Christian Hardigree - University of South Florida, St Petersburg
Regional chancellor Christian Hardigree joined the University of South Florida St. Petersburg administration in July, and she hit the ground running. In this wide-ranging conversation Hardigree – who came to USF from Denver, Colorado, where she’d served as the Dean of Metropolitan State’s School of Hospitality – talks about the surprising experience she's had in St. Pete that sets it apart from other places. She shares her thoughts on the future of education and how she'll put her stamp on USF. The conversation concludes with stories of her family and how she almost because an FBI agent. Press the play triangle below to listen.
Joining me today on SPX is the Regional Chancellor of USF St. Petersburg, Christian Hardigree. Welcome.
Christian Hardigree 0:53
Thank you so much. I’m excited to be here.
Joe Hamilton 0:55
Actually, I guess it’s welcome to me because we’re in your office right now. So you’ve been on the job now for a few months, how are things going?
Christian Hardigree 1:04
This is the most amazing place, this community is just genuinely inviting and open and excited. And wants USF St. Pete to be successful, and integrated in ways that are, are innovative and dynamic. I’m a longtime educator. And so I’ve lived by the rule of threes, a third of the people love what you’re doing, no matter what you’re doing, or third of the people don’t like what you’re doing no matter what you’re doing in a third will kind of shift based on whatever the consensus is. And that’s typically what you have happens as a faculty member in a classroom, you know, similarly, they’re the people who read ahead, the people who read along and the people who just don’t read, and it’s usually still that rule of thirds. So when you start a new position, you’re like, Okay, so we’re gonna get a third of people who are the champions and excited, and then there’s gonna be that third there and come out and tell you every grievance I’ve ever had, and, and how, you know, 20 years ago, something went wrong, and they’re still angry about it. And that hasn’t happened. And that, to me, that’s been probably the most kind of like, wow, there’s no rule of thirds here. It’s, it’s, it’s, everybody’s all in. And so that’s a that’s a, that’s a really unique and cool place to be.
Joe Hamilton 2:09
I mean, you’ve lived in a few places, and you know, had a few professional lives.. Do you think that’s unique? Is this Is it something you haven’t seen before, or? It
Christian Hardigree 2:17
isn’t, I was for 15 years, I was in Las Vegas. at UNLV, I was at Kennesaw State in Atlanta for seven years, I was in downtown Denver at Metropolitan State for almost four. And I will say when I was at MSU, Denver, I really, the city of Denver reminded me a lot of Vegas that while you may have big metropolitan cities, there were probably still 20 families that decided most of the big things that went on in those those environments. And Denver was incredibly behind the institution and the mission of MSU Denver. But St. Pete eclipses that I mean, it really the true buy in and it’s personal, and then that I think that’s what it is, is for so many people in this community is a very personal mission, and a very personal outcome that they want to see for our students and for our communities and as an economic driver. And so, and it’s just so genuine and so friendly. And gosh, it just it you know, for the hospitality side of me, it brings a huge smile in my face.
Joe Hamilton 3:20
So we get A hospitality grades as a city,
Christian Hardigree 3:23
oh, A+, A+?
Joe Hamilton 3:25
And do you attribute that to just lack of competitiveness, you know, obviously, everybody wants to get ahead. Everybody wants to region in the city to get ahead. And that’s true in every city, but yet it expresses itself differently in different cities. Why do you think we’re more collaborative here thanother places?
Christian Hardigree 3:45
Yeah, I think part of it so unique geographic aspects of Pinellas County. And the sense of, we’re kind of out here on the peninsula and hunker down, you know, I think of the recent hurricane experience, you know, it’s people who are here to support each other and to build with each other. And there’s very much a sense of, we’ve been here for quite some time, I can’t tell you how many people I’ve met there. Like I’m a third generation, fourth generation, fifth generation, St. Petian.. I don’t know, that’s probably wrong – St Petian, or that they’re from Pinellas County or their families have been here. And there’s just immense pride in that, you know, I think about Las Vegas and those 20 families were, you know, the original Las Vegas but but so much of it was a transient city and so the community was still behind it. But here it’s so personal because it was my grandmother and my great grandmother or grandfather and you know, etc, etc. And so then it’s very much about that family legacy of our support for our community.
Joe Hamilton 4:45
Yeah, that makes sense. And as you know, we’re clearly people…use the word Renaissance a lot. It’s less so but man, you couldn’t you couldn’t walk 10 feet without hearing the word Renaissance for a number of years. Do you feel that , or can you see coming from more mature cities like Denver, that were on this trajectory of turning into something different or getting bigger, and some of those bigger city challenges starting to creep in of obviously affordable housing being one.
