SAS Clean Air Scholarship Winners

SAS Clean Air Scholarship Winners

All of us at Sentry Air are astounded by the amount of creativity, thoughtfulness, time, energy, and knowledge that were expressed in each scholarship entry. We received over 200 entries with amazing depictions of “What Air Quality Means to Me?” through video, physical art, digital art, essays, podcasts, etc. We received so many amazing entries that we decided to award two scholarships (1st place receives a $2,500 scholarship and 2nd page a $1,000 scholarship) instead of just one. It was a difficult job selecting the winners and we would like to thank everyone for their time, effort, and great contribution to the scholarship entries. We are pleased to introduce our winners:

First Place Winner: Erica Larsen ($2,500 Scholarship Winner)

Erica Larsen

1st Place Winner of SAS Clean Air First Place Scholarship Winner: Erica Larson

Erica Larsen will be a first-year English major at the University of Massachusetts Amherst and aspires to be a teacher. For her entry, she chose a video essay explaining what air quality means to her living in Idaho dealing with forest fire season. We found her video essay to be very moving and we hope you enjoy it as well. Congratulations Erica!

Erica’s Video Entry


Erica’s Essay Entry

Hello! My name is Erica Larsen, and I will be a first-year English major at the University
of Massachusetts Amherst in the 2021-2022 school year. My parents make enough money to bar
me from federal financial aid, and since I chose to go to an out-of-state school in hopes of
becoming a teacher out East, I have found myself in the difficult position of needing to pay
upwards of $15,000 a year in tuition, room and board, and fees. I have always been a firm
believer in good education, but since it is expensive, I need assistance. I decided to look to
scholarships run by businesses across the United States in hopes of funding my education and,
eventually, teaching the children of tomorrow.

SAS’ scholarship immediately jumped out to me, as I have personal ties to air quality
issues — even though they are not the typical ones that come to mind. Fire season affects my
community even more than pollution does, and its impact is major. My response, then, to your
third prompt, “Who do you think is more responsible for pollution, individual people or the
government?” will focus on air pollution from wildfires and forest fires.

Many have heard the story of the baby gender reveal which sparked California wildfires.
Fireworks are a leading cause of wild blazes in hot, arid Western states such as my home state of
Idaho. Campfires, when not tended to properly, cause forest fires on the regular. In this way, I do
believe much of the responsibility falls to individual people. When people are ill-informed, or
when they decide to set aside consequences in favor of the “now”, is when fires start. It is
relatively uncommon for a large fire around here to start naturally. Though it does happen,
man-made fires seem to be much more common — or at least more publicized.

Though I do believe it’s the job of individuals to inform themselves of the potential
outcomes of their choices, I also believe more of the blame falls on the government. At least in
Ada County in Idaho, there are few laws regulating Independence Day fireworks, even though
July is a peak fire month. What few laws there are against selling and setting off airborne
fireworks tend to be ignored, and they are rarely enforced. In this way, local governments set
aside their power to stop or mitigate wildfires in favor of a good, American celebration.

But again, not all blame can fall on local government. State and federal governments
have the most power to restrict unwise actions related to fireworks, campfires, and small blazes.
They simply, in most cases, choose not to do so. In my experience, they even slack on educating
the populace on the dangers of fires, and how to prevent them. Though I’ve heard of Smokey the
Bear, for example, I have never seen a single Smokey ad on television or the radio — and I am
eighteen years old, so I consume a lot of media.

In light of all these factors, my final answer is this: Though the blame for air pollution in
fire season must fall at least partly on individuals who make poor decisions, we cannot fault
those people completely when there are no legal restrictions nor any publicly funded education to
restrict and inform them. Until local, state, and federal governments begin to care about the
wildfires we are so quickly and rashly creating, I believe that the responsibility for the pollution
and subsequent loss falls on those governments.

Thank you for your consideration. I truly appreciate your efforts to make education
accessible for my generation.

Second Place Winner: John Illuno ($1,000 Scholarship Winner)

sas clean air scholarship winner - John Illuno

2nd Place SAS Clean Air Scholarship Winner: John Illuno

John Illuno is a junior at Georgia Institute of Technology pursuing a degree in Mechanical Engineering. He has plans to go into the Master’s program in Mechatronics Engineering, work for five years as a Mechanical Design Engineer, and then pursue his Ph.D. in Mechanical Engineering. He aspires to help develop technologies to protect our planet and make it a better place. For his entry, he submitted a thoughtful video about air quality and how he strives to improve air quality.

