State of the Planet

News from the Columbia Climate School

Staff Spotlight: Jiny Kurian, Human Resources Generalist

The Staff Spotlight series features Earth Institute staff members from across the Morningside, Lamont and the Irving Medical Center campuses. The series is intended to highlight the important work our staff members do to keep the Earth Institute running smoothly and to support our mission of guiding the world onto more sustainable paths. These interviews discuss staff members’ careers, their interest in our institute and insights that might be relatable and useful for the rest of us.

Jiny Kurian portrait
Jiny Kurian is a human resources generalist at the Earth Institute, Columbia University.

Jiny Kurian joined the Earth Institute in beginning of 2020. I met up with her virtually to learn about her experience as a human resources generalist, what made her join our Institute and how she relates this career to her own goals and aspirations.

What was a driving factor to join the Earth Institute for you?

There were two driving factors to join EI. First was the mission of the institute; I’ve always had an interest in areas of accessibility and sustainability because that’s where the future should be heading, and I wanted to be part of a community that was committed to these values. I wanted to be able to work in this space and at the same time, learn and spread the wealth that I was receiving. I want to make sure we are leaving the world a better place for our future generations. If not us, who else is going to do it?

I also joined EI because of the people. I still remember that day, coming for my first interview and being welcomed by you and my team. That moment was so poignant, so impactful, I felt like I was already part of EI and I belonged here. I just knew this was the place for me.

What is your role here and what were you doing before coming to EI?

I am a human resources generalist, part of the EI HR team. My primary role here is recruiting, but we are also here to provide guidance to department managers on HR policies and procedures. Pretty much for anything you need! Prior to EI, I worked at our University Libraries in a similar role focusing on recruiting and retention.

Which part of your job do you enjoy most? Did your background prepare you for your present job?

I would say the recruiting aspect of my job is the most enjoyable for me. I am 100 percent a people person. I love meeting new people and learn about their backgrounds. It always makes me realize there is a whole different world out there with so much potential and possibilities. When I was little, people told me I talked to much. But one day during my college years, I was told my chitchatting was soothing and it calmed their nerves. Never stopped talking since! Now I consider my chats a positive trait!

What is the best career advice you have gotten? Or what advice would you give your younger self today?

It feels like many eons ago but I was stressed by some office politics in an old job and my manager at the time gave me a Post-it note that said, “Let nothing and no one steal your joy.” I have been carrying that Post-it around to every job since.

As a South Asian woman, I’ve often felt pressured by my society to be the best at everything and whenever I could not achieve perfection, I used to be disappointed at myself. But I have learned and grown so much since. I would tell my younger self to not give up so easily because of a bad chapter in my book. Just be patient because the book does get better. Look at me now, I am happy as I can be!

What sort of creative ways are you using to stay in touch with others during the COVID-19 pandemic?

Zoom and driveway parties have been my go-to ways to stay in touch with people. I am grateful to have a home and a good support system, because I don’t think I would have survived this quarantine without them and the video chats! Recently we did a tie-dye driveway party. Mine did not turn out great but it was so much fun. All you need is a mask, gloves, t-shirt, water and some colors. It’s safe and fun!

Judy Jamal is a coordinator in the Director’s Office at the Earth Institute, Columbia University. 

Banner featuring a collage of extreme heat images.

Recent record-breaking heat waves have affected communities across the world. The Extreme Heat Workshop will bring together researchers and practitioners to advance the state of knowledge, identify community needs, and develop a framework for evaluating risks with a focus on climate justice. Register by June 15

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