Christian Hardigree 5:14
Yeah, you know, it’s, it’s, it’s interesting because part of me wants to flash forward a decade, like we are on the precipice of massive growth and massive change, even just the historic gas plant district. I mean, that’s going to drop a billion dollars into our economy, it’s gonna change the face of that space in very demonstrable ways. And so I think, Gosh, I really want to see this a speeded up. And then I think, No, that just makes me older. I don’t want to do that. So you know, when you look at what that’s going to mean, for our economy, you’re absolutely correct. You know, we’ve got so many incredible entrepreneurs, we’ve got so many great businesses, we’re a city of the arts, we’re going to have this massive influx, and it’s going to change the very nature of all of Pinellas County. And at the same time, how do you keep the what’s special about knowing your neighbor? What’s special about going to the coffee shop, and they know your name? How do we sustain and protect our small businesses? You know, our family owned businesses? How do we have a continued commitment to sustainability, especially as a coastal town? You know, and I think maybe even the word town, right? Maybe it’s how do you keep as a town when you have all the attributes of a city? Alright. But when we think of a town, you think about truly a community that is a family. And I think that’s one of those unique spaces that we’re at is we’re a community that is family. But we also have all the things you would get in a very urban, big city kind of place. And so how do you keep that unique cultural aspect, and culture beats strategy every day, right. And so I think as long as our community continues to be centralized around the culture, how we treat people how we treat each other, then this will continue to be that very, very special place.
Joe Hamilton 7:00
And USF St Pete is raising the next generation of employees and entrepreneurs here and teachers in the community. It is representative of you call them previously, the products of the university, which are the great the great assets and resources that come out of here. And human capital, which also attracts companies to the area as well as be part of economic development. So what do you see your role in keeping the the the qualified people coming out, but also helping to keep the town vibe and play that role in the culture?
Christian Hardigree 7:33
Yeah, you know, he’s talking with the mayor recently about what are mechanisms that we can utilize to keep the graduates here, right? We don’t want to be a degree mill, where we’re putting out the best and brightest. And then they’re going other places, right? We don’t not that we don’t want to fuel the world. But you know, we want to keep that. And are there mechanisms where, you know, if you come to USF St. Pete, that we’re going to have a housing piece that for a year after graduation, you get a reduced rate, or some kind of subsidy to keep that brain capital here. The thing that’s really amazing is, we’re attracting phenomenal students and phenomenal faculty and staff. And so we’ve got to continue to have the differential version of Je ne sais quoi of why here, why would you stay when maybe somebody else will pay you more? Or maybe another community has public transportation that’s easier for you? Or more affordable housing? You know, how do we really have that balance of this is the place for innovation. This is the place where entrepreneurs launch in ways that really fuel our economy. And so I see USF St. Pete trying to find that balance. How do we not only attract, but retain that talent, and even beyond graduation? And then when you think about higher education, think about a restaurant. All right, if you came to my restaurant for a meal, and you said wow, that was the best meal ever, and you leave, that’s great. But I gotta get you back. And so when you think about for our programs, it’s great that you came here for your undergraduate experience, but how do I get you back for a certificate? How do I get you back for badging? How do I help upskill you for version 2.0 or 3.0 in your own career development? What about a graduate degree? You know, and I think especially today is we know Matt around the desert of knowledge, right? We’re all kind of, I did this for three years, I’m ready to go over here and do this now. Education is that central core to help provide with knowledge, skill and ability to be successful as you as you wander around in these different areas of interest. And so really, how do we position ourselves to meet the needs of our community and of all of Pinellas County in order to support your your nomadic? Sure.
Joe Hamilton 9:49
So that makes sense as far as understanding what we need to do. And I like that you kind of break them into two categories, the tactical stuff, which is programs But then you mentioned Je ne sais quoi, which is more of the the soft stuff, the branding and the optics, the marketing? And so what are some specific qualities that you’re looking to augment out into the community? And what are some of your methods for doing that?
Christian Hardigree 10:14
Well, you know, when you think about, we think about the actually the dynamics of a campus, right, some of this goes into to that piece. When I’m over at the Tampa campus, I love the wrought iron with the bull symbol. I mean, it really is beautiful. But I also can’t tell if it’s a gate to keep people in or keep people out. Right? I love that St. Pete’s campus, you can’t tell where the campus starts. I mean, when we ride around campus people like do we have that building? Is that ours? I’m not really sure. Now we, we collaborate, right? We’re leasing space either from somebody or to somebody, I love the fact that we have so many, whether it’s whether it’s NOAA, or fish and wildlife, you know, we have entities of relevance and importance to our community that are here on our campus that they’re eating in the same spaces as our students. And our faculty. You know, I think about what do we do, one of the things that that I’m a huge advocate of is faculty internships, or you get a faculty member and maybe they were in a particular segment of, of their field. And they’ve been teaching for 6, 8, 10 years, how do we help get them back into the the economic engine of that, that discipline, to do an internship, maybe that internship’s over the summer or over a semester, but it infuses there, again, knowledge, skill and ability and what they can translate into the classroom and how they bring that back. We have a faculty member right now who’s doing a Semester at Sea. And you think about, you know, through the globalization of the different places that she’s going, and the students that she’s teaching what she’s going to be able to bring back to our campus in terms of those experiences, and that internationalization not to mention the connections and contacts she’s made. When we think about, as a faculty member, we frequently do peer evaluations. And and sometimes that experience in the classroom is not as real world as we really hope that it will be. It’s hard to own your words, right? When you’re an industry, and you have to give somebody feedback. And it’s critical feedback, you have to own what you say. And that’s part of what we want to be able to try to teach our students but in a class, oftentimes, you know, gosh, you, Carrie was on my group project with me. And, you know, I know she had a really hard time with some other things. I don’t want to ding her grade. And so I’m going to just say, yeah, she was a good teammate. And that may not be as real world as we would want. So so as a faculty member, who maybe just went from, for this international experience, and been working with the University, let’s say, in England, could we do a peer evaluation of a similar project, but we have the students at that university, peer, evaluate our student presentations, and our students peer, evaluate their student presentations. And so now we’re creating connections, we’re creating relationships, but we’re also getting some really valuable assessment from an international global perspective. And I’ve done some of that at other institutions. And so I’m looking forward to the opportunities for us to continue doing that here.
