Daisha Griffin was 18, finishing her first semester at Wayne State University, when her stepfather died of prostate cancer. He had always joked with Griffin that she was a neuroscientist, a true force of nature in the making. Indeed, she was a curious kid who was interested in cells and enjoyed looking through microscopes.
“I didn’t know what I wanted to do before that. I liked biology but didn’t know where to go from there, so I was just following the ropes,” Griffin recalls. “After my stepdad died, I became more motivated to study biology.”
But with a sense of responsibility to her mother and two siblings after the tragic loss, Griffin put her academic pursuits on hold to help bring more funds home. Griffin became a frontline worker as COVID-19 began to plague the country. The grocery store where she worked, Food Giant in Detroit, was open seven days a week. Often, nearby residents had to wait in a long line outside the building to come in for food or medications.
“It was stressful. I saw people struggling. They’d storm the store to get supplies and they’d get mad about being asked to wear a mask. They had to wait in long lines, even on holidays. And I understand wanting to be with your family and missing your community because you’re working from home and you haven’t been able to see anyone,” she says.
She recognized their pain because she was struggling, too. Her mental health had taken a hit with her stepfather’s passing and the pause on her college plans, not to mention a pandemic that was wreaking particular havoc in cities like the one where Griffin lived and worked.
Then, during the break Griffin took from her continuing education, her grandfather passed due to cancers prompted by Lynch Syndrome—a common, hereditary condition that makes someone more susceptible to cancer. Her grandfather’s skin and intestinal cancer, which were diagnosed in 2012 and 2020, respectively, progressed and eventually led to his death at age 67.
While she dealt with this new heartache, the budding scientist in Griffin was committed to learning everything she could about Lynch Syndrome.
A Path Forward
In her spare time, Griffin researched and learned about the impact of Lynch and other cancers in her family: “I think my grandfather and his brother inherited the gene from their father. They both didn’t live too long. My grandfather living to 67 was actually much longer than what his father and brother lived to, maybe in part because we know more about cancer and the importance of research and genetic testing,” Griffin hypothesizes. “It’s common, but seems to be more common in males. My Uncle Rudy carries the gene, too, but has made lifestyle changes like cutting red meat and sugar from his diet to try and prevent the syndrome’s activation.”
Griffin’s research also led her to realize she wanted to be a cancer researcher. It felt like a natural fit with her love for biology and personal hardships with her stepfather and grandfather’s diagnoses and subsequent passings. She knew she needed to go back to school but didn’t know how it would be feasible with her resources.
Griffin’s dream of continuing her studies became a reality when she received Henry Ford College’s Futures for Frontliners scholarship in 2021. While she was a student at Henry Ford College, she uncovered a new driving force.
“There aren’t many Black women Ph.D.s, and I realized I wanted to be one. I realized I want to go to medical school.”
In particular, she knew she wanted to be a geneticist or oncologist. To get one step closer, she set her sights on applying to U-M.
“U-M Actually Made Me Feel Loved”
Griffin was hesitant about applying because she didn’t think she’d be accepted, but she decided to go for it. She applied earlier this year and began in the fall 2023 semester. Her advice for other community college students considering transferring is to be bold and go for it, in spite of any doubts they may have.
“Especially when U-M offers things like the admission fee waiver and Go Blue Guarantee. Those helped me so much and made it all more feasible,” she says.
Receiving the admission letter with the maize and blue Block M felt like a huge accomplishment to Griffin, but it also seemed to be the first of many hurdles she would face in order to succeed on campus. Luckily, Griffin found a community that would make the transition easier.
“It’s common with transfer students, at least I hope so because I struggled with it a lot. The feeling that we’re behind. Other students come straight from high school. They can go to college right away, and they know what they want to do. I knew I couldn’t go any earlier and didn’t have the resources. It’s hard.”
She joined U-M’s Community College Summer Fellowship Program, offered through the Undergraduate Research Opportunity Program, where she had the opportunity to meet other community college students and become acquainted with the campus while working on a research project. Griffin, who also has a passion for sustainability, chose to make biofuels from algae to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and create a new, sustainable energy option, which strengthened her love for conducting research in a lab.
“I love U-M for so many reasons, but the commitment to sustainability initiatives is one of them. I was scared when I first came here, but now I don’t feel alone. U-M actually made me feel loved. I’m excited to see what’s next for me.”