I walked in an office, expecting to find a stern, stereotypical science professor who used big words and complicated terminology.
Instead, I was met with a smile. I had entered the office of biology professor, John Griffis.
Griffis amazes me with the world’s most organized desk, with a notebook filled with columns of work he would need to do for the rest of the week.
After these surprises, I got answers about Griffis’ early life that would describe him as the hardest worker, and how he eventually came to his career as a biology teacher.
As a youth, Griffis recalls his time in the 160-acre family farm that is still thriving today, east of Rockford.
He found the farm life very relaxing, and if given the chance, he would have probably gone back to the rural life he had been a part of for many years.
From feeding livestock to handling crops, Griffis was given many daily tasks to do on the farm, as his father had to work at a factory while his brothers were drafted into Vietnam.
Griffis did not believe all of his life was just work. He went to school, and was involved in several sports, but the “okay” education system at his rural high school was limited in terms of opportunities.
In fact, Griffis remembers his graduating high school class numbering about 75 students, which took three combined grade schools to acquire.
Even with his unpreparedness stemming from the limited education in high school, Griffis took an interest in animal studies and psychology, while also going somewhere in mathematics or physical education.
Never had it occurred to him that he would become a biology professor.
After high school, Griffis went to Northern Illinois University, and then Southern Illinois University in Carbondale.
His career into teaching was met with some difficulty, but more of a journey that would land him his job at JJC.
Taking on odd jobs such vet assistant, cutting firewood, delivering livestock feed, substitute teacher, temporary teacher at universities, working on a second Master’s degree in teaching, and even installing in-ground pools.
After applying to several places to support his family, he was offered the teaching position at JJC. Since taking the job, he has worked as a professor for 25 years.
For much of time at JJC, he saw his hard work being put to use as a professor, humoring his students with his life on the farm, and perhaps teaching them something they could apply to their own lives.
Going above and beyond, Griffis guided an undergraduate research study for student Heidi Zambrano, which was on organisms and data collection from water samples from Lily Cache Creek in Illinois
The research was presented at the 2016 Proceedings of the National Conference on Undergraduate Research, or NCUR.
“That’s a lot to credit to her, she did a really great job,” said Griffis.
As a professor of the subject of sciences, Griffis not only believes in the importance of the environment, but sees its beauty.
When talking about Carbondale, he admires the “big, muddy” valleys and wilderness areas that he instantly fell in love with.
With an ever-changing society in terms of climate, sustainability and political agendas, Griffis remembers being fairly pessimistic for the future environment of the world.
However, his time in the past few decades has changed him in becoming fairly hopeful.
Much of his change in attitude comes from his students and the next generation, who he feels are more consciously aware with things like climate change, and going green. “I think we’re gonna get better at this [changing for the environment].”
Grffis has already planned his retirement in the next four years, but does not see a boring future during his time in retirement, and definitely will not give up teaching.
“I probably will come back and teach like a class and that,” said Griffis. “My wife’s gonna be working a while because like I said, she’s younger, so I’m gonna have to keep myself busy in that regard. I’m looking forward to it.”
Exercise, writing and dreams of creating an aquarium are just some of the things Griffis hopes to do with his time, and knows that his work is always worth it in the end. “I think you just need to be real honest and forthright with everything you do.”
Nearly half an hour after the interview at around 6 p.m., I could see Griffis working out at the JJC fitness center.
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