Meet one of VISTA+ VI Assets: Virgin Islanders not only working in STEM fields, but leading amazing work in their industries and representing the territory.
Raised in the US Virgin Island on St. Croix, Kira Griffith has an impressive story. An aspiring neuroscientist with minors in Chemistry and Music, Griffith is a medical student at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She is particularly interested in addressing healthcare disparities in U.S. territories. Learning is not her only passion, Kira holds several leadership positions across many extracurricular activities and has a passion for integrating a diversity of perspectives, knowledge, cultural experiences, and backgrounds among her colleagues and peers. Kira shares her experiences growing up in the USVI, advice for those just starting out, and her hopes for the future.
For those who may be just coming across this blog, can you tell me a bit about yourself?
I was born in Miami, FL, but when I was 1 year old, my family moved to St. Croix. I went to St. Croix’s Rattan Montessori School for pre-K, St. Mary’s Catholic School for elementary school, and then graduated as Valedictorian from Good Hope Country Day School in 2017. After that, I accepted a full scholarship to [the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill] to study science. I chose to study Neuroscience and minor in Chemistry and Music and I’m entering medical school this year. On the fun side, I like to swim! I swam for about 10 years [and did] ballet for the same amount of time. I also love to run and am very active, and I play the piano. So, it’s a little bit of fun and professional!
Do you think there was a pivotal moment that helped shaped your career interests? Can you share that moment?
It was definitely a series of moments and experiences with different people that led me to neuroscience. My interest really started in high school when I was getting into more advanced classes for piano. My piano teacher at the time, Ms. Marsha Shuman, introduced me to one of her books, “This is Your Brain on Music.” [The book] talks about how music affects the cognitive development of your brain. Your brain can change [over the course of your life based on a] concept called neuroplasticity. [Historically we thought] that once you grew to be an adult, everything [became] static and there was no possibility to grow further. [However, the field of] neuroscience is showing us that at any age, you’re learning new things, you’re growing, you’re changing, and music can be an instrumental part in that.
[In college] I was excited about tying in my interest and passion in piano to science [and did] my senior thesis project in college, studying the effects of classical music and reggae music on our attention. I am hoping to continue doing that research in medical school, too. [I think my career interests stemmed from] a series of moments, but it started with the introduction to the book, “This is Your Brain on Music.”
What advice would you give to aspiring neuroscientists or students like yourself who may be just starting out on their journeys?
The first thing I would say is to stick with it. I think persistence is the key to really being successful in pretty much anything but particularly in STEM. There are so many obstacles you’ll find along the way, you’ll take a hard class or you’ll [have to play catch up with] your peers in college, things like that. It takes a special grit to keep going. Also, knowing that you can learn, and that failure is just part of the path to becoming successful. [Failure is] not an end all be all; it’s a stepping stone to getting to the next level. I’d also say finding mentors is a great way to see where you could be in the future. I found mentors in STEM very early on, through a program called the Physician Scientist Training Program. That program connected me with researchers at universities and exposed me to the research occurring outside of classroom textbooks. Finding a mentor and being persistent would be my top two recommendations.
Can you talk a little more about how being from the Virgin Islands has influenced your career path?
I’m interested in medicine in general and learning how to be a good advocate, especially a healthcare advocate. My parents are both physicians. When we were living on St. Croix, I got an early exposure to what the hospital infrastructure is like, what politics are at play and how many factors can influence whether a patient gets the treatment and the care that they need. I was also exposed to disparities within healthcare and [those that] exist in the territories compared to the mainland. Knowing all of this, I wanted to use my professional career to help improve the healthcare infrastructure in St. Croix and the US Virgin Islands in general. That mission is very personal and close to me because that’s my home and it’s where I grew up. I still call it home, even though I live in Chapel Hill. It’s ultimately where I want to work. [The Virgin Islands] played a huge role.
What is your vision in the US Virgin Islands in the future? How do you think that your work will impact the US Virgin Islands?
My vision is for the US Virgin Islands to be strong in healthcare and a place where individuals can get care and know that they’re getting the best quality care regardless of access to resources. Hopefully, in the future, there could be a separation of hospital leadership from political leadership and more financial independence to acquire the resources needed to take care of patients and improve the culture around healthcare in the territory. I hope to be a part of that and I hope to apply all the knowledge that I’m learning and [will learn in] medical school back to St. Croix. [I also] want to work with others; there are lots of other people out there who want to do similar things and I want to build a team to help us [realize those] visions.
A fun one! Do you have a favorite dish or meal?
Oh, man, I have so many. When I came to UNC, I had a big culture shock because I was like, Where am I going to find Johnny Cakes? I would say Johnny Cakes and Saltfish or Johnny Cakes and fried chicken are probably my favorite.
On June 23rd, VISTA+, a workforce development initiative of the RTPark, launched a job search platform for Virgin Islands Assets and employers with a desire to help build a network for tech or STEM candidates seeking job vacancies in their industry. To look for your next tech job in the US Virgin Islands, visit http://vistaplus.vi