Stepping into Professor Roger Strickland’s office, you wouldn’t believe he teaches one of the most tedious subjects in college. In lieu of mundane walls and bare shelves is “Joanne,” the stuffed snake that greets visitors as they walk into the room adorned with photographs of people posed with exotic animals. Behind rare trinkets, like U.S. Army tank memorabilia, are stories you could chat about for hours. Not only has Strickland taught more than 20 courses at Santa Fe Community College for the past 33 years, he’s also traveled the world, found hidden talents and honorably served his country for half a decade.
Known for a gentle, humorous spirit and helping his students beyond the classroom, Strickland didn’t always see himself sitting behind a teacher’s desk. Economics is a subject he grew to love as a graduate student in an urban economics course at the University of Florida.
“I found economics, when I started at the university, to be the most boring course taught by the most boring people I ever met,” Strickland said.
So he decided to change that—Strickland set out to make economics relatable and fun. With this newfound love, combined with his gift of leadership, he decided to teach economics. Even after years of school, Strickland knew he wouldn’t be rolling in the millions, but it never deterred him.
“I was never about getting rich,” Strickland chuckled as he reclined back in his office chair. “I knew I wasn’t going to get rich staying here.”
And it appeared that way when he took a teaching position in 1980 at Santa Fe College. After five years experience and an MBA in economics from UF, Strickland was offered $12,500 a year. Even though his colleagues were making almost double, he jumped on the opportunity—and has never looked back. SFC, he said, has always been a special part of his life, right along with UF and Gainesville.
The rural, college-driven town was the first permanent place Strickland called home. As an Army brat, he attended 15 different schools before graduating high school; growing up in Germany, Austria, Turkey and Taiwan was considered normal for him. Moving constantly didn’t inhibit his childhood, however, it produced lasting traits that have helped make him an exceptional teacher, co-worker and Army captain.
“I think it made me independent and self-reliant,” he said.
Teaching and instruction has always played a vital role in Strickland’s life. After being a U.S. Army captain of a tank battalion for five years, he led groups of 20 to 250 soldiers who were resistant to discipline. It typically didn’t take long for them to learn to respect their gentle but firm leader, though.
From firing the cannon at UF football games for ROTC to serving the country over in Ansbach, Germany after receiving his bachelor’s degree from UF, Strickland’s military roots embody just how much skill he has with instruction. After fighting in World War II, his father came over to Germany and retraced his military routes with him. Even though he loved serving his country, Strickland knew he wanted to go back to Gainesville—where he began his legacy at Santa Fe.
Upon his return, he picked up a number of talents along the way. Refereeing was an accidental skill he developed when his 8-year-old son joined a soccer team after the tee ball list was full. He began helping out the team, and incidentally became the head coach.
Soon after, he found himself coaching the girls’ soccer team at Gainesville High School for four years, while refereeing all over Florida, including places like Rollins College, the University of Central Florida and Jacksonville University.
His proactive, hands-on demeanor stemmed from as early as childhood—jumping into business at the age of 13 debatably molded Strickland into the hands-on teacher he is today. From cutting yards to opening a taxidermist business, Strickland has always been successful in the business world. He also discovered a new talent when he entered the taxidermy world— a striped bass hanging on his office wall displays his incredible painting ability.
Even though teaching economics isn’t as exciting as shooting tanks, Strickland said he would much rather watch his students excel in the classroom. “I’m real proud of the fact that they do so well.”
Balancing being a grandfather to four grandchildren, teaching hundreds of students and pursuing his painting passions, Strickland firmly insists he’s always up for anything. Nothing is too much or too difficult to pursue.
“Once you know how to do it,” Strickland smiled, “it’s not very hard to do.”