Joe Hamilton 13:02
Wonderful. And you mentioned, the nomads of knowledge. And, and obviously, with staff internships, that helps people stay abreast of the the latest in seems the velocity of the evolution of job skills is increasing. And the opportunities to get educated in different ways is increasing. You know, you can learn a lot and a lot of universities are putting all their coursework for free on YouTube, and obviously, open MIT and all the other different places. So how does that change the trajectory of the traditional four year degree?
Christian Hardigree 13:39
Yeah, it’s a really great question. People who are desperate for increasing their knowledge, skill and ability, they’re going to look for that anywhere they can find it. And I think back to Steve Jobs, I’m really fascinated by the fact that the reason we have fonts is because when he dropped out of college, and he dropped out, because he was concerned about the price, it cost his parents, but he didn’t sit in his basement and get baked, right, he actually went back to the college he dropped out of and asked faculty if he could sit in on their classes, and just do the work anyway, even though he wasn’t a registered student. And it was in a calligraphy class. He was fascinated by the different way that words appeared. And, and that’s why we have fonts today on our computer systems. So I think it’s great that we have these these whether it’s Lynda LinkedIn learning, you know, or open access, I remember when the MOOC was going to be the resolution to all things in the universe. At the same time, for some people, if it’s free, there’s something wrong with it. Right? And, and I say that because, you know, you can even look at consumer practices, you know, if it’s a free buffet, everybody’s like, ooh, that’s leftover food, right? Versus there’s there’s a perceived value for what you pay. Education, however, is one of the few consumer products where many people are satisfied, getting less than what they paid for, and I’ll I kind of break it down as I do to my students, right? And I always ask students this because it gets a giggle. But if you go to the store and you want to buy a new hairspray, frequently, and I’ll ask the students, how many of you spray it to smell, see what it smells like? And yeah, most of the hands go up and then like, okay, so then when you decide you like that, and you’re gonna buy it, do you buy that bottle? And everybody says, No, because you reach behind and get the bottle behind it, right? Or the one with the little free extra shampoo or whatnot, we want the biggest bang for our bucks, sometimes, particularly for students who who have transitioned straight from high school to college and don’t really know why. And I was one of those students, right? I wanted a class where I didn’t really have to do a lot of work. It didn’t really push me out of my comfort zone, that maybe I didn’t even have to go. I had that decision tree of what was going on in class. And did I really need to get it to bed and actually attend, go get the notes from someone else? Was there a test all that kind of stuff. But I wanted and A, right, and at the end of the day, that’s buying a degree, there are plenty of degree mills, you see them advertised on TV every day, if you just want a piece of paper, you can go purchase one, the value of our education here at USF St. Pete, is it we’re going to expand that comfort zone, we’re going to provide the knowledge, skill and ability to make a difference. And it doesn’t need to be necessarily need to be making a difference in a directed purpose. It’s it’s how do you have transferable skills? What can you draw on, you know, a year from now, five years from now, a decade from now. And regardless of what your field is, when you look at students who’ve graduated from college, overwhelmingly they go into a field has nothing to do with their degree, all right, but they’re still able to pull on many of those skills that they learn whether it’s critical thinking, whether it’s oral, or written communication, you know, things of that nature. And so we want to be a part of that journey, we want to help you find out what that passion is, right? We want to be more targeted, and where what your outcome is going to be and where you’re gonna go using these skills. But at the same time, we’re again, no batting around the desert of knowledge. And by the time I really finished, and I’m, I’m gonna make up a degree a degree in x. Because if I pick one, so maybe like, no, but if I finished my degree in X, I may feel like I did that. And now I’m ready to go do Y. And so, and again, that’s where we want to be the partner. The other thing is technology. And innovation is changing so fast. I mean, a decade ago or more, there’s this great video, and it talked about that what we were teaching as colleges and universities as a whole in their freshman year in terms of technology was actually pretty obsolete by their junior year, because of how quickly things were changing. So if you think about how do we make sure that our faculty are ahead of that curve, right, you know, especially in areas like cybersecurity, in areas about biotechnology, in microbiology, things of that nature, those are evolving so quickly, that that’s a very specialized area. And those are people going to be much more targeted in terms of what do I want to do, but the fields that they’re really preparing themselves for may not have even been invented yet. But but they’re again, going to be very, very targeted versus the immense value that a liberal arts education brings. Alright, if you think about Melissa Seixas, the president of of Duke Energy, Florida, her master’s degrees in American history, and I love that I mean, she she’s she touts that she’s the first president who didn’t have a background in law or engineering, right. But she’s incredibly effective. And it’s that critical thinking and an understanding of the historical context of how we got to where we are, to figure out where we need to go. Right. And so she’s able to bring all those together in a way that’s made her an incredible leader. And I, you know, I really admire that.
