Dave Strong ’01 shares his passion for learning with students in Bengbu, China. Photo provided by Dave Strong ’01

Dave Strong ’01 found educational pathways on a winding career path and in extensive travels that carried him to a life abroad.

Growing up during the 1960s and 1970s, his family struggled to make ends meet. “From Louisiana to Florida, all along the Gulf Coast, all I ever saw was poverty,” Strong says. “I knew there had to be more to the world than what I was living and witnessing.”

College wasn’t in the cards right after high school, prompting Strong to enlist in the United States Army. He advanced to staff sergeant and earned three military occupational specialties, including as a practical nurse. These skills served him well after service. He moved to Missouri, worked as a nurse and served the Missouri National Guard. Nearly 20 years after high school, Strong was ready to go back to school.

“I always knew education was important and a valuable tool to be successful,” he says. He found that path at Columbia College’s location in Jefferson City. “I was set, ready and I was going!”

But on Sept. 11, 2001, Strong felt his clock come to a stop. He halted classes, having had completed credits toward an associate degree that he was awarded a month later. He spent the next year preparing for service in Kuwait and Iraq, where he transported medical supplies to the frontlines.

“I have been to over 100 countries in my lifetime. I only wish as a global society we could learn from each other and promote peace and kindness.”

Dave Strong ’01

Strong was no stranger to hard work and moved where he was needed. Over the coming years, he served as a jail nurse and worked in rural hospitals, home health care and even telehealth for the Veterans Administration. Education remained a primary personal goal. He completed the bachelor’s degree he’d always wanted and continued with a master’s degree in public health.

Through it all, Strong was in a lifelong search to find a place that promoted peace and was a safe place to live and work, he says. The place he came back to time and time again – six, to be exact – was China. “Each time I was impressed and more impressed. Crime is extremely low. Education and investment into the young generation by the older generation is paramount. Technology and innovation are the best in the world.”

Strong is now an associate professor in Bengbu, located in the northern Anhui Province, where he teaches undergraduate courses in the English language and American History. Many of his lectures are inspired by history books written by mid-Missouri author Jeremy Amick. The students are engaging and always inquisitive, he says.

Dave Strong ’01 teaches students during a class in Bengbu, China. Photo provided by Dave Strong ’01

Strong takes advantage of his life abroad to explore the country and immerse himself in the native culture. In recent years, he has witnessed Chinese efforts to lift citizens from a life of poverty – adversity he remembers all too well. He has experienced Chinese health care professionals’ responses to community needs amid the COVID-19 pandemic. As a nurse and educator with an advanced degree in public health, he is impressed by the country’s resilience.

While continuing to make a daily impact, Strong hasn’t forgotten his roots along the way, including the institution where he began his journey in higher education.

“I am very proud and honored that I have a small connection with Columbia College as the school opened the first door for me to earn a degree,” Strong says. “I only wish more people could take advantage of getting an education and travel the world. Traveling opens the mind to expand knowledge and empathy for all people.”