You are currently viewing USF chooses Denver educator Christian Hardigree to lead St. Pete campus

USF chooses Denver educator Christian Hardigree to lead St. Pete campus

University of South Florida president Rhea Law has named her pick for the new St. Petersburg campus regional chancellor: Christian Hardigree, founding dean of the School of Hospitality at Metropolitan State University in Denver.

The selection was made after Hardigree and two other candidates, including former St. Petersburg deputy mayor Kanika Tomalin, participated in city forums and community members provided feedback to the president. Hardigree was praised by business leaders on the search committee for its innovative ideas, such as faculty internships and corporate partnerships.

“We are delighted to welcome Christian Hardigree, a leader who brings a demonstrated academic and administrative experience, as well as an excellent record of serving the communities she has been a part of throughout her career,” Law said in a statement. announcing the selection. “I am confident that she will be an outstanding advocate for the St. Petersburg campus and a trusted partner to me as we work together to continue the tremendous momentum at the University of South Florida.”

During her town hall session, Hardigree said she wanted to join USF after visiting the small riverside campus just south of downtown.

“I absolutely fell in love with the faculty, staff, students and community members I met at USF St. Petersburg,” Hardigree said in a statement Wednesday. “It’s clearly a special place, and I’m thrilled to have the opportunity to lead such a vibrant campus.”

Hardigree, 51, will replace outgoing regional chancellor Martin Tadlock and is expected to start work on July 1.

The regional chancellor, who reports to the Tampa-based president, leads faculty and students at the St. Petersburg campus, often interacting with Pinellas officials and the public.

Several members of a USF search committee that narrowed the field of candidates for the law praised Hardigree for her ideas and energy, but some questioned her understanding of the role of regional chancellor and the strength of his research experience, a priority for many professors and deans.

Others said she struck the right balance between academia and community.

The job of the 17-member search committee was to compile an unranked list of three finalists for Law to consider. Wolf Yeigh, former chancellor of the University of Washington Bothell, received the most votes from committee members. Tomalin, the former deputy mayor, was in second place, ahead of Hardigree and another candidate.

Jason Mathis, St. Petersburg Downtown Partnership CEO and committee member, said Wednesday that Hardigree’s decades of experience in academia would stand him in good stead at USF.

“A lot of it is sort of personality driven,” he said. “When you meet someone, you’re like okay, can I work with them? Will they be a good fit at USF St. Pete? Are they going to be a good fit in the community? I think the new Chancellor has a personality and perspective that will mesh well with the unique aspects of what it’s like to live and work in St. Petersburg.

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During a press conference on Wednesday, Hardigree said she would start by listening, but that listening would be something she did every day, not just like a tour at first.

At a town hall on the St. Petersburg campus last month, she spoke about her journey in academia and goals for the future of the campus.

Originally from rural Georgia, she said she grew up on a farm, where her mother was the main breadwinner as a social worker. Sustainability wasn’t a “cool and sexy” buzzword, she said, it was a necessity and a value that was always ingrained in her.

She later became a student athlete and a part-time student working two to three jobs at a time to support herself while in college, she said. At times, she says, she was food insecure and homeless.

“I’m very student-focused. This is what drives decision making in so many areas. And that’s because I really resonate with our students,” she said.

Access to higher education, she said, will be important to her, especially for students in the Pinellas County School District.

Hardigree became a litigator, defending hotels, restaurants and nightclubs in Las Vegas. She started teaching at the University of Nevada in Las Vegas as a part-time instructor. She stayed there for 15 years, eventually becoming a tenure-track professor, department chair, associate dean, and associate president.

“I fell in love with the students,” she said. “Teaching, like the game and golf, has periodic fallout. Those times when you get this ‘waaaaah’ and it’s just amazing and it makes you want to come back and do it again and again.

She then went to Kennesaw State University as the founding director and professor of the Institute for Culinary Sustainability and Hospitality, helping secure the university’s largest donation.

She spoke at the town hall about the importance of a campus having a distinct identity, comparing it to Waffle House, where she said hospitality graduates can quickly earn six-figure salaries.

“What we need to do is figure out what our Waffle House is,” she said.

She also talked about “upskilling” teachers and finding opportunities to integrate them into local businesses.

Alison Barlow, executive director of the St. Petersburg Innovation District and member of the search committee, called Hardigree “a great combination of someone with a university education and a caring and understanding of an involved community.”

“I think it’s really essential,” Barlow said. “We spend a lot of time and energy talking about student placements in companies, but probably one of our strongest touchpoints for students is faculty. If faculty can create deeper connections with the business community or whoever is going to hire their students, this not only benefits what is going to happen in the classroom, but also future placements.

Law told a virtual press conference on Wednesday that his choice was based in part on community feedback.

“What I was specifically looking for was someone who could be a real leader,” she said. “Someone who could take this campus and take it to the next level. We’ve been blessed with the support of our legislature, the support of our donors. We need someone with an academic background, someone one who is able to set up programs and programs.I also looked for someone who would fit in with the community.Someone who would fit in with the chamber and downtown partnership and d others and would be an integral part of St. Petersburg.

During the town hall, Hardigree was asked about building bridges on both sides of the political aisle, recalling that the campus was part of a state university.

“It’s an elephant in the room,” she said. “We have seen what has happened politically for higher education. We need to tell our story better. State governments have been our angel investor for years and years and years, and not anymore.

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