Behind the Science: Our Distinguished Staff

by |October 25, 2017

The Earth Institute is a renowned institution that conducts important and innovative research across all aspects of the environment and sustainability, and is a leader in environmental and sustainability education. We produce the science necessary to understand how the planet works and how human beings are affecting natural systems. The faculty and scientists who make up the Earth Institute are earth and environmental scientists, economists, lawyers, business and management experts, public health specialists, architects, engineers and more, and they regularly receive international and national recognition for their achievements and contributions to their fields. But it is also important to recognize the hard work that is done “behind the science.”

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Earth Institute staff at the administrators staff retreat in July 2017.

The Earth Institute has nearly 800 employees, which includes the administrative and operational staff who make the research and education work possible. Our administrators are the backbone of what we do, facilitating details large and small that enable the faculty and scientists to focus on what they do best, their research and teaching. These staff are the people who promote and fundraise for our work; who manage contracts, grants and finance; who plan meetings and events; who are experts in communication and outreach; and who navigate through the complex administrative web that exists at universities. These are the people who make the science possible, and who are no less passionate about the work than the scientists and faculty themselves.

Two years ago, the Earth Institute created its first Distinguished Staff Award to honor and recognize exemplary performance in its non-research staff, who consistently excel in their positions and show strong commitment and dedication to their work. Below is a snapshot of our first two winners.

2015 Awardee: Moanna St. Clair

Moanna is division administrator for the Geochemistry division at the Earth Institute’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory (LDEO). She reports to the associate director and is responsible for the daily fiscal management of a large, active research division, including all financial aspects of contracts and grants and related administrative duties.  She serves as primary liaison between the division, LDEO administration, Columbia administration, and funding agencies.

1. What drew you to work at Lamont?

I was at graduate student in Pace University’s Publishing Sciences program and there was a job opening for an editorial assistant at Lamont.  I worked under the editor Dr. Eli Katz for the American Meteorological Society’s Journal of Physical Oceanography and the rest is history.

2. What project have you worked on recently, that you are particularly proud of?

We’ve been working on a way to make our building more “user friendly.” With the help of LDEO’s IT group, we have found a cost-effective way to have an online directory that will soon be installed in the lobby of our building.  Since it will be maintained by our Division’s administrative assistant (Arlene Suriani), it eliminates the need for the costly contract that we had with an outside company. It will not only allow visitors to easily find the office number, etc. for the person that they are looking for but visitors will also have access to the Lamont web page and be able to find out information about events, seminars, etc. that are taking place inside the Comer Building. Also, we will soon feature mini presentations, and other similar material from our science staff so visitors will know more about the important research projects that are being carried out by our scientists. So, this touchscreen will give visitors access to our staff, events and science projects!

3. What is the best part of your job?

I enjoy working with the people, and solving problems.

Vilma Rivera Gallagher at the Earth Institute holiday party in 2016.

Vilma Rivera Gallagher at the Earth Institute holiday party in 2016.

2016 Awardee: Vilma Rivera Gallagher

Vilma has worked at Columbia University for over 40 years – nearly 20 of those years at the Earth Institute. She is a senior project manager on the communications team, where she supports a range of events for the Earth Institute’s centers and programs. Vilma supports everything from initial concept development, to marketing, branding and budgeting, to working with vendors and stakeholders. She brings all the pieces together, managing projects until they come to fruition.

1. What drew you to work at the Earth Institute?

At the time, I was working in the President’s office, where I had been for some time, and was ready for something different. When I had heard that the then-director of external relations needed someone to handle events for the Earth Institute, the idea appealed to me. I liked what the Earth Institute represented, and knew what it was about because I was around when it first started under Mike Crow. When I went up to the Lamont campus and saw how beautiful it was, I was sold.

2. What project have you worked on recently, that you are particularly proud of?

Lamont Open House. I’m lucky in that I’ve had jobs that allow me to believe and see how we fulfill our mission. For example, when I managed Commencement for the University, seeing students graduate was a clear fulfillment of our education purpose. The Lamont-Doherty Open House is definitely an example of how we fulfill our mission by educating the public about our work, and even educating the scientists about the public, and getting them to interact. And the Lamont campus is such a beautiful setting.

3. What is the best part of your job?

That we educate. The knowledge that we promote – it’s the only thing the matters. I feel lucky to have such an emotionally fulfilling job.

Are you an Earth Institute employee who is interested in nominating someone for the 2017 Distinguished Staff Award? Click here for the nomination form and instructions. Nominations are due November 10, 2017.


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