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In Florida, smart leaders look to the past

Christian Hardigree



St. Petersburg mayor Ken Welch peruses a "history wall" at the Sunken Gardens Visitors Center. Photo: City of St. Petersburg.

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I must admit, I didn’t know very much about the state of Florida or the Tampa Bay region before moving here to become regional chancellor of USF’s St. Petersburg campus.

I knew that Tampa was cool, mainly because I spent a spring break jet-skiing in what I now realize was likely an alligator nesting area. I’ve always had a love of pirates. I even watched a few episodes of Miami Vice back in the day (the original, not the reboot, of course). But beyond the tropes pushed by the media, my knowledge of the Sunshine State was limited.

So, knowing that I was about to bring my family to this sunny locale, I did what any good educator would do and began my research. And wow – I found a rich and storied history that helped me put much of what is happening in the state today into better context. From its earliest Spanish roots to the works of Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings and Zora Neale Hurston to the ecology of the Everglades, there’s a lot to learn about Florida. The evening before my interview, I beelined to the St. Petersburg Museum of History to add to my knowledge.

We hear, “those who don’t learn history are doomed to repeat it,” so frequently that it’s become a cliché. But there is truth in the heart of this statement. We must understand where we came from if we want to chart a better course for the future.

I was reminded of all this recently thanks to a new speakers’ series organized by our Florida Studies program in celebration of its 20-year anniversary. The first event was amazing. Proud USF alum Jack Davis, a recent Pulitzer Prize winner, discussed his newest book The Bald Eagle: The Improbable Journey of America’s Bird. The crowd was really engaged and asked thought-provoking questions. I was so enthralled, I bought a copy of his book.

The next event will be March 28 at 6 p.m. and feature Florida Studies professor emeritus Gary Mormino and Tampa artist Charles Greacen, who will discuss “Florida Landmarks, Lodgings and Legends.”

Gary is an amazing professor whose book Dreams in the New Century: Instant Cities, Shattered Hopes, and Florida’s Turning Point was recently selected as a gold medal winner in the 2022 Florida Book Awards.

You can read more details about the event here.

So if you find yourself with some time on your hands, I would encourage all of you to learn more about the speakers’ series and attend as many of the events as possible. It’s a valuable opportunity to hear more about our state’s rich history from some of the people who have studied it most. It’s also a great way to get more engaged with our university.

And for those looking to delve deeper, I would strongly suggest that you consider going a step further and pursuing more education in this field. For some, that might mean pursuing a master’s degree in Florida Studies. But we also offer a certificate program that is designed for anyone with an interest in Florida’s history, culture or environment. It consists of a minimum of three courses: one required and two electives. You can read all about it here.

I think having an enhanced understanding of our state would be of enormous value to anyone who is looking to make an impact here. The classes cover everything from Florida’s geography and environment to its literature to its history and politics. Imagine the benefit of having that wholistic knowledge when running for office or launching a new business or simply trying to get more deeply involved in community affairs.

Of course, we offer a wide range of excellent and beneficial graduate courses on the USF St. Petersburg campus, which you can read about here. For those who are over 60, you can participate in USF’s senior auditor program, which allows you to enroll in certain undergraduate classes without paying fees.

After living in St. Petersburg for nearly nine months, I’ve come to embrace this wonderous and wild state we call home. I’m so happy to have the opportunity to help the USF Florida Studies program celebrate its 20th anniversary. And I can’t wait to see what the next 20 years will bring.


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