The associate professor of religious studies grew up three blocks from campus. His father, Springfield attorney Tom Strong, was an alumnus, as was his grandmother, Blanche Gorman Strong.
“She got her teaching degree here, and taught in a one-room schoolhouse,” Strong said. Because of his grandfather’s health problems, her small salary supported the family through the depression.
The Strong family's deep roots at Missouri State are apparent all around campus, but particularly in Strong Hall, where Strong himself has his office and teaches. The building is named for Strong's family. In addition, the family has funded scholarships and a chairperson position in the religious studies department.
Strong can't really recall a time when the University wasn't part of his life.
“We would go to all the Bears games,” he said. “They were so exciting.”
Strong started his education with the intention of becoming a minister. He grew up attending Grace United Methodist Church in downtown Springfield, then attended Union Seminary in Virginia and Asbury Seminary in Kentucky. He spent two years as a minister, at St. Paul Methodist Church in Springfield, but was never ordained.
“The ministry didn't fit me very well,” he said. He got a one-year lecture position at what was then Southwest Missouri State University. One year turned into two, and now, about 18 years later, Strong is still teaching at the University.
Strong's area of interest is Biblical Studies and Archaeology. He also studies the literature and the world of the Old Testament Hebrew prophets.
“It was the mystery of the biblical text and that world that drew me to (religious studies),” Strong said. “And the Old Testament always seemed more mysterious to me.”
In particular, Strong is interested in the book of Ezekiel and has taught several special topics courses on it. He also teaches archaeology of the Old and New Testaments and teaches the religious studies department's “101” course, its general education course in the Old Testament (or the Hebrew Bible).
“I think it's the most important course I teach,” he said. “I don't expect students to come out of that class experts on the Hebrew Bible, but they do develop a curiosity about another time, place and culture. It teaches students to be curious.”
Strong has been to Israel on archeological digs several times, and often takes students.
“Excavating helps me as far as personal and professional development, but it also helps with teaching,” Strong said.
The digs allow him to put together more obscure aspects of the world the Old Testament scribes’ experience.
“We get to rediscover that cultural backdrop,” he said.
When he is not teaching, Strong likes to ride bicycles, read for pleasure and study Germany and German culture. He has “four teenagers in the house” at his home, which he also shares with wife, Elizabeth, who is both the director of service-learning and the interim director of Study Away for the University.