She and Doug, her husband of five years, were overjoyed to learn that she was pregnant. But within days, disaster struck. Doug, the “perfect man who had come into my life at the perfect time,” was diagnosed with Astrocytoma, a form of brain cancer. He passed away in June 2004, 19 days after her son’s first birthday.
“It was like the best of the world and the worst of the world, all in the same month,” said Griffin, now 44 and vice president of student services at the University of Phoenix.
Griffin often shares her heart-wrenching personal story in her work-life balance and mindset talks before Student Services Department employees and the wider University community. A yoga instructor and fitness aficionado, Griffin also is a certified health and life coach. She brings all that into her role at the University, where, in addition to serving as an administrator, she is a coach, mentor and inspiration.
“She is able to draw out the best in people,” said Nino Ivanovich, who joined the University about a year ago as an academic counselor, one of around 500 employees in Griffin’s department. “She shares her struggles and her challenges.
“If Kristen Griffin can go through what she went through and come out and be this person, I can absolutely do it!”
“My passion has always been developing, teaching, training — giving people something so they can do something for themselves.”
- Kristen Griffin
A teacher from the beginning
Griffin was raised in the Phoenix metropolitan area, and graduated with a degree in elementary education. She taught fourth grade for four years before she took a leap of faith and quit to become a yoga instructor. She’d become hooked on yoga in college, and her dream of teaching yoga evolved into a dream of owning a yoga therapy and counseling business.
“My passion has always been developing, teaching, training — giving people something so they can do something for themselves,” she said.
Meanwhile, she and her husband, “had a super, great love story,” she recalls. “I was on a healing journey…. And he showed me how to love.”
After her husband’s diagnosis, their life was dominated by radiation and chemotherapy treatments — not to mention the birth of their baby, James, in June of 2003. By the next March, Doug was growing too sick to work. So Griffin took a job as an academic counselor at University of Phoenix.
She had dual reasons: the job would ensure that her family continued to have medical insurance, and she could take University courses toward a master’s degree. Within a year of being hired, Griffin started her master’s in Family Counseling. Promotions and practicum demands for the counseling credentials caused her to shift her long-term goals and change programs. In 2009, she graduated with an MS in Psychology.
After Doug died at the age of 30, Griffin pushed through her grief with yoga.
“It is what always brings me back to my center,” she said. “It is physical and emotional and mental.”
Her son was her inspiration. While trying to regroup and rebuild her life, she had an epiphany: “I was all my son had.” That realization made Griffin commit to staying healthy physically, as well as emotionally and mentally.
Through successive promotions in Student Services — she became vice president in 2013 — Griffin learned she really loved managing people.
“I discovered along the way that the things I liked about being a teacher were the same things I liked about being a manager and a director,” she said. “Leading and coaching people to discover and shine their true talents has always been my passion and my purpose.”
Passion and purpose
Ivanovich loves attending the talks Griffin’s staff has dubbed her “Ked” talks – a play on Ted Talks using her first initial. Every other month, she hosts the first 100 who sign up for lunch and gives one of her talks about work-life balance or managing time, stress, and mindset.
Her energy and authenticity are infectious, he said.
“She really listens to what people have to say,” Ivanovich said. “If someone asks or proposes something interesting during her talk, she’ll pursue it. “She’ll say, ‘I like that! Tell me more.’ She’s just naturally inquisitive.”
Jennifer Barker, vice president of advisement and student solutions in Griffin’s department, described Griffin as great with the big picture.
“What’s unique about Kristen is she has the ability to think about what’s in front of you, how what you do now leads to where you go in the future,” she said.
The two have worked with each other for 10 years, Barker said. “She has always made me think about things differently, to ensure that what I do and how I do it is done to help support everybody around me.”
As Griffin sees it, her coaching and mentoring is all about helping people learn to sort out the answers for themselves.
“There is untapped potential in all of us,” she said. “I really enjoy helping people see their own potential and then do something with it.”