Joe Hamilton 18:31
And, you know, you talk about the speed of change, and especially specifically in the tech area, that was kind of that’s the where I was kind of going with the spirit of the question, you know, the idea that not being a diploma mill versus the that that’s kind of true, that’s ageless, right? You always always have that choice, whether 70s, 80s or 90s. Now, with the quickness that skills pop up and are needed, does that then change strategically for the university that you kind of go heavier into being best in class in the degrees that are solidly four year degrees? Or do you dent or change the product mix, like you mentioned earlier, more heavily into certificates. And other sorts of, you know, fragmented learning pieces are one of our smaller chunk learning type pieces, does that change your sort of product mix at all?
Christian Hardigree 19:18
Well, so I don’t want to get ahead of the provost, because really, that academic master planning and direction is the purview of the provost. But I do think it’s like, it’s like any investment, right? You diversify your portfolio. And so having some of the pure four year degree pathways, having dual enrollment, having credit by exam opportunities for people who perhaps have done portfolios as part of their work, having badges or stackable credentials that allow people to demonstrate that progress, you know, there there are people that because of circumstances, you know, their family circumstances or work circumstances, they’re not able to do a four year degree program. They’re going to be taking one class or two classes at night. And it might take them eight or 10 years to do that. And so you’ve got to be able to have a portfolio that really matches all of the dynamics of of influence for those individuals that are seeking it out. And at the same time, you still have to do it in a very relevant sense. And so I think that’s what USF St. Pete has done a really good job of creating that blend, so that we can have the night classes or weekend classes for those who need them. But we also have the day classes for a third of our students are residential now. And so for those students who are living on campus that we have, not only the classes they need at the time that they need, but we also have the social and student, student groups, student committee, fun pieces that are built into it as well.
Joe Hamilton 20:41
Makes a lot of sense. You were one of the founders of the last couple of schools that you worked with, building from scratch and really getting to put your own stamp on things. You know, coming into St. Pete, obviously, it’s part of a larger organization, but yet it’s its own thing as well. How would you articulate what your own stamp is? And what how you hope to put that on the campus?
Christian Hardigree 21:05
Yeah, you know, in creating new degree programs is a very different kind of skill. I will say, I’m a creative disrupter. And I never knew that until Mike Levin, who was one of the cofounders of AAHOA, the Asian American hotel owners association. He was the president of the Sands Corporation. I actually worked for him when I was in Las Vegas. And he later became the largest donor at the time in Kennesaw State history. And, and he’s the one that told me that and when he said it, I was like, Hey, I’m not like, I felt like I was not a creative disrupter. And he said, No, you’re you’re the kind of person I really, really love working with. Because it’s, it’s great that we this is the way we’ve been doing it, how do we do it different? How do we do it better. And at the time, he was helping Bernie Marcus. Who is is, I guess his his, I don’t know. bestie. But he was serving as this the president or CEO of the Georgia Aquarium, which made for some really phenomenal meetings, because we go down to visit and we’d be walking through the back hallways, and two penguins would run out the room and run down the hall and you’re like, oh, my gosh, you have the best job ever. But, you know, in in kind of going through that process and thinking about how do you creatively disrupt and he talked about the aquarium is just it’s a hotel for fish? Yeah, he’d sit around and talk about me beluga whales he liked to have on hand and, and things that I’m like, you know, in your hotel existence, you never had these conversations, right? And so it’s kind of similar of built academic programs. The stamp I want to have is how we make you feel why you’re here, right? It’s very different than oh, you should take this class, or let’s build this class in this way. But at the same time, how we make you feel when you’re here does relate to were you able to get a job? What was your internship experience? Do we have a concierge approach to placing you? So if you come and say, Hey, I’d like to do an internship, is my response, go on handshake and see what’s there? Or is my response? Wow, where would you really like to be? Oh, well, you know, we’ve got some partners that are there. And in fact, they just were on a shark tank style evaluation of this other classes. Presentation, let me call so and so and see if we can get you connected. And you guys have conversation. First, I’d like to have that that latter sense. I’d like for people when they come here to, to leave more excited about being here than the first day they set foot on campus. And if you think about that first day on campus, excitement that butterflies in your stomach, and I don’t know where to go, but God, I love being here. And my parents are asking, you know, I want the day that you graduate, I want you to feel more like that about us than the day you started. And that means that we’ve just got to up our game. And I think we’re already doing an amazing job. I think now it’s just kind of putting the structures in place that ensure everybody gets that experience that it’s not the one offs or based on which Professor you had or something like that.
Joe Hamilton 23:55
That makes a lot of sense. It’s a lifelong relationship with your school, that’s a win if you get it. And you know, the swamp that creative disruptors have to wade through is bureaucracy and academic institutions are known to have a little. What’s your philosophy on bureaucracy? And how do you gauge it here and any changes you might want to make?
