We Are Agriculture is a year-long series that will highlight the hard-work done by employees across the Department of Agriculture. Mikaela Lee, Fuel Quality Inspector with our Standards Division, is one of those employees. Stay tuned each Wednesday here on the blog or any of our social media accounts and join us in honoring those who continue to drive our state’s agriculture industry forward each day!
Gasoline is an important part of every day life across the world, including in the agriculture industry, as it powers our cars, tractors and more. Mikaela Lee, Fuel Quality Inspector with our Standards Division, works hard daily to ensure that the gas we are putting in our equipment is both clean and safe.
Ever since she was a little girl, Mikaela has loved being outdoors and enjoyed the rewards that agriculture can bring. “My parents had a garden when I was growing up and they taught me how to grow my own produce, which I still do to this day,” she said. “Currently I have a lot of different fruits and vegetables growing in my home garden, including okra, squash, tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers.”
After graduating from The University of North Carolina at Pembroke with a degree in Biology, Mikaela, like most college students, took a year to find her way to a career that she loved. “I worked a couple of different jobs before coming to the department, including a temporary position at LabCorp, and although they taught me many lessons that I continue to use in my career today, neither fueled my true passion for the industry,” she said. In 2017, Mikaela found her purpose when she accepted the position of Fuel Quality Inspector with the NCDA&CS Standards Division. ‘
On a typical day, Mikaela can be found inspecting gas stations within her assigned area, either for routine inspections or complaint follow-up. “I have ten counties under my jurisdiction that I inspect,” she said. “Usually, I will test fuel at three gas stations per day, either for routine inspecting, follow-up visits or complaint calls.” Since she has been with the division for five years now, many of the station managers recognize Mikaela when she arrives and trust her to do her job. “When I first started, I would have to go in and introduce myself and explain what I needed to do,” she said, “but now I have established such a rapport with these station managers that they know who I am and they trust me to do my job, which benefits both them and their customers.”
At the station, Mikaela collects five samples of fuel from five random gas pumps on-site. These samples always include each gas type, including diesel and flex fuel, so that they are all deemed safe for consumers. “First, I will check each nozzle that I am testing to ensure there is no water inside it or the tank because it can break down a vehicle before it even leaves the station,” she said, “then I collect my samples and the lab will test them for a variety of things, including ethanol and sediment.” Inspectors are allowed to approve every test in the field with the exception of octane, which is sent to the lab for testing once a week by each inspector. Once on-site testing results are received, Mikaela will address the manager to let them know whether their fuel passed inspection. If not, a plan is determined to fix the issue and a follow up visit is scheduled to ensure compliance. “Our main focus is consumer safety,” she said. “We are a barrier to protect the people from gas that could damage their vehicles and ultimately cause them harm. We take our work seriously because that’s what the citizens of this state deserve.”
Although she loves being outside on a regular basis, Mikaela’s favorite part of the job is knowing she is making an impact on the agriculture industry and the state of North Carolina as a whole. “Agriculture is a great industry to work in because people truly invest in and care about you here,” she said. “I am really proud of the impact that our team has on the industry and the overall community. It’s an honor to be a part of it.”
When she is not working, Mikaela can be found enjoying the outdoors either running or playing ultimate frisbee. She also works a part-time job at Fleet Feet, where she helps people find the perfect shoe for their indoor and outdoor needs. Join us in thanking Mikaela for all of her hard work ensuring our cars and farming equipment have safe and high-quality fuel to run on!