“Did I mention I’m a smartass?” Tiffany Griffith, assistant professor of English and Director of Rhetoric and Composition, asked.
Tiffany has made herself a notable figure on campus with her bright purple hair and lighthearted aura. With a bounce in her step as she moves from class to class, usually humming a classic rock tune, she does anything but blend in. But her knack for teaching and quoting Mel Brooks movies on command came from humble beginnings.
Growing up in Joplin, Mo., with a tight-knit extended family, Tiffany decided to pursue her bachelor’s degree in English in 1992 at the University of Arkansas. Tiffany fell in love with the school’s atmosphere and English program.
She finished her B.A. in 1996 and remained at UA until 2000, during which time she completed her M.A. in English and M.F.A. in Composition and Rhetoric with a specialty in translation.
“It was exhausting and I did it way faster than I should have for the sake of my sanity,” Tiffany said, “but sanity is overrated.”
Although overwhelming, Tiffany’s time at UA gave her many things she loves in life. She discovered her passion for languages in an Old English course and is currently one of the only people in the country who can translate Old Norse, the Icelandic language of the Vikings.
UA is also the place she met her husband, Chair Rob Griffith, professor of creative writing. Rob and Tiffany attended classes together while she was pursuing her M.A., but it wasn’t love at first sight.
“She didn’t want anything to do with me so I had to work on that,” Rob said.
Tiffany finally agreed to go on a date with Rob, and the rest, as they say, is history. They were married in 2001 and eventually moved to Evansville to work at UE. Rob accepted a visiting professor position in the English department and Tiffany began working in the Bower-Suhrheinrich Library.
A lot has changed in 22 years. Their daughter was born in 2010 and Tiffany got her doctorate in English at Southern Illinois University Carbondale in 2017.
Through it all, Tiffany said Rob has been her greatest supporter, but he credits her for making their years together great.
“She is incredibly kind and caring,” he said. “She underlies everything I do and am.”
Rob has not only gotten to experience Tiffany’s standout personality, but also her incredible teaching skills. Since beginning her career at UE, Tiffany has worked as a director of writing and a part-time First-Year Seminar teacher.
Tiffany accepted her current position in 2010 and began teaching FYS full-time. As a professor, she gets to combine her love of language and writing with her passion for helping people.
“I’m biased, but the thing that makes her remarkable is how much she gives to her students,” Rob said.
Writing, especially in an FYS class, can be a hard subject to tackle, as people tend to either love it or hate it. Tiffany said she overcomes these challenges by making class fun and not taking herself too seriously.
“It’s just about creating a relaxed environment where people feel comfortable, safe and not judged,” she said. “And a healthy dose of sarcasm.”
Tiffany wants students to get something out of her classes and get excited about learning. Ultimately, she hopes to make a difference, even for just a few people, and she said teaching is the best way she can do that.
“I love those moments when you see the light bulb go on for a student,” she said.
Hoping to give more of those moments to her students, Tiffany has been working alongside Paul Bone, associate professor of creative writing, on role-playing teaching, or “academic Dungeons & Dragons” as Tiffany calls it. She and Bone have been selected to speak about their experiences with the new technique at a conference in Norway in June.
She has also been working on several projects that have allowed her to spend time on translating. Last year, she was selected to be an expert reader for the National Endowment of the Arts Translation Awards.
Tiffany is now working on a translation of “The Saga of Grettir the Strong,” the story of a Viking outlaw hero. She said it might be her life’s work.
Whether it’s working on Old Norse, listening to heavy metal with her daughter or going the extra mile to help her students write, Tiffany said she doesn’t expect people to notice her contributions.
“When I look back on what I’ve done, I want to have done something meaningful in my life,” she said. “If I’ve helped a few people in any way, I can probably feel pretty good about things.”
With an equally colorful personality and work ethic, Tiffany has a lot of things to feel good about.