Christian Hardigree 24:17
Oh, that’s a really great, great way to pull that together. Um, so the benefit of having created those programs was there is that that’s probably where the most bureaucracy exists. And so having navigated through that process at several different institutions, I think I have a pretty good understanding of what’s the framework that that should be set up. It’s not always the exact same but but generally, you’ll find that the higher education institutions have a lot of the similar processes and pieces. Shared governance is an incredibly important piece of that, too, is making sure that you get wide and thoughtful consultation in whatever it is that you’re putting together and pulling forward. So not all, bureaucracy is bad. Sometimes it’s Good to have some guardrails, you know, and make sure that we’re all on the same page about what we’re doing and why we’re doing it. So I think sometimes it’s good to have an extra set of eyes. I also think, though, that we have to have the mechanisms to speed up when we need to. Sometimes you have to slow down to speed up. And so let’s be a little more thoughtful. Let’s you know, we’re an organization right now we’re in the process of a search for a new provost. And so, you know, dependent upon the outcome of that, that may mean that we’re going to have either fresh eyes or a renewed sense of, of moving forward. There may be college Dean’s, you know, we have a lot of I don’t know, if it’s a lot, we have a few interim College, Dean’s whatnot, as those searches go forward, you know, people pump the brakes a little bit, they want to say, Is this really the direction of growth? Wow, when we put this forward two years ago, this really seemed to be the next best area for, for employment, but we just haven’t seen that occur. And in fact, we I’ve seen a couple of Dean’s who’ve pulled programs back because our students aren’t really in a career pathway at the conclusion of that. And so I think that that the bureaucracy that that guides, that is a positive thing when it helps our students. And so as long as we keep the student at the focal of that, I think that that foci of that, I think that navigating the process, it’s just a matter of making sure that we’ve got people’s input thoughts buy in, and that we’re doing really what’s best for our students.
Joe Hamilton 26:30
And for the most part, that’s the case now, on campus, you feel like it’s a reasonable, we’re in a reasonable state of bureaucracy and, and just understanding how to navigate as efficiently as possible is kind of,
Christian Hardigree 26:44
you know, I’m not sure I know how to answer that. I haven’t hit an unreasonable level of bureaucracy. I think consolidation has created some questions, and I’m not sure everybody’s on the same page in terms of how to answer some of those. But same team, right.
Joe Hamilton 27:01
That’s natural at this point, anyway,
Christian Hardigree 27:02
Absolutely. You know, when you think about the three, the three institutions, I really do, kind of subscribe to the sibling model, you know, Tampa’s? The firstborn. You know, Sarasota Manatee is sort of ord the baby, right? They’re so cute. We’re gonna give them a dorm. And we’re sort of this gangly teenager, right. And so as we are really trying to double down on our identity, and our role in this family, right, and so, when you think about the processes, you know, I’m still getting my arms around those, as I do think all of one USF is trying to kind of percolate through. And so and I think there’ll be some changes, I think we’ll see some things that happened during consolidation. It’s like a pendulum, right. So the pendulum of of pulling and control to the Tampa campus was probably at its peak maybe a year or so ago. And as President Law is assembling her team, as the teams get to know the teams on the other campuses, I think that pendulum will get back to center. And that may mean that some of those bureaucracy hiccups alleviate themselves as the teams get to know what helps facilitate the growth of us as one USF
Joe Hamilton 28:10
and it appears that you and I have a great relationship, which will certainly help that.
Christian Hardigree 28:13
She’s amazing. I mean, like I I’m still shocked. She let me come play.
Joe Hamilton 28:17
And you offered up a perfect segue. We’ve gone pretty deep into the USF stuff. You mentioned the three children, that three campuses, you also have three children. Can you tell us a little bit about your family?
Christian Hardigree 28:29
Yeah, absolutely. I met my husband, Chris, when we were both at UNLV. He was one of the cofounders of the Professional Golf Management Program. So he has a background in sport management and later became a professor at UNLV. But he kept parading by my office and his little golf shorts and tiny socks and eventually was like, Okay, fine, I’ll go out. We’ll just back and forth all the time. And so we got married. And gosh, I’m sure I could tell you the year because we’ve been married 17 years. So whatever that math is. But it’s funny, because on two different years, we’ve both forgotten our anniversary, which I thought you didn’t do until you’re married longer. Anyway, we have three children, so 16, 15, both boys and our daughter’s 12. And so the boys are at St. Pete high, our daughter’s at Thurgood Marshall, and loving it just absolutely, you know, over the moon having a great time. The boys are in travel soccer, and so they play for the Clearwater chargers. And which means like, last weekend, my husband had two boys down in Miami and I think they’re going to Raleigh, North Carolina in a few weeks. And my middle son is a hotel aficionado. And so he likes to drop his bag. He disappears for about two hours and then comes back and gives you a complete, like download on everything that the hotel has or doesn’t have, along with his assessments. I think the Apple does not fall far from the tree. And so so he I think he likes soccer but I think he likes the hotel experience equally so and so yeah, that’s us
Joe Hamilton 29:59
it In the athletics you mentioned a lot of athletics in your life. You actually went to school on a scholarship in at least one sport but almost to softball and volleyball.
