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 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.
A fifth-generation resident 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.