Senior Leadership

Christian Hardigree

Christian Hardigree, J.D., Regional Chancellor

Christian Hardigree was named regional chancellor of USF's St. Petersburg campus in May 2022. She previously served as 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.

At MSU, Hardigree led the transition to a free-standing school and developed/implemented departmental structures, school strategic plan and initiatives, and other deliverables. She 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.

Jake Diaz

Jacob L. Diaz, Ed. D., Regional Associate Vice Chancellor of Student Success & Dean of Students

Dr. Jacob Diaz grew up in a bilingual home in San Diego, California and is a proud to share that he is a product of the California Community College system which he credits for instilling in him the confidence and hope in achieving a college degree. 

Currently, at the University of South Florida Saint Petersburg campus, he serves as the Regional Associate Vice Chancellor of Student Success & Dean of Students where he provides strategic vision and oversight of a diverse portfolio of areas including Student Life and Engagement, Housing and Residence Education, Student Conduct and Ethical Development, Student Outreach and Support, Office of Veterans Success and as the Deputy Title IX Coordinator. He is also engaged in the community as a member of the board of 2-1-1Tampa Bay Cares whose mission is to connect community to critical health and human services. Diaz' undergraduate degree in English Literature is from the University of California, Santa Barbara and both Master's and Doctoral degrees are from the University of Vermont.

Dean of Students 

Patti Helton

Patti Helton, Ph.D., Regional Vice Chancellor of Student Success

Dr. Patti Helton joined USFSP in July 2016 after 13 years as Associate Vice Provost for Student Life and Senior Adjunct Faculty at the University of Denver.  She also worked at Eastern Mennonite University for 17 years as an Assistant Professor and Vice President for Student Life.  She has served as a Senior Student Affairs administrator for 31 years.

Helton provides comprehensive leadership for Student Success which includes 20 departments and a staff of approximately 100.  She earned her Ph.D. in Education from the University of Virginia; a M.Ed. in Kinesiology and Health Science from Stephen F. Austin State; and a B.S. in Health and Physical Education from Oklahoma City University.

Student Success 

Mai Jenney

Mai Jenney, Regional Assistant Vice Chancellor of Administration & Finance

As Regional Assistant Vice Chancellor of Administration & Finance, Mai Jenney is responsible for budget planning and analysis, coordination with the University System Budget Director, and the execution of budgets financial analyses and financial transaction reviews for the campus.  Jenney also assists the Regional Vice Chancellor of Administration & Finance to ensure long-term alignment of financial and physical resources with the strategic direction of the institution and create and maintain transparency and communication opportunities with internal and external constituents regarding resources.

Jenney began her career at USF St. Petersburg as an Academic Advisor for the College of Business.  She then left to pursue an accounting career at a marketing company.  After four years with the company, Jenney returned to USF in 2011 as a Fiscal & Business Analyst working for the College of Arts & Sciences.  In November 2013, she moved to Administrative & Financial Services working as a Budget Analyst, Senior Analyst, Campus Budget Director, and now her current role.

A proud USF St. Petersburg alumna, Jenney earned her bachelor's degree in Accounting and Finance in 2005 and an MBA in 2020.

Administrative & Financial Services 

Lisa Morrell Laubach

Lisa Morrell, Events Manager

Lisa Morrell Laubach serves as the Events Manager for the Regional Chancellor's office overseeing the design, coordination and execution of events while promoting the university's mission and objectives.  With vast experience working in the hospitality industry,  she is a business development professional with a strong commitment to providing top notch customer service to every task she undertakes.  As the former Director of Client Services for Unique Venues, she has worked with hundreds of collegiate conference programs throughout North America providing consultative services to help grow external conference rental and intern housing revenue while simultaneously acting as the events manager, planning and coordinating national conferences, tradeshows and celebrations. She has provided education and support to various collegiate hospitality associations spanning over 15 years. Her attention to detail and passion for hospitality can be seen in every event planned. Lisa is an avid runner and proud mother of three daughters.