Christian Hardigree 30:09
I did. I’m pretty sure dad wanted a son. Yeah. So I, I grew up I actually I played in middle school, or I guess Junior High in Texas I played on the football team. In my junior year of high school, I played on the guys baseball team, because the school I was at didn’t have a softball team. And actually, that was the first time my dad expressed that as a as a female I needed to stop. I had never heard him say that I had always grown up with you could do anything. And I’d grown grown up in a very, you know, physical house in terms of playing sports, we were always doing something. And and it was actually my junior year of high school, my dad, I made the team and then he made me resign. And he’s like, I wanted you to make it. So you knew you made it on your own, but they’re gonna hurt you. And you’re, you know, you’re playing in a at a level that he couldn’t protect me. And it literally was the first time i i said, I said earlier, my parents were hippies and my dad was a corner worker at Road Atlanta speedway. And so we would go up on the weekends, and I would wander off with, you know, a couple of bucks in my pocket, and then come back some more toward the end. And at the end of the races, my parents would invite all the other corner workers out to the farm, and they would park out in the pastures. And you’d wake up in the morning and there’d be 150 tents and sleeping bags. And they threw keg parties and things like that. And I used to charge people to tell them my name, I made $54 One party out of out of change. My dad was very proud. So literally, it wasn’t until I was about 15 years old that my parents went, oh my god, we’re parents. And we have some responsibilities here. And this was one of those very first experiences I had of you can’t do something because you’re a girl. And, and it was a bit disillusioning and frustrating. And so when we had an opportunity to move to Wisconsin, that year, I was like, Yeah, let’s go. And that was my third high school. But I was I was quite frustrated. I made the team I should be able to play What are you talking about Dad?
Joe Hamilton 32:10
So dad said that? How was mom’s presence to that decision?
Christian Hardigree 32:15
You know, um, my mom was pretty kick ass or is pretty kickass my dad has passed but But mom, mom’s still kickin and sarcastic. I have to practice sarcasm to go visit at home. She was the first female manager of a Payless Cashway in Plano, Texas. And when I was in middle school, she was the first woman in the establishment to drive a forklift. And in being a good southern woman, she she was packing all the time probably still is, even though she lives in a town that, that, you know, the worst crime was somebody ran a stop sign. But she you know, she didn’t she deferred to dad on sports. My mom didn’t do a lot of sport. She had polio as a child. And so she rode horses as her therapy. But she didn’t play a lot of other sports. I do understand that she was quite vocal, I think in the powderpuff football games, but I’m not sure she played I just know she was vocal. But, you know, she didn’t really step in.
Joe Hamilton 33:16
That, you know, in, I think by any account you’ve achieved, you know, your law degree Trial Lawyer run schools, and all of that how, you know, given from when you first entered the freshman world to now how do you think we’re doing on on gender equality?
Christian Hardigree 33:36
That’s a fascinating question. I think there’s an age aspect to gender equality. And I’ll say that as a female trial attorney, with trial attorneys are in Las Vegas, it was like 92% male. So there just weren’t a lot of women. And there weren’t a lot of young women. Typically, for a trial attorney. Trials are fun. So if you’re at a big firm, you know, by the time you get to trial, the partner will swoop in steal your steal the case, because it’s fun, and then they’ll tell you all the things you did wrong. I had an incredible mentor at my law firm Rick Parnell. And I got drawn into a case very early on in any case, you’re you’re arguing one, we’re not liable. But secondly, you’re not really that damaged, right. And the first trial that I got to do was a double rape sodomy case in an apartment complex, and they were alleging negligent security. And so So Rick’s job as a 50. something year old white male is to argue we’re not liable. But it’s really hard for him to argue but you’re not that damaged to two women in their mid 20s. Who were the victims of these horrible crime. There were they were awful. They they weren’t the fault of the apartment complex. They were the fault of the horribly dangerous person that did that. But I got brought in to really from the perspective of how would you feel and when you went into some of the the treatment records for the young ladies. These are women that had been victims of incest they have been victims of date rape, they’d had other sexual assaults and their background and their history. And again, horrible and awful, but not related to to our management of this apartment complex. And ultimately, we got a defense verdict in that case, but what happened through that was that Rick realized that he would start to ask a question, and I would have the document like I knew exactly where he was going. It’s like a mind meld. And so I got to do it an incredible amount of trial work, and oftentimes was the youngest person in the room. I felt like there was more. Here’s a lack of equality based on age as I’ve gotten older, I think I get some more street cred that I wouldn’t have gotten in my late 20s and early 30s. So think I’ve earned some of that. Right. You know, I certainly goofed up enough to
Joe Hamilton 35:48
So how much of that is your aging? How much of it is the world evolving?
