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USFSP: Falling in love with your ‘place’

Christian Hardigree



“You can’t beat The Pete!” Students from the Judy Genshaft Honors College. Photo: University of South Florida St. Petersburg.

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The other day, I was fortunate enough to attend the welcoming ceremony for the incoming class of students at the Judy Genshaft Honors College at USF St. Petersburg.  For those who haven’t been, this event is a riot! The students march across campus banging drums, shaking tambourines, playing kazoos and chanting slogans like “You can’t beat The Pete!”

The event was particularly special this year because it featured keynote speaker Peter Kageyama, the author of For the Love of Cities: The Love Affair Between People and Their Places.  Peter, who lives in St. Petersburg, encouraged the students to explore their campus and the city, seeking out ways to get more engaged with their surroundings.

It was a fascinating talk and got me thinking about why I fell so hard for USF St. Petersburg. There is a myriad of reasons, but probably what sticks out most is the deep connection we have to our community. This relationship is evident in everything we do, but a few examples spring immediately to mind.

Did you know that employers from throughout our region generously donate their time and attention to provide job shadowing and mentoring opportunities to our incoming first-year students? It’s called the Innovation Scholars program, and it includes representatives from health care, banking and finance, government, non-profits, the arts, real estate, IT and more. More than 70 companies are currently participating in the program.

This provides such important “real world” experiences for our students, who are still trying to figure out their life path. By giving them insight into how an industry really works, we reduce the likelihood they will spend time pursuing a major in a field that ultimately doesn’t interest them. I certainly wish this was available when I was an undergrad, where I bounced from psychology to mass communications to pre-med, adding at least one extra semester (and a lot of dollars) onto my academic journey!

Our community connections have made us a mecca for entrepreneurial approaches. That’s true in the most straightforward sense of helping to create new businesses, new products and new services, and in the more nuanced version of discovering new ways to accomplish objectives. Looking for proof? Look no further than the FinTech/X Accelerator program, which is a partnership between Tampa Bay Wave and the Muma College of Business, and hosted by the Kate Tiedemann School of Business and Finance on our campus. Together we have recruited 15 of the best and brightest start-ups in fintech, which includes things like online banking systems, crypto exchanges and crowdfunding platforms. We’re hosting a kick-off celebration for our second cohort on Sept. 21, and I can’t wait to check out the exciting new businesses. And that’s just one of many examples of entrepreneurship in our city.

Lastly, and perhaps most obviously, the location of our campus itself encourages community engagement. What’s the adage in real estate – location, location, location. Every morning there’s a parade of residents greeting one another as they walk their dogs. Then there are the sounds of our local “biker gang” who meet daily on campus to start their ride. No, not the thundering sound of revved motorcycle engines, but the clicks and clatters of the avid cyclists who end their ride with a group caffeination stop at the Campus Grind. These sounds mingle with the laughter of students, whether they’re playing pickleball or tie-dying T-shirts or heading to class. And it’s all topped off with staff and faculty who are passionate about the students and who thrive when the campus is alive with excitement.

I’ve just barely scratched the surface, but you can clearly see why USF St. Petersburg is an easy place to love. Many thanks to Peter Kageyama for the words of wisdom. And if you, dear reader, haven’t been to campus lately, please stop by. Bring your fur baby for a walk, your cycle for a ride or your feet for a stroll. In the words of our Honors students, “You can’t beat The Pete!”

Christian Hardigree is Regional Chancellor of USF St. Petersburg.

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