Brenda Lyons

Brenda Lyons, Special Assistant to the Regional Chancellor

Brenda Lyons joined USF in 2017 and serves as Special Assistant to the Regional Chancellor. She proactively manages and coordinates the daily functions of the Chancellor, including scheduling and communicating with internal and external constituents. She serves as the coordinator and communication liaison to the USF St. Petersburg campus Board, Chancellor’s Cabinet and Leadership Teams. Lyons also serves on the Administrative Advisory Council (AAC), an organization that advises the President on matters of interest. A New York native, Lyons earned her bachelor’s degree in Economics and Business Management from Stony Brook University.

Caryn Nesmith

Caryn Nesmith, Community Relations

Caryn Nesmith is director of Community Relations at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg. Prior to this role, she was special assistant for strategic initiatives to the regional chancellor. In that capacity, she oversaw development and execution of new projects and programs on campus and in the community that advance the university’s mission and the regional chancellor’s priorities.

Before joining USF, Nesmith spent 13 years as a consultant creating and executing communications strategies for international policy on behalf of U.S. and foreign government clients, including overseas assignments as a media advisor and senior strategist in Iraq, Colombia, and the Philippines. In 2012, she moved to Tampa Bay to work at U.S. Special Operations Command on MacDill Airforce Base where she led a Strategic Engagement team in the International Liaison Division.

In her early career, Nesmith was a journalist in Puerto Rico at the San Juan Star and the Caribbean Bureau of The Associated Press. She has worked with non-profits focused on empowerment of communities: as a civil society coordinator in the mountains of Peru with the international non-profit CARE; as a teacher in the Galapagos Islands, Ecuador with World Teach, and as an event coordinator throughout North America with Up With People.  

Nesmith earned a Master’s Degree in International Relations with a concentration in Latin America and International Economics from Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies, and a Bachelor’s Degree in Government and Politics from the University of Maryland.

Community Relations 

Carrie O'Brion

Carrie Johnson O'Brion, Assistant Regional Vice Chancellor for Marketing, Communications and Strategic Initiatives

Carrie Johnson O'Brion is the Assistant Regional Vice Chancellor for Marketing, Communications and Strategic Initiatives for USF’s St. Petersburg campus. O'Brion is a longtime St. Petersburg resident and has more than 20 years of experience as a communications professional, including seven years as a reporter and editor with the Tampa Bay Times. Prior to joining USF’s St. Petersburg campus in August 2018, she oversaw internal and external communications for BluePearl Veterinary Partners, a division of Mars Inc. and the country's largest provider of specialty and emergency veterinary care with more than 80 hospitals in 25 states. O'Brion has experience working with executive leadership to develop strategic messaging, creating and implementing company-wide communications plans, overseeing communication platforms and a proven record of management and team building.  She has a bachelor’s degree in political science from Colgate University and a master’s degree in communication from Johns Hopkins University. She is very active in the community and has served as president of the boards of SPCA Tampa Bay and the Phi Beta Kappa Alumni Association of Tampa Bay.

Communications & Marketing 

Howard Rutherford

E. Howard Rutherford, Associate Vice President of Development University Advancement

E. Howard Rutherford joined the USF St. Petersburg campus Advancement Team as Associate Vice President after 3 years with the Office of Gift Planning as Senior Director of Development and after 5 years with the College of Marine Science (CMS) as Director of Development. Rutherford assists in leading the facilitation of gifts across the USF St. Petersburg campus. Before returning to USF, Rutherford had a 13-year tenure as President/CEO with The Pier Aquarium d/b/a Marine Exploration Center. 

Rutherford is a collaborative, community leader and has held board leadership positions at the local, state and national levels. His abilities in leadership, strategic implementation and working in complex work environments has helped him to build trust both inside and outside the institutions he has represented. 

As founding Co-Chair, Rutherford helped to establish the St. Petersburg Science Festival. Currently, he serves as an advisor to the Science Festival Alliance at MIT, an international organization fostering a professional community dedicated to more and better science and technology festivals. Rutherford is also President of the St. Petersburg Sunrise Rotary Club, Vice President of the Suncoast Estate Planning Council and Second Vice President of USF St. Petersburg campus Town and Gown.