Christian Hardigree 35:54
It’s probably a blend. It’s also regional. You know, I’m, I’m now on the East Coast. That was that was over on the West Coast. That was in a very male dominated city. I mean, you know, when you think about the history of Las Vegas, it there were there were not a lot of female icons at the time. You know, when you look there, now you’ve seen you know, Jan Jones, who was Mayor Carol, Carolyn Goodman, that has been mayor, you see a lot more of females in those kinds of positions. You didn’t see a lot of that when I was there. I think you’ll see that more of here. And that’s what I was attracted to here. I mean, Karen Holbrook at Sarasota Manatee is a freaking icon. I mean, this is a woman who was provost at UGA. And President at Ohio State. I mean, she’s just brilliant. You know, Rhea Law. I mean, the the impact she’s had and, and you know, she’s a fifth generation Floridian she was on the first board of trustees, the inaugural board, she was the first female chair. I mean, she’s, again, icon like I, I told them, I’m like, I can’t believe you guys, let me come play in your group. I mean, this is amazing. And so they’re incredible role models. And so I really feel like this area. And when you look to our board or campus board, and and the representation of women and women of color that are on the board that are in the community, that are supporters or donors, to me, that says the times have changed, right, that that there have been a sea shift in that regard. And so that I feel is really exciting. There are also two different fields, education and trial attorney like I I don’t even know that I could give an opinion about the trial attorney ranks and whatnot. There’s a judge of in Georgia that still requires women to wear skirt, if you’re not wearing a skirt, he throws you out of the room. I had an arbitrator one time, assess charges. And I, I sent a very nice letter that under the statute, I’m going to pay these but these you made up and I can’t pay those because they’re not recoverable under the statute. And he called my assistants that had been a naughty, naughty little girl. And he was going to bend me over his knee and pat on my bottom red. So I haven’t had anybody say that higher ed. So thankful for that. And I don’t know if that was a sign of the time, if that was a sign of the region, or if that was a sign of the discipline. Yeah. But I do think that particularly since Me too, I think we’re much less tolerant of some of the things that at the time was just if you wanted to play in some of these rooms, you just had to roll your eyes and suck it up and pretend that people weren’t being goofballs.
Joe Hamilton 38:25
It’s a good answer. Thank you. When we look at emerging through some of those types of challenges, these young people come up and get their education, knowing what’s out there for them is sometimes half the battle. And so expanding people’s understanding of what’s around them, and opening up the world to them and the choices they can make is, you know, a big part of going to university that’s changing the relativity and the relative understanding of the world. So how do you open up that relativity for students?
Christian Hardigree 38:52
You know, it’s interesting, when you think about frequently people go into a field, you know, when you look at, for example, a major of students coming out of high school, oftentimes, they will go into a major their parents have had a lot of influence on or a teacher or coach or mentor. First generation students oftentimes don’t have that support structure. And so that’s where universities need to step in. And for us, one in six of our students is a first generation college student. So we need to make sure that we’re really exposing them to this, this broad range of opportunities. I went to college because I was told I needed to go to college and I had been tagging along with my dad for the 17 years on his academic journey. He flunked out twice. I know that he desperately wanted to go to law school, but he flunked out twice, and he couldn’t get into law school. So I have zero doubt that part of my desire to go to law school was to fulfill something my dad couldn’t do. And so, you know, I really in practicing law, I mean, I remember coming out and having zero clue about where to work or what to do, because I didn’t have anybody to look to. And I’m not exaggerating, this is embarrassing. I don’t know if I’ve ever told you my This, I’m not exaggerating that I got out of law school, I was home studying for the bar. I didn’t want to go get a job at a law firm. Because I was afraid that if I didn’t pass the bar, I would out myself as not having done that, yeah, like not being smart enough, right? It was self doubt. And And honestly, smarts has nothing to do with how you pass the bar exam is how well you wrote your answers on that particular day or multiple days. So I and I didn’t really know how to go get another job. And I always kind of walked into hospitality places and was able to grab jobs and whatnot. And I felt like I needed to do something more. I had a law degree now. And I went to Electrovox. And I sat through a training session to sell vacuum cleaners. I did not take that job. And I it is I left there. I was like, Why did I do this? I, but I didn’t have a car. It was close to my house, so I could walk. I really didn’t know what was entailed in it. And, and I didn’t know maybe maybe this was gonna be kind of cool. It wasn’t. I ended up getting a job at a casino brew pub, and owned by Tom Wiesner, who it was called Big Dogs. And I hadn’t passed the bar yet. But he’d walk in through the doors open and shout out where’s my lawyer. And I was a slot hostess. I mean, I fixed the video machines where people spilled their drinks and the keys stick, like I can fix those and fill hoppers and do payouts and things of that nature. You can’t think of anything more disassociated to you, I just got a law degree with a focus on employment and labor management relations. And I’m fixing slot machines, you know, but I didn’t know where to go. And so that’s part of I think, the beauty of what USF does, we help you kind of figure out what are the pathways, so how can you get here, we bring the employers to campus, we send you to their places we will place you into internships, or externships. And I just I didn’t have that experience at the time that I went through school. And I went to school in Georgia, and I lived in Las Vegas. And so it’s not like they brought in Las Vegas law firms for me to get into. So I really kind of felt like I was kind of cut loose to go find your own way. And I didn’t know how to do that I didn’t have that skill set. That was think about when people go to a football game on the weekends, right? If you if you go to Ray Jay to watch the Bucs play, somebody’s gonna be like, Okay, you need to park in this lot, you know, lot K, and you can park in rows, one through 10, you know, and you’re just driving around until you find an empty spot, you jump into that. And that’s very directed and targeted. If you go there on a random Tuesday when nothing’s going on, that parking lot’s vast. And if you really can park anywhere, it becomes overwhelming. Because you know, look, I This spot is good. But this one’s closer. But this is on an end and I won’t get a door ding but this is under a light. And it becomes just a paralysis of decisions. So I think it’s incumbent upon us as educators to help students avoid the paralysis of decision that we’ve got to help create, what are the different lots? And what are the lots for? And what are the advantages of one lot versus another lot? And how do your skills, you know, kind of doing a Strengths Assessment, and then the gaps analysis How do your skills fit to specific lots? And if they don’t fit? How do we upskill you so that you do and so I to me, that’s the beauty of the journey of education is really helping narrow that down and create the confidence that not only can you park in that lot, you can parallel park in that lot. You can back into the lot you can do whatever kind of parking you need to. And to me, that’s really what education is about.
