently occupied raising her kids and staying in the scientific loop by gaining new credentials, including a recent Earth Data Analytics — Foundations certificate from University of Colorado-Boulder’s Earth Lab.
OpenAQ will miss Heidi’s institutional knowledge, but most all her kind spirit and engaging personality. We wish Heidi the very best in all of her future endeavors.
P.S. Who will replace Heidi as Chair? Pallavi Pant, who has also been active with OpenAQ since the beginning!