Teacher Spotlight: Dr. Griffen


By Andrei Abarientos, Assistant Reporter

Dr. Griffen, one of our new additions to the science department, is a talented and intelligent teacher of Accelerated Biology and Accelerated Algebra I. She also moderates the Envirothon club. Here is some information she shared with the Xavier Kestrel.

Can you tell us a little bit about your early life? Your childhood, stuff like that?

I moved around about once a year because I’m a military brat, my dad was in the army. He met my mom in Korea so I’m half Korean, and I lived in Germany and Korea and Georgia and Texas and Washington State and Washington DC and Illinois and you won’t be able to list them all. But we moved around about once a year, so I went to many elementary schools and junior highs, and by the time I was in high school, I settled in one spot. The place I was born does not exist anymore. I was born on an army base that got decommissioned out in California. So, I technically don’t have a birthplace. So we moved a lot, and we traveled a lot.

When do you think your passions for the sciences started?

In college. When I was in high school, I took a chemistry class, and the teacher said, “you’re not bad at this, you ought to consider taking another class.” I looked at her and said, “I will never ever take chemistry ever again, as long as I live!”

That was me in high school, and I now have a Ph.D. in chemistry. So, teachers always know what’s best. 

When I took lots of courses in chemistry and biology, and when you take a few courses, then you start to understand how it works and you begin developing a love for it. You see how everything fits together and how you’re able to interpret the world and make sense of everything. The first class or two is a little rough, but then after that, it’s a lot of fun. And it still is. I enjoy sharing my passion with the sciences with other folks who say the same thing that I did, “Oh, I’ll never take another class!” But I’m hoping I can get another couple people interested in it again at the college level, so we’ll see. 

What sort of work did you participate in before teaching at Xavier?

Before teaching at Xavier, I taught at a public school for a year, and before that, I was a financial adviser, actually, for many many years. My husband, who’s now deceased, was a financial advisor, so I worked on a five-member team with him. And prior to that, I did research in chemistry: environmental fate of pesticides and other organic molecules, and studying river systems and lake systems. So a lot of environmental work, and a lot of chemistry.

What encouraged you to pursue teaching?

Well, can I say I didn’t like financial advisory too much? But, it wasn’t a passion, and it was convenient and my husband needed help, but then when he passed away, there was really no reason for me to stay, and I wanted to get back to the sciences.

 And I always wanted to make a difference, in the usual sense that a teacher does, but also, as we get more technologically oriented, and scientifically-oriented in our society, if the majority of people don’t know much about it, they’re not in a good place to make decisions about how to move our democracy forward. They’re easily persuaded by things that they hear on radio or TV or other stuff they find, on the internet, whatever. But if you understand the basics of science and know how to think critically, you can make your own decisions. You can sort of be in charge of your own destiny, democratically speaking. To me, this is very important for the future of our country. It’s not just a love of science; it’s also a social justice thing, and a political thing, and a civics thing. I think that everyone should have a basic understanding of how science works so they can make informed decisions about their own individual lives and the direction they want to take the country and the world in.

How are you enjoying teaching at Xavier?

Oh, it’s great, I love it! The students are awesome, and my colleagues are awesome as well. Everyone’s very helpful, and supportive, and polite, and they really do want to help. They’re not just going through the motions. People are willing to take their time and effort to help you even though it takes away from their own time. Everyone’s really generous, caring, and compassionate.

Have there been any challenges you’ve faced?

Just the challenges of any new teacher. There’s always a lot to do, and with COVID-19, I think that adds an extra layer to it. Just trying to keep organized, and the rotating schedule, I have to say, is the one thing. I always have this fear that I’m gonna end up in the wrong spot at the wrong time, and not be in the proper class when I’m supposed to be. Students always have, before a major test, they have the nightmare that they’re gonna forget and not show up to their final or whatever. Well, I have the teacher version of that. I have nightmares that I’m gonna forget to show up to a class because my schedules are always rotating. Other than that, just the usual, trying to learn the ropes and all the ways Xavier has of doing things.

What do you have to say to students who say they just don’t enjoy science?

That is a very typical response that I actually shared. I would say to give it another chance or two. The introductory classes tend to be on the hard side, and can sometimes be a little dry or boring. It’s almost like learning a foreign language. Reading “See Dick and Jane”, “See Dick and Jane Run”, “Go get the ball, Spot”, it isn’t very interesting. Something like Shakespeare might be much more interesting, but you can’t get to Shakespeare without going through “Dick and Jane”. And it’s the same with the sciences.

What activities do you do in your free time?

I have two high school seniors at home, so in my free time, we plan for college applications. I also have, because I’m recently widowed, widowed from two years ago, so I have the remnants of all my past life. So I have five cats and two dogs, and two children, and two houses, and way too many things for one person. I have a very full life, let’s put it that way. I enjoy baking, reading, gardening, growing orchids, taking care of animals, astronomy, Greek mythology. I like a lot of different things, actually. I like to try a lot of new things. I have a variety of interests. I don’t delve too deep into one thing.

Finally, is there anything you want the Xavier student body to know about you?

I really feel that people this age, sort of between adolescence and adulthood, are … well, it sounds so trite to say, “you are the future”, but, I mean, that’s true. I figure that it’s a really important age group, and I feel honored to, at least in my mind, feel I’m making some sort of small difference. You really are at the age where you’re deciding what to do with your lives, and also, how you’re going to fit into the overall world. So if I can help enlighten and spark an interest in you, then that’s a great honor and privilege.

Dr. Griffen hopes to inspire and teach students about the importance of science, and we at the Kestrel are happy to welcome her into the Xavier community.