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Every college dreams of having alumni like Max Gooding.
Gooding, a graduate of South Florida State College’s art department, excelled in the classroom and was involved in student government. After earning his Associate in Arts degree, he went on to a four-year university, graduated, and started his own company.
What’s more, he never forgot where he got his start, giving his time, talent, and money to the college that helped propel him to success.
“I wouldn’t be who I am without the time I spent at SFSC,” Gooding said, while on a recent visit to the Highlands Campus, where he was attending an exhibition to showcase the art of fellow alumni. “Because of what SFSC has done for me, I believe in giving back.”
At just 27, the artist and landscape architect finds himself at the helm of his own art and design studio. Still, Gooding finds time to stay engaged with SFSC in spite of the demands of his thriving business.
From sponsoring an award that recognizes promising art students to encouraging young artists on campus to helping SFSC redesign its campus, Gooding is the alumnus who keeps on giving.
A native of Naples, Fla, Gooding calls Highlands County home. He graduated from Lake Placid High School in 2007, bent on studying art with his own approach. “I’ve always loved drawing,” said Gooding. “But, I also had an affinity for creating spaces and experiences. Some artists yearn to express themselves in both the second and third dimensions. For me, landscape architecture is how I express myself in three dimensions.”
Gooding enrolled in SFSC immediately after high school. “I knew at the time that I wasn’t in the best frame of mind when I left high school, so going away to a university would not have been a good option for me,” he said. He doesn’t shy away from acknowledging that he had his share of problems that come with adolescence, bad friends and bad habits.
“At SFSC, I wasn’t just a number as most students are at a large university,” Gooding said. “A couple of SFSC faculty and staff members were instrumental in helping me rid those problems from my life.”
With his life in order, Gooding poured himself into his studies. He credits art instructors Cathy Futral and Mollie Doctrow with his success. “Cathy and Mollie recognized my drive early on,” he said. “They had a subtle, supportive way of pushing me to my limits.”
Gooding delights in recounting that he had an aversion to painting in water colors. He said Futral coaxed him into sticking with the medium under her tutelage. It worked. “She completely flipped my perspective with her style of teaching,” Gooding said. “Now water color is my preferred medium.”
“Max was an outstanding art student. Every now and then a student, as Max did, reminds me of the story of Leonardo’s teacher who taught his student to paint and, in the end, the student outdid the teacher,” said Cathy Futral, who taught Gooding painting.
“Another aspect of Max that is equally important to anyone who knows him is his generosity and caring nature,” said Futral. “Four years ago, Max established the Max Gooding Award as a way of giving back to the SFSC community, particularly the art department.” The award provides $400 to students for purchase of their art.
After earning his Associate in Arts degree from SFSC in 2009, Gooding graduated summa cum laude from the University of Florida with a bachelor’s degree in landscape architecture. An investor saw Gooding’s work and was so impressed that he helped the new graduate start his own studio, The Max Gooding Company.
Gooding’s life now revolves around growing his studio’s business. He consults with businesses to create brands and logos, produces commercial art, and designs landscapes for high-end real estate developments. “Right now, you could say I am married to my business,” said Gooding. “What little scraps of sleep I get I am sprawled on the couch recharging myself for my next creative endeavor.”
“Max was an exceptional student who touched so many lives when he was at SFSC,” said Mollie Doctrow, curator of the SFSC’s Museum of Florida Art and Culture (MOFAC), who taught Gooding drawing. “He is remarkably talented, smart, hardworking, and involved. He contributed in so many ways to the art department, MOFAC, and SFSC.”
Gooding collaborated with Doctrow in designing MOFAC’s Wildflower Wayside Trail, a self-guided walking trail where visitors can explores pristine scrubland on SFSC’s Highlands Campus.
Now, Gooding plans to put his landscape design talents to work on SFSC’s Highlands Campus. He is in the early stages of crafting a plan that would reconfigure the college’s main entrance on U.S. Highway 27. “It takes about 13 seconds for a vehicle to pass the college’s entrance on the highway,” Gooding noted. “That’s 13 seconds to tell a story of 50 years of SFSC, and that’s not much time.”
Gooding’s ardor for SFSC has earned him recognition. He recently received the prestigious LeRoy Collins Distinguished Alumni Rising Star Award, an honor given by the Florida Association of Colleges to graduates of the state’s 28 state and community colleges who show significant achievement as well as support of their alma mater.
Gooding has a message for his fellow alumni.
“The alumni who have shared a similar experience and really soaked up the SFSC experience know the value of the college,” Gooding said. “If they can’t give back with money, then they should consider giving back with their time.”
“Just going to a class and telling your story of success can make a difference for students,” he said.