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‘Dinosaur doctors’ will improve the lives of students

Christian Hardigree



University of South Florida St. Petersburg. Photo provided.

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My goal, as regional chancellor of USF St. Petersburg, is to create a campus of dinosaur doctors.

No – not literally. We’re not building a giant paleontology program, although our anthropology professors have done some fascinating research and excavation work throughout the years. I’m talking about a lesson I learned from Hubert Joly, the former CEO of Best Buy.

When Joly was appointed to his position, the company was facing significant hardship. He was advised to make drastic cuts and start laying people off. But Joly decided to take a different path. He invested in his employees and created an atmosphere where they felt both safe and empowered.

That’s when the dinosaur doctors were created. Joly likes to tell the story about a mother and son who showed up at Best Buy with a toy dinosaur the boy received for the holidays.  They were visiting the store because the dinosaur was “sick.” It must have been a very serious illness indeed because the dinosaur’s head had fallen off.

He explains that at most stores, mom and son would have been directed to the toy aisle where there may or may not have been a replacement. Instead, two employees took the dinosaur behind a counter and performed “surgery,” narrating the procedure like they were in a television drama.

As they finished, they presented the boy with a cured dinosaur. In reality, they substituted a new toy. But thanks to their efforts, those employees created an unforgettable experience for that mother and child.

There was no manual that told the employees to take time performing dinosaur surgery. It’s certainly not part of any checklist or memo from the CEO. But those staff members felt secure enough in their jobs to take the time to come up with a creative solution that made them and their customers feel happy and fulfilled. His point was that employees should be empowered to define “more” in the context of their own role.

That’s the atmosphere I want at USF St. Petersburg. I was recently asked to deliver a keynote speech at the University of Florida, and I told the participants I had three goals for our faculty and staff. I want them to wake up every day feeling empowered and inspired in their jobs. I want them to feel safe and valued while they are at work. And I want them to leave every day feeling like they made a difference – that sense of fulfillment that makes the next day an adventure.

I see evidence of our team being empowered to do more all the time. It’s why our groundskeepers take the time to stop what they are doing and help visitors if they appear lost on campus. It’s why faculty members stay late to help students who may be struggling and use their knowledge and expertise for research that benefits our community. And it’s why staff dedicate their evenings and weekends to hold events that enrich our students’ educational experience.

The culture of empowerment is vitally important, particularly in higher education. In a society where someone can earn a college degree in their pajamas, sitting on their couch, what would compel them to go to USF St. Petersburg?

It’s because we deliver more than just a valuable degree from a top-rated university. I mean, we do that in abundance – an exceptional education! But we also provide a friendly and generous environment for students to learn, grow and achieve, where innovation, cooperation and inspiration thrive. An environment where they feel safe, seen and valued.

That takes the collective effort of everyone on our campus. Maybe it’s my background in hospitality but a famous quote by Maya Angelou has always stuck with me: “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” I want everyone who visits USF St. Petersburg to feel good about their experience, to have a positive emotional connection to our campus.

And we hope to count on you as we continue refining the campus experience. Tell us how we’re doing – what we did well and what we could do to improve your experience, or the experience of a student you know.

We always welcome your feedback. You can reach me at stp-chancellor@usf.edu. Together, we’re ensuring that USF St. Petersburg is a dino-mite place to be.

Christian Hardigree is Regional Chancellor of USF St. Petersburg.



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    S. Rose Smith-Hayes

    April 27, 2024at6:11 pm

    Thank you for posting. I will share some of the wisdom from this article.

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