My grandfather was a professor of philosophy, so I was raised to ask a lot of questions. I love the possibilities we can create together when we think critically about the world, consider our places in it, and our responsibilities to one another. For me this is the work of education. I became a professor because I wanted to join a community—of students and colleagues—with whom I could seek to better understand and be of service to the world.
What do you like most about your work?
Being at a major research university like UW offers the opportunity to collaborate with colleagues from many different disciplines. My goal is to generate knowledge and support practices that can address the needs and interests of communities that are experiencing environmental injustice, social inequality, and ongoing colonialism. I plan to collaborate across disciplines to continue working with communities on the frontlines of climate change. My appointment is shared between SMEA and the Department of American Indian Studies, so a major focus of my work will be to facilitate collaborations between College of the Environment partners and Indigenous communities to address the environmental, health, and wellness issues they identify as most important.
If you could have any amount of funding to conduct research, what would you do, and why?
In Kivalina, Alaska, where I work, I have several friends and mentors who captain their own whaling crews and are also involved in leading search and rescue operations when hunters encounter issues out on the ocean, tundra, or rivers. I would work with them to design, fund, and bolster strategies to support localized environmental monitoring, hunter safety and education, and community food sovereignty in the face of global climate change. Along the way, we would visit other small Indigenous communities throughout the Arctic, both to learn with them and to share our methods, ideas, and strategies.
What advice would you give to students who are considering studying at SMEA?
SMEA offers students an opportunity to approach the most pressing marine, coastal, and environmental issues from a variety of disciplinary perspectives. This is done both in the classroom and through on-the-ground experience. As a student here, not only do you have access to the entire College of the Environment, but also to distinguished faculties in the humanities, arts, education, social work, engineering, public health, and medicine. Try to take at least one course in an unexpected department to see what new perspectives it might bring to the questions and concerns that brought you to SMEA in the first place.
I grew up in Rhode Island, so as a kid I spent countless summer days playing in the waves, sailing, or fishing—the ocean has always been a part of my life. At the moment, because of my toddler daughter, I’m kind of partial to The Pout-Pout Fish…
Learn more about Professor Griffin on his faculty page.