Fowler Alumna Advocates For Community Service and Global Education

June 1, 2023

Bernadette GriggsOpen the image full screen.
Proud SDSU alumna, Bernadette Griggs, shows her Aztec pride at an SDSU football game

Bernadette Griggs (’95, accountancy) came to the U.S. as an adventurous 17-year-old, eventually establishing a career as an award-winning leader in one of San Diego’s largest charitable non-profit organizations. 

Growing up in the village of Hopkins, Belize, Bernadette Griggs was used to living with a large family in a home with no running water or electricity. But that didn’t stop the young math whizz from graduating high school at 15 and dreaming of a better life. 

“As a brave 17-year-old, I traveled to the U.S. — alone,” she recalled. “I left my mom, dad and five siblings to join some extended family members who lived in Los Angeles.”  

Griggs was in Los Angeles only a few years before she sensed better opportunities further south. In 1982, she moved to San Diego where she carved out a niche for herself working in the accounting departments of Grossmont-Cuyamaca Community College, Southwestern Community College and San Diego Community College District.

After working in the public education system for many years, Griggs realized she needed to complete her own educational goals if she wanted to move forward on a professional level. 

“Both my parents were educators and not furthering my education was never an option,” said Griggs. “I recognized that was the only way for me to compete for better job opportunities and to advance in my career.”

But earning her bachelor’s degree was no easy feat. While Griggs had already earned her associates degree in accounting from San Diego City College, she enrolled in San Diego State University as an adult learner at what is now the Fowler College of Business while raising two young sons and maintaining a full-time job. In order to complete her bachelor’s degree program and manage her work and family schedule, Griggs took her classes in the evening. 

“Time management was critical for me, but I enjoyed being in evening classes with other adult learners,” said Griggs. “Listening to their perspectives and hearing of real-life work experiences from others working in the field were meaningful and helped bring a good balance to the theories being discussed in class.” 

It took nearly six years to complete her courses at SDSU, but Griggs earned her bachelor’s degree in accounting in 1995. Although that was 28 years ago, she still uses some of the things she learned at SDSU today, especially one lesson that was under-appreciated at the time. 

Rassan Sampson and Jameel SampsonOpen the image full screen.
Griggs’ sons, Rassan Sampson and Jameel Sampson, also earned their bachelor’s degrees at SDSU
“Working in teams was my least favorite activity while I was in school, however, I now see the value in teamwork in completing projects, having the diversity in thoughts, and getting input that results in better outcomes,” she said. “Hard work, long hours, dedication, and multitasking was required to earn my bachelor’s degree and I’ve adopted that philosophical work ethic throughout my life. A job well-done requires that you give 100%.”

Her bachelor’s degree helped to propel her up the corporate ladder and she earned a master’s degree seven years later which helped to move her into executive management.

After spending her entire accounting career in the field of education and reaching the level of assistant superintendent/ chief business officer at the Pasadena Unified School District, Griggs chose to fulfill her passion for community service in 2018 by joining a non-profit organization, Jewish Family Service (JFS) of San Diego, as the organization’s chief financial officer. 

“JFS was a perfect agency for me to join because of the invaluable work it does in the community,” said Griggs, who was recently named CFO of The Year by The San Diego Business Journal for the nonprofit sector.  “But I haven’t completely left the education sector. I am still serving as a board member in a charter school management company to aid with dropout recovery.” 

Griggs has passed along her passion for education to sons Rassan Sampson (’08, mechanical engineering) and Jameel Sampson (’16, kinesiology), both of whom are proud SDSU alumni. And she’s made no secret of the fact that she would like her grandson, Jett Sampson, to attend SDSU, adding a third generation to the family’s Aztec legacy. 

Jett GriggsOpen the image full screen.
Griggs’ has hopes for a third generation Aztec alum in grandson, Jett.
Her advocacy for education extends beyond international borders as she assists young students in her hometown by sending computers and tablets to school children in Hopkins and other Belizean communities. “For the past four years or so, I’ve taken much interest in the students in Belize, especially in the south,” she said. “It’s important for our kids to have technology available to them.” 

As Griggs approaches retirement, she is planning to return to Belize to continue helping the country’s young residents. “I would like to establish a lab where students can come for tutoring and have the necessary technology to do their homework,” she said. “I also want to expand internet availability in my home and work with the school in the village so that students can come there for after school help, if they need or want it.” 

As a youngster, Griggs dreamed of a better life and, although she was only a teenager at the time, her journey to the U.S. is never far from her mind. She has great empathy for the young immigrants and for participants in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, frequently referred to as “DREAMers.” 

“Although my situation is different from the DREAMers, they are young immigrants nonetheless and my hope for them is to continue to advocate for a real path to permanent residency and citizenship,” said Griggs.  “My hope is that they continue to persevere and never give up, despite the challenges with the system that they continue to face. Giving up is not an option!”

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