Joe Hamilton 43:34
That’s wonderful. All right. Well, I’ve enjoyed the time. I want to finish up by asking you if you have any regrets about not becoming Dana Scully. That’s a prompt for the story of you almost becoming an FBI agent.
Christian Hardigree 43:50
So after I’ve looked at Electrolux vacuum cleaners, I and I went to a job fair at UNLV and actually went over and talked with the military folks. I’m the first member of my family who’s not been in the military and I felt some shame of that. I’m so appreciative of, of those who serve our military serve our country, our veterans. My dad was a veteran. Both of my grandfather’s were veterans and on up through the chain. My mother’s the patriarch of my mother’s side of the family, John Nene Craig in 1773 volunteered in Yorksburg South Carolina for the American Revolutionary War. When when I say that military is throughout our family, I mean, it comes all the way down and through. And so I went and I met with all of the armed service groups that were represented, to talk about what we you know, is there a branch I should go into and I was talking to my dad and he’s like, Well, have you thought about FBI or DEA or ATF or something like that? I couldn’t do Secret Service because I had contacts and they wouldn’t allow LASIK at the time. And so, so I ended up applying to the FBI and I was asked to I went through the first round, which I think was a written tests, and then I was asked for the final interviews in LA. So I got a free trip to LA from Vegas. There were four of us. And these people were so accomplished. I remember there was a guy who had come off of tour, he was a helicopter pilot. And actually, the other two also were from military. And I was just so in awe and inspired by who they were that I was quite certain that I was not going to get the job. So I go through your series of interviews and whatnot. And I remember the last question, they said, you know, so you’ve told us all these things, is there anything else you’d like to tell us? And I said, Well, I have a Sig Sauer and I drive a Crown, Vic. so I feel like I’m halfway there. And of course, I’m just at this point, I’m like, as not a chance and you know, I figured it get a giggle, and I left and of those of those four, I got the offer. And, and I just was blown away, and my dad was so proud. And actually, I was scheduled to go to Quantico. And then my dad had an aortic aneurysm and died. And my mom said, that my mom just I, she had left her dad’s house to my dad’s house. She had never been on her own, and it was just too much for her, and as an only child, she asked me to pull my application. And so, so I did. So the regret is probably not. It would have been a really cool path. I would have loved Quantico, a friend of mine who went, he’s like, we got to drive in a car backwards for two days, you know, I would have really enjoy that.
Joe Hamilton 46:32
You can pull some strings in the parking lot.
Christian Hardigree 46:33
Right, right. So I regret not having the experience. I don’t regret having given up the experience to be with my mom, that was the right thing to do. And I would do it again today. He was what 49 He was 49. Yeah. And it was, what, nine days before Christmas. And so as we were going through the grieving process and going through stuff, we would find Christmas gifts he had bought us so he had hidden away, he had bought my mom a car for her 50th birthday. This is our 50th birthday, they had ordered one going back, so she was trading hers in and whatnot. But it didn’t come until after he passed away. And she was like, velcroed to that car. I mean, she just loved that car. Because it was It was symbolic of, they had finally started making some money, they you know, they just kind of gotten to a point of success in their lives. And so they were they, I think just paid off the final, like student loan. I mean, it really was that we’re, we’re crossing the threshold of, of, wow, we’re going to middle class now. And, and so for my mom, it was terrifying, because it was, you know, how far back Are we going? are we stepping back, you know, because now I don’t have this support system, the structure that I’ve had, and at that time, 28 years. And so, you know, that was just those it was paralyzing for her. And for me as a kid, like I’m your emergency person, those emergency moments I step in, and I, I found somebody to take over my lease, I moved into the house, I took over all the bills, you know, took on a lot of adulting in a very short period of time. And eventually my mom, she moved back to her house and bless her heart, she lost her mom the year before my dad, then dad and then she her dad died on the same day as my dad a year later. So she lost her entire structure in those three years. So she went home, and, and kind of changed who she was. And that’s been interesting as an adult to see somebody who had been so fearless. My mom was fearless with my dad, because my dad was like you can do anything. And then to not have that? You know. And so as an adult watching that change, it helps you define what you want to do for others. And what I don’t ever want to do is put a barrier to somebody you really can be and do anything that you’re willing to work to do. And there’s an element of dumb luck. But there’s a major element of hard work. And for my daughter, that’s the the outcome I hope that I I demonstrate that I’m a model in behaviors for her.
Joe Hamilton 49:16
Well, you’ve done your dad, incredibly proud. All your twists and turns have brought you here and St. Pete is is grateful and we’ll look forward to you bring this incredible energy and passion to many, many lives in St. Pete.
Christian Hardigree 49:30
Well, you’re incredibly kind to say that I have to say I just could not be more privileged and humbled to have been selected for this role. And I hope by the grace of God that I make people proud of the work that I do. And that I set an example for our students and for for all of our constituents that they say Hey, she’s one of us and God we love her. So fingers crossed.
Joe Hamilton 49:57
Christian Hardigree. Thank you.