2010 Archives

Work in Iraq Puts Engineering Professor on the Fast Track


The following is from the February 28, 2010, edition of The Chronicle of Higher Education. Professor Jeff Talley is the chair of the Department of Environmental and Civil Engineering in SMU's Lyle School of Engineering.

March 1, 2010

By Robin Wilson

Jeffrey W. Talley is an Irish Catholic engineering professor who thought he would never leave the University of Notre Dame.

He loved the institution so much that after he arrived in 2001, he built a home right on the campus for his wife and four children.

So when a recruiting firm approached him last winter about becoming chairman of Southern Methodist University's Department of Environmental and Civil Engineering, Mr. Talley brushed it off.

Besides, he was not exactly available. He was halfway around the world, dodging militia fire in Iraq as part of his second job, as the U.S. Army's chief engineer in charge of rebuilding Baghdad. Mr. Talley, who earned his undergraduate degree on an ROTC scholarship, is a two-star general in the U.S. Army Reserves. He received the second star in June for his work restoring roads, water, housing, and even soccer fields around Sadr City.

Like any good academic, Mr. Talley had studied the problems in Iraq before he left in February 2008 and found that in areas where there was rebuilding, violence seemed to ebb. So once he got to Baghdad, he placed the engineering focus "not where it was needed the most, but where the militia was thought to be embedded in the community," he says. "You're using engineering as a tool."

That idea caught Southern Methodist's attention. The university also wanted someone to spearhead a new institute that would use engineering technology to help alleviate poverty, in the United States and around the world. From the start, Mr. Talley, who is 50, was the university's top choice. "I've never seen anyone like him," says Geoffrey C. Orsak, dean of engineering at Southern Methodist. "He's not your absent-minded-professor type that you see out of central casting. He has a clear objective for what he wants to do."

Read the full story.

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