Rutherford holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Marine Chemistry from Eckerd College, St. Petersburg, FL and attended graduate school at USF's College of Marine Science.


Kevin Sheehy

Kevin Sheehy, Regional Vice Chancellor for Administration & Financial Services  

Sheehy joined USF St. Petersburg in April 2024. He previously worked at the University of Pittsburgh, where he was most recently Assistant Vice Chancellor of Auxiliary Operations and Finance, a position he held since 2007.  In this role, he provided oversight of financial operations, including capital projects, budget creation and reporting of Business, Hospitality and Auxiliary Services.  

Sheehy began his career at United Parcel Service, Inc. (UPS), in Pittsburgh, Pa., working his way up from District Automotive Accountant to Finance Supervisor over seven years. He earned a Bachelor of Science degree from Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, and a Master of Business Administration from Waynesburg University in Waynesburg, Pa. 

As Regional Vice Chancellor of Administration and Finance, Sheehy serves as the chief financial and operating officer for USF St. Petersburg. He also provides oversight and leadership to multiple units including Financial Services, Resource Management (Budget Office), Purchasing, Facilities Services, Emergency Management, University Police, Parking & Transportation Services and Campus Computing. 

Administrative & Financial Services 

Thomas Smith

Thomas Smith, Vice Provost of Academic Affairs 

As Vice Provost of Academic Affairs, Thomas Smith serves as a campus liaison to the USF Provost’s Office, providing leadership and vision for academic affairs priorities and how that vision is implemented on the St. Petersburg campus. Working with the other campus deans and stakeholders, Dr. Smith supports the academic units and centers in St. Petersburg and serves on the Regional Chancellor’s cabinet, focusing on communication, collaboration, and ensuring campus connectivity. 

Dr. Smith has been at USF St. Petersburg for more than 23 years. A human rights expert, he has published widely on research interests, including international humanitarian law, Turkish politics, and foreign policy. Dr. Smith is also the Campus Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences and formerly the Associate Dean of the Judy Genshaft Honors College. He is a co-founder of the St. Petersburg Conference on World Affairs, now a flagship event that attracts thousands each year and serves as a member of the Board of Directors of the Florida Holocaust Museum. He earned his undergraduate degree in anthropology from the College of William and Mary and his master's and Ph.D. in foreign affairs from the University of Virginia.

Academic Affairs 

Aurelio Valente

Aurélio Manuel Valente, Regional Assistant Vice Chancellor for Undergraduate Studies

Dr. Aurélio Valente comes to USF St. Petersburg from National Louis University in Chicago, where he most recently served as Executive Director of Strategy and Academic Operations. He was previously the Vice President for Student Affairs and Enrollment Management at Governors State University in Illinois.

In his role as Regional Assistant Vice Chancellor for Undergraduate Studies, Valente is the primary contact for academic colleges and departments for undergraduate programs of study at USF St. Petersburg. He supervises the director of the Debbie Nye Sembler Student Success Center, the academic advocates, and the advising and professional staff in the Academic Advising Opportunity Center. Valente also works to support retention and graduation initiatives and ensure that campus personnel are using university-wide data and analytics platforms.

Valente earned his undergraduate degree and MBA from the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth; his master’s in education from Suffolk University and doctorate in higher education from Florida State University.

Undergraduate Studies 

Laura Zuppo

Laura Zuppo, Regional Assistant Vice Chancellor of Student Success

Laura Zuppo serves USFSP as the Regional Assistant Vice Chancellor of Student Success for the Enrollment and Transitions teams. She also serves as the campus Student Ombuds. She joined USF in 2020 and has worked in higher education administration since 1999. In her current role at USF St. Petersburg, she serves on the Chancellor’s Cabinet and is part of the Student Success Division where she works to support all new and continuing students in their pursuit of a bachelor’s degree. She previously served as a higher education consultant and as Assistant Dean for Strategic Enrollment Management at Stetson University College of Law. Zuppo earned both the Master of Business Administration and the Master of Science in Higher Education Administration. She is currently pursuing her Ph.D. in Curriculum and Instruction with an emphasis on Higher Education at USF.

Student Success