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.
Today, in honor of International Women’s Day, we’re turning the tables and interviewing the incredible woman who makes this series possible: Judy Jamal, coordinator in the Director’s Office at the Earth Institute.
During non-pandemic times, Judy greets everyone who walks through the front doors of the Earth Institute with a bright smile every day. She helps keep our offices running smoothly, and forms an integral connective tissue, helping students and visitors navigate our hallways and our phone tree so that people can find who they’re looking for and form important connections. And she is fiercely loyal to faculty, staff, and students; she once even chased down a thief who attempted to steal a student’s backpack from our reception area.
Below, she shares her motivations, passions, and why she loves working here.
What did you do before you worked for the Earth Institute, and what made you want to work here?
First of all, it is such a privilege to be featured among the bright Earth Institute stars through this blog, so thank you! My intense love for nature, the environment and my deeply rooted desire to stay connected with an entity that cares and gives back to society is a driving factor for why I work here.
I worked full time with my alma mater at Long Island University after grad school. So, other than my internships at UNICEF and Amex, my work days have been predominantly at academic environments. Bloomingdale’s was part-time work during grad school, which I thoroughly enjoyed because of the fashion aspect!
How do you manage to bring so much passion to your work every day? What keeps you motivated?
I acknowledge all my multicultural nannies from various parts of the world here, who taught and still inspire me with some very valuable life lessons.
My parents travelled a lot through service as I was growing up, which is very likely the reason why I am comfortable talking to pretty much anyone! Being in a war zone for a short time during my very early teen years, I witnessed all the death and devastation it entails, which is why I find life exhilarating in all the ways it shows up — waking up to each day excites me. The places I have worked, the wondrous and uplifting people I get to meet every day, plus complex human nature and resilience around the world motivates me to push myself to be my best. How stupendous it is to live an earthly human life with no imagination limits!
I lost my husband three years into marriage, but I am a proud mom to a phenomenal daughter who inspires me every single day. Teaching English as a Second Language to adults and mentoring students always inspires me. I get renewed inspiration every time I see the Certificate of Teacher Appreciation I earned through that. My internship appreciation certificates also remind me to stay inspired with my passions. I still stay connected to some of the wonderful administrators from my study days, who, although elderly, always support me. And our precious pet Akita, Princess Leia, motivates me with her unconditional love!
How have you been keeping busy during the pandemic?
Cooking is therapeutic for me. It gives me so much joy to see foods transform from their raw form to delicacies after they are cooked. I am educating myself more about how food is grown, processed, and how it reaches us through supermarkets. I would rather be informed about what goes in our bodies.
I volunteer quite a bit around my neighborhood. I keep busy by staying abreast of scientific developments and health care news, lots of meditation, listening to music, reading, walks and of course, acrylic painting. I nurture small and midsize potted plants. I am much of a home body outside of work.
I adore science fiction movies and stories, and I absolutely love visionary people! Poetry too — because it says so much in a condensed art form. My graduate degrees, one in arts and another in science, probably help me sway in both directions.
Last year you had an art exhibition at the New York Public Library. Could you tell us about your artwork?
This exhibit happened quite by chance — while walking to get an already painted ripped canvas mended, I bumped into the NYPL managers. They really appreciated my artwork I was carrying and asked if I might be interested to display them as an exhibit. I got excited at the prospect and of course said yes! I did not believe they were being serious at that time but lo and behold, it did materialize! I am deeply grateful for that opportunity, more so as it was a solo exhibition. Recently I was invited to a European art competition for which I earned an appreciation certificate — quite thrilling! I never dreamt these paintings painted in my studio apartment might get acknowledged like this.
It has been so nice to get to know our colleagues better through the Staff Spotlight series. What inspired you to start it, and how has it been going so far?
I always feel this category of gems work largely behind the scenes and do not get enough exposure. I’m thrilled to see people enjoying the series and it is equally gratifying I get to work with such amazing people! So honored they share their stories without any inhibition!
Is there anything else you’d like your colleagues to know about you?
After a decade and a half at Columbia, the Earth Institute is my true extended family, as my real family is small now. I do love to celebrate colleagues any way I can, stemming from a genuine appreciation for each of them! Even though I may not understand all the nuances of everything everyone does around me, I value each coworker for who they are and the rich panorama of experiences they bring to the table. This includes our lovely interns, many of whom have moved on or are working with us now, and others throughout the campuses. Every interaction with each of you is a grace for me — I really mean that! I cannot wait to see what new developments we will get to experience through our Lamont-Morningside merger and the forming of the Climate School.