As the new Clark County School District/UNLV pollen program supervisor, Asma Tahir oversees a program of value to the entire Las Vegas metro area. In her role, she helps the local community make informed, healthier choices regarding local air quality — not just during allergy season, but over a longer stretch of time as well.
What about UNLV strikes you as different from other places you have worked or where you went to school?
UNLV is a diverse institution and that makes it a unique amalgam of a student body diversified not only with ethnicities but age and gender as well.
Where did you grow up and what was that like? What do you miss about it?
I grew up in Pakistan and it was an amazing experience from childhood to adulthood. My father was in the military and we moved around quite frequently, hence allowing me to visit so many cities, (make) new friends, (and become familiar with) unique dialects and traditions. I really miss the food and the rich cultural traditions.
What is your current job title and what are a few of your duties?
I am the Pollen Lab supervisor and a certified pollen and mold counter. I, along with other lab assistants, collect, stain, and count pollen while maintaining and sharing that data with weather stations, physicians’ offices, and the community. The pollen count program can track how the allergen's presence in Las Vegas has changed over the years and inform policy decisions.
Tell us more.
We have five sites for tracking, collecting, and monitoring pollen around the Las Vegas area and one in Jean. We collect pollen throughout the year from these stations and once collected the sample is then stained, identified under a microscope and counted manually in the lab for data and research purposes. These counts are then submitted to the National Allergy Bureau sites daily along with our website.
How does one become a certified pollen and mold counter?
Certification is offered to counting stations that agree to provide data on a timely bases to the National Allergy Bureau (NAB). Following the required training courses, the candidate for certification is required to take a web-based qualifying exam. Following successful completion of that exam, the candidate is permitted to take the practical exams using slides. To be certified for pollen and mold, a counter must successfully count and identify grass, weed, and tree pollen grains on one pollen and one mold slide, which would represent spring, summer, and fall pollen and mold types in most of the continental U.S.
What inspired you to get into your field?
This program enables me to give productive and informed statistics to the public, which can be used for their benefit. I am a strong proponent of prevention and being involved in this program enables me to do my part for an informed and healthier community.
What tips do you have for people who are troubled by pollen allergies?
Allergies can be minimized by taking a few simple steps:
- Keep the windows and doors closed in your home and turn on the air conditioner.
- Change the air conditioner filter often.
- Rinse or wash your hair before hitting the bed. Wash your face and hands frequently during high pollen days.
- Change your clothes when coming in from a few hours outside.
- Avoid the outdoors during peak pollen-producing times and also avoid walking your pets during high pollen times of the day.
- Check your local forecast and pollen count every day.
- Do not line-dry your laundry in the pollen-filled breeze.
- If antihistamines alone don’t help enough, visit your allergist.
Finish this sentence, "If I couldn't work in my current field, I would like to..."
Teach, engage, and empower communities to adopt healthy behaviors.
Tell us about a time in your life when you have been daring.
Returning to college to pursue education later in life with two kids, one of them differently-abled, was definitely challenging and a daring decision. The rewards and the sense of achievement however outweighed the fear, stress, and anxiety of the workload with added life responsibilities and I made it through, eventually.
Tell us about an object in your office that has significance for you and why it is significant.
Microscopes play a significant role in our project as they are used to identify and count pollen. Without the identification process we would not be able to impart this knowledge to the National Allergy Bureau and even (to) the allergy sufferers.
What is something people would be surprised to learn about you?
I am an avid traveler with a keen interest in issues pertinent to differently-abled individuals.
What books do you currently have on your bedside table?
Walking with the Wind: A Memoir of the Movement by John Lewis and Feast: With a Taste of Amir Khusro by my dear friend Bisma Tirmizi. The first is an account of the American civil rights movement as witnessed by the U.S. representative from Georgia. Feast is an account of life and cuisine based on the people of the sub-continent, their traditions, and celebrations.
Diane Russell also contributed to this story.