Christian Hardigree hopes to improve student experiences as regional chancellor

St. Pete Regional Chancellor Christian Hardigree joins the USF community with a mission centered on student success and collaboration. SPECIAL TO THE ORACLE/METROPOLITAN STATE UNIVERSITY OF DENVER

Creating a sense of belonging at the university is important to St. Pete Regional Chancellor Christian Hardigree, but ensuring everyone feels they matter is even more paramount to her.

Hardigree said she got this sentiment from a colleague and friend who is a Black woman. The colleague said that while finding her Black sorority and a Black student association at her college helped her to belong, what meant more to her was that she mattered.

“I really took that to heart, that we want to create an environment where everybody matters,” she said. “What you think, what you do, how you do it. That you’ve got that support and invitation and that you have a platform.”

Traveling 27 hours by car to start her first day as regional chancellor on Tuesday, Hardigree said the journey was worth it to now have the opportunity to begin working toward propelling the tight-knit USF community forward.

Hardigree was announced May 18 as regional chancellor following a three month search, where President Rhea Law said she was a perfect fit for the role due to her past experience and her passion for “student-centered success.” She will replace former St. Pete Regional Chancellor Martin Tadlock, who is now returning to a teaching role in the College of Education after serving five years as regional chancellor.

Continuing the success of the consolidation of the three campuses is much like taking care of a family, according to Hardigree. Although her role will require her to utilize professional skills, it is her personal life experiences that she said will translate into her ability to contribute to OneUSF by ensuring the St. Pete campus does its part.

“I love the identity of the three different campuses,” she said. “I think of it kind of like siblings. I have three children, and each of my children has a very unique and separate identity, but we’re all part of the same family. And so I very much look at that family approach for USF.

“We have a very small campus here, and one that really is dedicated to student success and student journey. And so to me, that was a really great space to engage because we’re able to do things here on this campus that when we demonstrate success, then it can be scaled over at the Tampa campus.”

Using her past experiences in hospitality and law will help her connect with students and build up the community as a whole, according to Hardigree. Before entering her role as regional chancellor, she was the founding dean of the School of Hospitality at the Metropolitan State University of Denver in January 2019.

In the past, she has served as the founding director of the Michael A. Leven School of Culinary Sustainability and Hospitality at Kennesaw State University in Georgia, and has worked as a senior litigation attorney and partner for Parnell and Associates.

Teaching, however, is where her love for students originated, she said. Teaching a class on hospitality law was how she learned the importance of the “student’s journey,” something she hopes to keep assisting students with in her new role.

“It’s not just about the student’s academic journey, it’s their whole-person journey,” she said. “When I moved into administration, it was ‘How do we create processes and procedures that help support the journey?’ And I think that’s really been my focus.

“I think when we think about the regional chancellor’s role in pulling together our team to best support our students and our community, then if you’ve really got that student focus at the heart of that, I think that’s going to help you be successful in that journey.”

While her academic experiences have helped guide her through her career, Hardigree said it was the support from others around her that truly propelled her to success.

“You’ll see that headline [that says] somebody’s ‘self-made’ and, honestly, none of us are,” she said. “It’s the people that we’re surrounded by and the people that we work for and are in service to that help us get to those journeys. My spouse has been a phenomenal supporter, advocate and sounding board, and of course my family [as well].”

Although she said it is too early to know what she hopes to accomplish as regional chancellor from a work standpoint, instilling excitement and joy into the student body across all campuses is a priority for Hardigree.

In a time where morale has declined among some students, Hardigree said cultivating a supportive and accepting environment will help boost spirits and benefit the community as a whole.

“One of the things I tell [my own teams] is I want to make sure that you have the professional development opportunity so that you can move to your next adventure, but I want to create a culture where you don’t want to leave,” she said. “So you can do it with a lot of strategic intentions, but you’ve got to create a culture of excitement and engagement that is fun, but also elevating.

“Morale often ebbs and flows, and so if morale has been down, then I’m looking forward to our high tide.”