July 29, 2009
By CHRIS VAUGHN
Jeff Talley had no interest in making God mad.
An Irish Catholic who had a plum teaching and research position at Notre Dame University, plus a position at a university in Dublin, Talley kept rebuffing any and all offers from a Dallas university that wanted him.
But after a phone call from Roger Staubach, an offer to help establish an institute to work on global poverty and the assurance that God loves Methodists too, Talley agreed to move to Southern Methodist University to serve as the chairman of the department of environmental and civil engineering.
"I think it’s almost a sin for me to leave Notre Dame," Talley recently joked. "I’ve got some Catholic guilt going on."
Talley, 49, an environmental engineer by training, is wanted by more than university departments.
He is on a meteoric rise as an Army Reserve officer, having demonstrated bold vision and a hard-nosed attitude in the poorest neighborhoods of Baghdad in 2008, and has moved into a major assignment over reserve training. Talley was recently promoted to major general, only six years removed from lieutenant colonel, an almost unheard-of promotion track. . .
The dean of the Lyle School of Engineering at SMU, Geoffrey Orsak, relentlessly pursued Talley in an unorthodox manner, even bringing in Dallas’ Catholic bishop to talk to him.
It is not the norm for replacing a department head, Orsak laughingly conceded. But, he said, Talley is one of a kind — an accomplished academic teacher and researcher and a muddy-boots leader with experience in a combat zone.
With him in mind, SMU is creating an institute to focus on how engineering can mitigate the effects of poverty, help war-ravaged refugees and improve development in places as diverse as sub-Saharan Africa and poor neighborhoods in Dallas-Fort Worth. More details on the institute will be released this fall, Orsak said.
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