John’s Video Entry

John’s Essay Entry

Ways Poor Air quality can Affect One’s Way of life

According to the World Health Organization, every year around 7 million premature deaths are caused by air pollution—with approximately 800 deaths every hour. Generally, air pollution is responsible for more deaths than many other risk factors, including malnutrition or alcohol usage. Poor air quality has detrimental effects on individuals ranging from fully grown healthy adults to newborn babies. When we breathe in polluted air, it enters our lungs and our bloodstream. This can cause small irritations like coughing or itchy eyes. It can also as cause or worsen many diseases involving the lungs and breathing, leading to hospitalizations, cancer, or even premature death. One life is too many lives and it should be a tangible reason for individuals and communities to work together to improve the air quality of their environments both indoors and outdoors.

Both short-term and long-term exposure to air pollutants can cause a variety of health problems for individuals. For instance, air pollution increases the risk of respiratory infections, heart diseases, stroke, or lung cancer. Unfortunately, these negative impacts of exposure to air pollutants have been seen to increase in magnitude for individuals that are already ill. Moreover, if we consider the long-term effects of exposures to air pollutants, it becomes evident that high medical expenses required to treat most of those illnesses can become another issue for individuals in the lower income class.

Studies also suggest that exposure to air pollutants can negatively affect an individual’s cognition and mental well-being. No matter the age or physique of an individual, long term exposure to air pollutants will results in poor mental health. For example, in the year 2012, a researcher from Rush Medical College, found that older women who were exposed to high levels of air pollutant experienced greater cognitive decline compared with other women their age. Meanwhile, in the year 2011, researchers at the University of Michigan found that Michigan public schools located in areas with the highest industrial pollution levels had the lowest attendance rates and the greatest percentage of students who failed to meet state testing standards, even after controlling for socioeconomic differences and other confounding factors. Although, this does not prove causation, it shows there is a correlation between the duration of exposure to poor air quality and the cognitive or mental health decline in the exposed victims.

With aspirations to assist in preventing environmental and health impact of air pollution, I am currently pursuing my Bachelor’s Degree in Mechanical Engineering with a minor in Mathematics. After I graduate in May 2022, I hope to pursue my Master’s program in Mechatronics Engineering at Georgia Institute of Technology. Then, after working at least five years as a Mechanical Design Engineer. I hope to pursue my Ph.D. in Mechanical Engineering. With the skills and knowledge I attain in my academic and career pursuit, I aspire to become a mechanical design engineer and assist in developing technologies that can help protect our planet.

To get a head start, I will be designing and building a gravitational energy generator for my senior project next semester. A gravitational energy generator is a device that can convert gravitational potential energy into electrical energy. The objective of this invention is to build a generator that can generate significant electrical energy when placed at a high altitude in a static or dynamic enclosed space— without the use of external physical factors like water or wind. The advantages of such an invention are countless. For instance, if aircrafts had a gravitational energy generator, they would generate enough electrical energy to power the internal functions of the aircraft at cruising altitude. This will reduce fuel consumption significantly, thereby reducing the number of greenhouse gases emitted in the aviation transportation sector. However, I will need financial assistance to be able to focus on research next semester. Thus, if I am awarded this scholarship money, I will use the money to pay tuition for the Fall 2022 semester.

AirNow. (n.d.). AQI Basic |

Five reasons you should care about air pollution. (2019, June 3). UN Environment.

Manisalidis, I., Stavropoulou, E., Stavropoulos, A., & Bezirtzoglou, E. (2020). Environmental and Health Impacts of Air Pollution: a Review. Frontiers in Public Health, 8(14).

US EPA. (2018, August 15). Summary of the Clean Air Act | US EPA.

Weir, K. (2012, July). Smog in our brains. APA

Why you should care: air quality and health. (2019, January 4). Minnesota Pollution Control Agency.

We would like to thank everyone that submitted an entry into our first annual Clean Air Scholarship. We appreciate the hard work that went into each entry and we would like to wish everyone academic success in the future.