People Spotlight: David Phelan, Commercial Director
The Staff Spotlight series features Earth Institute staff from the Morningside, Lamont and 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 to guide the world on more sustainable paths. These interviews cover the careers of staff members, their interest in our institute, and ideas that might be relevant and useful to the rest of us.
This month, the spotlight is on David Phelan, who works on the Lamont campus. As the Commercial Director of the Earth Institute’s communications team, he keeps the department running smoothly and is always ready to help a colleague in need.
What is your role now?
I am the commercial director of the communications department at the Earth Institute.
How and when did you connect with us?
I started in June 2001 with a team of five with offices in Lamont Hall in Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. My main office remains in Lamont and I am now at my fifth location, a record I am told.
What aspects of your work inspire you?
the skill at the Earth Institute impresses me. I remember over the years how our experts were called upon in every natural disaster, from tsunamis to earthquakes and everything in between.
What are some memorable and fun events that happened on campus?
The 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami occurred on December 26, while most were on vacation. I remember my wife and I going to Lamont to help the then communications director with media inquiries. We had a very busy few days, but it was a memorable experience!
I have always enjoyed participating in Open House in Lamontespecially by watching young people get excited about science. It was also a great opportunity to work with other people at the Earth Institute that I don’t normally interact with.
Funny story, at least from my perspective. One of my offices in Lamont was Guest House 6; my office had a door a few meters away that I often left open in good weather. One day I didn’t walk away for more than five minutes and came back to see a 3-4 foot snake under my desk. I found a broom and used the handle to pick up the snake and decided to show it to a coworker in another office who I sincerely thought would appreciate it as they are a nature lover. Flash info: nature lover does not equate to snake lover. The moment they saw the snake, they started to scream and ran out of the house and continued to run for some distance.
How do you spend your free time?
My wife and I love to travel and do so at every opportunity. During the pandemic, we explored some local destinations. We also love to set up a few lawn chairs at some of our favorite spots along the Hudson River and in the Hudson Valley.
Although we don’t have any children, we do have two adorable “grandchildren” (a separate story) who we spend a lot of time with. They are a great source of joy!
If there was a lesson or advice you could give us, what would it be?
“There is more happiness in giving than in receiving.” Looking back on my life, the happiest times have been when I have had the opportunity to help others, from volunteer work to time spent with our grandchildren. Whenever I feel “down” I try to do something for someone else and it lifts my spirits!
How has the pandemic influenced you?
It reminded me how much I don’t like the city (sorry townspeople), nor the daily commutes that come with it. I really enjoy spending more time with my wife who has also been working remotely since March 2020. This limited our travel which was a challenge but forced us to explore local destinations.