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Four candidates seeking to become the next regional chancellor at the University of
South Florida St. Petersburg campus are moving forward in the search process. Today,
in a publicly held meeting, the Regional Chancellor Search Committee advanced four
qualified candidates to the next round:

  • Melissa L. Gruys, dean of the School of Business at Purdue University Fort Wayne
  • Christian Hardigree, founding dean of the School of Hospitality at Metropolitan State
    University in Denver
  • Kanika Tomalin, the former deputy mayor and city administrator of the city of St.
  • Bjong Yeigh, former chancellor of the University of Washington Bothell 

Each candidate will come to campus next week to participate in town hall visits, meetings
with university and community leadership and interviews with USF President Rhea Law. 

The campus visits will give the USF community an opportunity to interact with each
candidate, share ideas and ask questions. The town halls will be held in the University
Student Center (USC) ballroom at the following dates and times.

Monday, May 2

Candidate 1: 1-2 p.m.

Candidate 2: 2:30-3:30 p.m.

Tuesday, May 3

Candidate 3: 1-2 p.m.

Candidate 4: 2:30-3:30 p.m.

As soon as details are finalized, the Regional Chancellor search site will be updated with information on when each candidate will be on campus.

Each town hall visit will also be livestreamed via Microsoft Teams and can be accessed
through the Regional Chancellor search site. 

Members of the USF community are encouraged to submit questions and provide feedback via an online portal on the Regional Chancellor search site.
This feedback will be reviewed by President Law.

After interviewing the candidates and a review process of their experience along with
community feedback, President Law will select the next regional chancellor to lead
the St. Petersburg campus.

Below are bios for each candidate:

Melissa L. Gruys

Melissa Gruys has extensive experience in academic roles and administration in higher
education and building relationships with community partners and stakeholders. She
is currently the dean of the Richard T. Doermer School of Business at Purdue University
Fort Wayne, where she oversees more than 100 employees, including 40 full-time faculty,
and manages the Student Success Center for academic advising, professional development
and community outreach. During her tenure, she oversaw a dramatic rise in fundraising,
increased retention among first-year full-time students and enhanced international
collaborations and partnerships. She was also chair of the university-wide diversity,
equity and inclusion committee. 

Prior to her tenure at Purdue, Gruys was the chair of the Department of Management
and International Business at Wright State University’s Raj Soin College of Business.
At Wright State, she guided accreditation activities, curriculum development and new
program creation. She has also held professorship roles at Wright State University,
Washington State University-Vancouver and the University of Minnesota.

A first-generation college student, Gruys earned undergraduate degrees in management,
economics and speech communication at the University of Minnesota, Morris, and a doctorate
in human resources and industrial relations at the University of Minnesota.

Christian Hardigree

Christian Hardigree is the founding dean of the School of Hospitality at Metropolitan
State University (MSU) in Denver, which is the third largest and only open-access
institution of higher education in Colorado. Hardigree led the transition to a free-standing
school and developed/implemented departmental structures, school strategic plan and
initiatives, and other deliverables. She has secured more than $3,775,000 in external
funds to support the school and led faculty through curriculum redesign of six degrees
and majors, eight minors and nine certificates. 

Prior to her role at MSU, Hardigree served as the founding director and professor
of the Michael A. Leven School of Culinary Sustainability and Hospitality at Kennesaw
State University in Kennesaw, Georgia. She oversaw more than 260 majors with a total
enrollment of more than 1,500 students. She also worked for Parnell & Associates as
a senior litigation attorney and partner focusing on employment discrimination, arbitration,
mediation and labor-management relations. In 2012, she was selected as a faculty institute
senior teaching fellow at University of Nevada Las Vegas, where she also received
the Sam and Mary Boyd Distinguished Professor for Service Award in 2011 and the Boyd
Distinguished Professor for Teaching Award in 2010.

A researcher and frequent conference presenter, Hardigree received her juris doctorate
from Walter F. George School of Law at Mercer University and a bachelor of science,
cum laude, from William F. Harrah College of Hotel Administration at University of
Nevada Las Vegas.

Kanika Tomalin

A fifth-generation native of St. Petersburg, Fla., Kanika Tomalin has a diverse portfolio
of leadership positions and served as deputy mayor and city administrator for the
city of St. Petersburg from 2014-2021. Most recently, she has held the position of
vice president for strategy and chief operating officer at Eckerd College in St. Petersburg.

Tomalin began her career as a journalist at the St. Petersburg Times (now Tampa Bay
Times) before joining Bayfront Medical Center in 2000 as a fundraiser. She later joined
the public affairs office at Bayfront and became manager in 2004. After serving as
director of corporate communications for four years, she was promoted to executive
director, then vice president, of strategic planning and public affairs in 2010 and
2011.  Tomalin went on to become the regional vice president of external affairs for
the Bayfront Health Network and director of strategy for Health Management Associates’
23-hospital Florida Group. Appointed by Mayor Rick Kriseman to be deputy mayor of
the city of St. Petersburg, in 2018 her scope expanded to include city administrator,
where she oversaw all of the city’s administrative and operations functions. She was
named to her current position in January 2022 and oversees all of Eckerd’s operations
and strategic functions, including planning, infrastructure, capital asset management,
sustainability and resilience, and technology systems, while advancing the college’s
strategic initiatives.

Tomalin earned a bachelor of science degree in broadcast journalism from Florida Agricultural
and Mechanical University (FAMU), a master’s in business administration from the University
of Miami and a doctorate in law and policy from Northeastern University. 

Bjong “Wolf” Yeigh

Bjong Yeigh has been at the helm of two different universities for more than 13 years.
From 2013-2021, he was the chancellor of the University of Washington (UW) Bothell.
During his leadership tenure, he oversaw the expansion of academic programs from 30
to 55, the doubling of student enrollment and an increase in philanthropic support
that concluded with a $41 million campaign in 2020. Prior to his tenure at UW, he
was the president of the State University of New York (SUNY) Institute of Technology
at Utica/Rome from 2008-2013 where he secured $15.5 million capital grants for cybersecurity
and nanotechnology programs, led efforts to gain two rounds of funding for regional
economic development projects totaling nearly $120 million and guided the building
of more than $100 million in capital projects on campus.

Yeigh has held a number of academic and administrative roles during his higher education
career. With an academic background in Engineering, Yeigh has held professorship roles
at Oklahoma State University and Yale University. He has also been the Vice President
for Academic Affairs at Norwich University and the Dean of the College of Engineering
at Saint Louis University. He is an elected fellow of the American Society of Mechanical
Engineers and serves on several national and state boards for engineering, economic
development, public policy and education.

Yeigh earned his undergraduate degree in engineering science from Dartmouth College,
a master of science in mechanical engineering from Stanford University and a doctorate
in civil engineering and operations research from Princeton University. Yeigh served
as a tactical air intelligence officer in the U.S. Navy and held the rank of lieutenant
upon his honorable discharge from the Navy Reserve in 1995.

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